EPL GW11 Review: Four-midable Champions; Four-ging a Dynasty

Liverpool closed a pulsating weekend of football with a stunning demolition of one of the League’s best defences to prove they’re rightly still favourites to win the Premier League.

When Jurgen Klopp isn’t taking to his lectern and delivering Nuremburg-esque speeches about our abandonment of player welfare, the unfairness of early kick-offs, and raising his troops against what is unfounded evidence of a permanent conspiracy about Liverpool (come on admit it, he looks like someone with film reels of the JFK assassination, press cuttings of that Pentagon missile from 9/11 and a blog subscription to ‘How Gerry McCann Got Away With It), he is clearly still spending quality time on the training field – not just with his Stars – not just with his starting line-up – but the entire Liverpool playing staff because the whole organisation is singing beautifully from the same song sheet – this time against Wolves, seemingly irrelevant to his starting XI, Liverpool rock and rolled for 90 minutes with another clean sheet for the unheard of goalkeeper, inexperienced defence, and the usual mob up top banging in the goals. As with the moon landing, the answer is staring us straight in the face but we just don’t want to admit it… Liverpool are so far ahead of everyone, there’s absolutely no chance of anyone actually getting there… right Conspiracist Klopp?

Match of the Weekend: West Ham 1 Man Utd 3

Pre-game David Moyes had earned himself a lot of column inches having raised West Ham to 5th in the table and hosting a United side that Hammers fans held genuine belief they could / should be taking points from.

Post-game, David Moyes has reminded everyone that there is a stubborn rigidity to his sides and whilst they can be difficult to beat and create chances – they’re predictable, and do not adapt quickly to change. Also, ultimately, they’re West Ham, and do not have hundreds of millions of pounds worth of talent to change a game when it’s not going your way. With David Moyes, you know what you are getting and the limitations of that expression. Whilst they did create chances, and Jared Bowen was excellent in tying up Telles left, right and centre, they’re not dynamic and consistent enough in the final third. What they would give to replace Bowen-Fornals-Haller with Greenwood-Martial-Cavani. If he can maintain a mid-table position for a few years, West Ham fans will be happy – and they can then attempt to build from that base as they have failed previously. Until then… nights like Saturday will come and go, offering Hammers false optimism of taking the lead against the big teams, but not able to see it out often enough to actually give a damn about chasing Europe etc.

As mentioned pre-game about Ole’s United – they’re disjointed – completely unrecognisable as a football side – yet they’re again in the chase for the Top 4 and primed for Champions League knockout football. It left Gary Neville bewildered, in the space of 5 minutes he was angry and passionate about how poor United were, to then laughing about being 2 points off the top of the table. He even suggested early on, the best thing United could do was whack the ball into their own net because somehow it’s the only way they start playing. The other notable change in their tempo was the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at half-time. Without him, United are lost children waiting to be picked off. With him, they’re energetic children on a sugar rush, chasing down everything, running onto everything, and unleashing shots on goal with confidence everything they touch is going to rocket into the back of the net. This bunch of children need something more than a slightly older child babysitting them, but actual leadership and control. Surely Ole’s time is numbered, even if he wins some kind of trophy, this football is not sustainable physically, mentally or financially.

Oh… the Match of the Weekend obviously also came with a new VAR controversy as only the best league in the world can deliver… did Henderson’s clearance leave the field of play before being converted by Fernandes and Pogba? Well… probably. Next season we should have line judges to ensure this doe… linesmen? Nah, they’re a thing of the past. You must mean Referee’s Assistant? Yeah. Can’t be expecting them to just look down the line they run up and down all day and make decisions…

Result of the Weekend: Liverpool 4 Wolves 0

“I think one more week we are top of the League, unless Liverpool win by many – and against Wolves, they don’t win by many” Mourinho post-Arsenal match interview

Gauntlet set. Mourinho wasn’t exactly wrong, Liverpool needed another 5 goals to actually reach the Premier League summit, but the sentiment remains the same. In what is widely regarded as a difficult fixture at home to Wolves – one Mourinho himself lost last season – Liverpool stepped up and dispatched them comfortably 4-0 to re-affirm their position as the best team in the country. It’s been a quiet period for waxing lyrical about Liverpool, the attention for them has been elsewhere on injuries, fixtures and the victim syndrome they have. In this recent time, pundits have focussed on Spurs and Chelsea and the excellent form they’re in. Yesterday, Liverpool set out to steal back the narrative. Their first fixture as Champions with fans in the Kop, this was party time – to celebrate being Champions, to ignite the fuse on becoming Champions again.

