As is now customary on these pages on a Monday, we are back with our latest round of hastily-made conclusions to the weekend’s action.
Man City Are No Longer Favourites for the Title
Being a data-led website, we at Opta Analyst tend to prefer something a little more scientific than judging last season’s treble winners on a below-par recent run, but that’s not the point of this column. As the name suggests, we’re here to make the most knee-jerk of reactions to sample sizes that are, frankly, too small. That means we can sometimes disagree with the more objective work we do. It’s all very confusing.
So, with that in mind, it’s time to start wondering if Manchester City are still favourites for the title. Now third in the table after Sunday’s barnstorming 3-3 draw with Tottenham, a result that meant City have now dropped points in five of their last eight Premier League games. It was their third league draw in succession, in which time Arsenal have won three in a row and built up a three-point lead at the top of the table, and Liverpool have won the two games other than their draw with City. Of the three title chasers, City arguably look the least convincing right now.
What’s more, they aren’t quite out of the woods of this tricky run of games they are currently on. Next up, they travel to Aston Villa, who boast a 100% record on home soil so far, and City go into it without key man Rodri, without whom they lost to both Wolves and Arsenal earlier in the season – those remain their only two defeats so far. The midfielder picked up his fifth booking of the season against Spurs and will miss the trip to Villa through suspension, so more dropped points could be on the horizon.
The Opta supercomputer isn’t quite so reactive, of course. Although City’s title chances have dropped, they are still considered huge favourites, winning the title in more than two-thirds (67.3%) of the supercomputer’s latest 10,000 simulations of the season. Maybe we shouldn’t start writing City off just yet…
Arsenal Are Reaching Their Best
Arsenal are top of the table without having blown many opponents away this season. Last week, we looked at how they haven’t quite clicked in attack yet, but how their title challenge could be more solid this season than last because they have improved so much in defence. Harsh critics might have wondered whether Arsenal could genuinely challenge for the title when they were winning so many games by a single goal and looking rather unconvincing in the process.
But since the win at Brentford – an unconvincing 1-0 victory – Arsenal have put six past Lens in the Champions League and then in impressive fashion saw off a Wolves side who have taken points off Manchester City, Tottenham, Newcastle and Aston Villa this season.
The home side dominated the game, attempted 19 shots and generated 2.89 non-penalty expected goals – their highest total in a Premier League game this season and the highest Wolves have allowed any opponent. Arsenal held a two-goal lead for much of the game, and it might well have been much more than that.
Martin Ødegaard’s goal was a joy to behold; the 18-pass move that preceded it was the longest in the lead-up to an Arsenal goal this season – some 10 passes longer than their next best and the seventh longest by any team in 2023-24. It was illustrative of the entire performance: this is a side really hitting their stride.
Eddie Howe is a Contender for Manager of the Season
Newcastle’s injury crisis really is something. Playing without 11 first-team players on Saturday night, they brushed Manchester United aside with no problem at all, extending their run of home league wins to six in a row. That streak includes victories over Arsenal, a resurgent Chelsea and now United.
Their away form is rather less impressive, but they do have the fairly major mitigating circumstance of an injury list as big as many of their rivals combined. Eddie Howe is doing an incredible job in the face of a historic injury crisis, with his side’s recent form taking them to within a point of fifth-placed Tottenham and four of Man City in third.
Their form is too inconsistent to say they are in the title race, while goalkeeper Nick Pope suffering a suspected dislocated shoulder is another blow that will further harm their chances of clawing their way higher up the table. But to contend with their current schedule with the threadbare squad Howe has at his disposal in the way they have is already one of the achievements of the season.
They have the highest open-play expected goals in the whole Premier League this season (21.2), while Saturday’s shutout was their sixth clean sheet of the campaign – the joint most in the league alongside Arsenal. They are impressing at both ends of the pitch and Howe deserves huge praise for how his team are performing in the face of real adversity.
Forget Ward-Prowse, Kudus Is West Ham’s Signing of the Season
It was only a moment of madness from Konstantinos Mavropanos that prevented Mohammed Kudus being West Ham’s match-winner against Crystal Palace on Sunday. The Ghana international started and finished the move for West Ham’s opener, flicking the ball over Will Hughes in the middle of the park before sweeping in Vladimir Coufal’s cut-back. It was his third Premier League goal of the season in what was just his fifth start.
He has a further three goals in all competitions, with only Jarrod Bowen (nine) and Tomás Soucek (seven) enjoying a more prolific campaign for the Hammers.
Kudus has injected some much-needed quality in wide areas for West Ham, with fantastic close control and ability to take on his opposite number. In his 544 minutes so far, Kudus has averaged a remarkable 7.4 attempted take-ons per 90, the most of any West Ham player. In fact, only three players – Jérémy Doku (11.2), Luca Koleosho (7.8) and Raheem Sterling (7.5) – have attempted a take-on more often than Kudus, while only Doku (6.0) has completed more per 90 minutes than the West Ham man (3.6).
That dribbling ability was on full display away at Burnley last weekend, with Kudus twisting past three opponents to cross for West Ham’s equaliser, before his brilliant cross was turned in by Soucek for the winner.
It’s taken him a little time to getting going – his first six league appearances were all as a substitute – but Kudus looks more and more like an inspired signing with each passing week.
Nottingham Forest Are in a Relegation Battle
With results and performances getting less and less convincing, pressure is starting to mount on Steve Cooper. Defeat on Saturday at home to Everton meant it was three losses in a row for Forest, and they now have only one win in their last 10 matches. It’s relegation form.
Forest’s positive start to the campaign – when they won two of their first four games – and the presence of three sides who didn’t show much sign of life for the first few weeks in Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton Town, meant Cooper’s side could take their foot off the gas. But now, having relaxed a little while Luton and now Burnley have hit some signs of form, the points cushion to the drop zone doesn’t feel quite so comfortable.
They are still six points above Everton and Burnley, but that gap was nine points before the weekend and after this weekend’s result, Everton will have Forest in their sights, while Luton will believe they can claw back their four-point deficit. Leeds (15) and Leicester (14) had more points at this stage of last season than Forest do now (13), and both were relegated. Forest should be looking over the shoulders and maybe even starting to worry.