They didn’t just win, they put Wolves to the sword. Their weakened team taking to the field, rotation in place up front, the old familiar routine returned. Salah, goal and assist. Big win, clean sheet. The gegenpress putting new England Centre-back Conor Coady under so much pressure that following his error leading to the first goal, he then inextricably dived to win a penalty – a penalty given until VAR correctly overturned it.

If you’re not a fan of Liverpool, or furthermore despise them as most fans from the 80s do… the remainder of the season does not look good. Sky will be absolutely fuming that the big top of the table clash next midweek between Liverpool and Spurs is on Amazon Prime – and the rest of us should be rightly concerned about the bandwidth required for the millions of fans across the globe trying to watch every moment of what could be considered to be a title winning decider down the road. Book it in – Wednesday 16th December at 8pm.

In Form: Normality

No side in the bottom half of the Premier League table picked up a win this weekend, with 11th placed Palace’s 5-1 demolition the closest. Normality is resuming. This can be skewed by which fixtures are occurring, but the league table is also offering signs that the unpredictable results, scorelines, performances, etc are fading out of this season. Also, we’re getting a sense of what is a mad result anyhow, as teams like Arsenal and Sheffield United just show their true colours for being poor sides.

City, United, Chelsea, Leicester, Spurs, Liverpool all won their fixtures and that routine will follow as closely as it can through the winter and into Spring whilst European football takes a backseat. Midweek games will remain as the League continues to fit into its tight schedule, but this will be more unfamiliar to those teams not in Europe and struggling to find form and consistency anyhow.

Big 6 consistency is a gambler’s paradise.

Out of Form: Arsenal / Aubameyang / Arteta

“I want to give words, congratulations to Mikel Arteta because he gave us a very difficult game. Tactically they are very good, very organised. They gave us problems, problems we were able to resolve. They have a good tactical courage and incredible spirt. They are a good team and he is a good coach.” Jose Mourinho, post-Arsenal interview.

A cheap dig, or genuine praise? Either way the Spurs faithful were loving Jose’s praise of Mikel Arteta and his evolution of football at Arsenal. At the start of the season, Arteta’s Arsenal had arrived as FA Cup Winners, knocking out City and Chelsea at Wembley. Then, Community Shield Winners defeating Liverpool. They started with 100% record after 3 games, and everything was rosy in the Garden of Emirates. Then…

Furloughed staff, redundant mascots, Ozil’s exile… Aubameyang’s contract… Aubameyang’s one goal from open play all season… Arsenal’s one win and six defeats in 8 league games…

Wheels truly off – Arsenal Fan TV are already retailing ‘Arteta Out’ t-shirts for £22.

Given that Sheffield United have one point from 11 games, Arsenal have to be pretty disappointing this season for the focus to be on them – and focus it is, particularly when the other half of North London are having their best season for 40 years, Arsenal themselves have not had a worse start to a league campaign since 1981.

Their reliance on Aubameyang to get them out of trouble is trouble itself. His goals last season propelled Arsenal into a false position – and that was only 8th. With his drought coming at a time of transitional development for players such as Saka, Pepe, Martinelli, Willock and others, Arsenal look completely lost in the final third and are more hopeful of clear cut chances than expectant. Sunday was a return to Arsene’s worst periods, when they would repeatedly pass the ball to each other on the edge of the opposition box without ever being clinical with their opportunities. This period happened to be whilst Arteta played under Wenger. This Arsenal form is cyclical.

Roy Keane joked last weekend after the Leeds game that they would have enough to stay up, mocking the fall from grace Arsenal find themselves in – but this week that seems like an even more legitimate point of conversation. Arsenal are not just 15th in the league, but they have also played 3 of the 5 teams below them and you can rightly question where their next points are coming from.

I do believe there will be 3 worse teams than them this season, but on form that is already debateable.

EPL GW9 Review; Contenders and Pretenders

As Spurs perform perfect parallel parking of the bus, inconsistency around them continues and a leading pack begins to develop.

You heard it here first… SkyBet are offering 25/1 on the Premier League season ending with Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea the Top 3 in any order. With current form, strength in depth, attacking flair and now a dependable solid backbone running through each side… how can you possibly conceive anyone breaking their grip on the title race?

Spurs are doing everything correctly in proving doubters wrong, proving themselves wrong, and possibly proving their fans wrong. Mourinho has always been recognised as a serial winner by ‘any means necessary’, something that many were sceptical he could achieve with this ‘Spursy’ group. However their performance in working harder, faster and more effective than Man City shows they’re a serious threat to Liverpool’s title defence. They can go one step further when they visit Stamford Bridge next weekend which is guaranteed to be the one to watch on Sunday at 430pm.

Chelsea are on fire. No side has kept as many clean sheets, no side has scored more. Chelsea are by no means the finished product, but the distance they have come so quickly, and with the electric potential all around their youthful squad, means if they can keep it together defensively long enough – per game – over the season… they will certainly be there or thereabouts. I reserve the same questions over Lampard for a successful season, however no-one below them looks like putting a run of games together sufficiently to settle in the Top 3. Selecting both Abraham and Werner, they added another assist and goal combo to see off a stubbornly boring Newcastle side this weekend.

It’s not too early to get excited about a mouth watering, table topping, fiery London derby…

Finally Liverpool, who despite injuries racking up across their line-up, looked like a machine once more. The personnel almost becomes irrelevant when the system is in working order. Take Milner for example, not only comfortably slotting in at right back in the place of Alexander-Arnold, but he also added two assists to make up for the missing wingback. No Salah, no problem – then consider how good this 3 week rest must be for the elite striker – to return to the Liverpool side with the likelihood of them being top of the tree at the start of December. Matip and Fabinho at the back is reassuringly secure, they didn’t have too much to do against a seriously disappointing Leicester side, but they did it well and consistently.

Who out of the rest of the pack could ultimately break this threesome up? City again looked poor, this is their worst start for over a decade, and they’ve scored only 10 goals from 8 games. Take the ‘Man City’ label aside, and they’re on the kind of form that made us initially question whether Pep could do it in England. City will improve, but they have a long way to go to be consistent enough for a title challenge in my opinion and suddenly look good at 4/1 to miss out on the Top 4.

Leicester, Aston Villa, Everton, Southampton, Wolves, Man Utd, Arsenal… do me a favour. Leicester were the most disappointing outfit of the weekend. They have suffered a few defensive injuries this term, but it was their inability to find forward players, move the ball, and one dimensional football that concerns me about them competing at the top. Villa – do not trust them – that is all. Everton improved, will continue to improve, but are too reliant on key individuals that when they do not perform, the team does not perform, and they concede too many goals currently not seeing games out. The rest are all capable of beating anyone on their day, but when push comes to shove, probably do not have enough killer instinct.

So I re-iterate… 25/1 for Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea to finish Top 3 in any order.

Wow. Now all that’s been said… let’s get to the real meat of the weekend.

Tipped Treble:

A quick shout out to my Tipped Treble portion of the Feudball Preview Show. Another successful showing means that if you have followed my Trebles this season for £10 stakes, you would be up… £8.40!!

Taking Aston Villa Trebles out of the equation (I have backed their games 4 times and lost every time) you would be up… £48.40!!

More importantly here at Feudball in the last 3 weeks we have predicted 3 out of 4 winning tips, so well worth keeping an eye on in the lead up to Christmas.

Match of the Weekend: Fulham vs Everton

If for no other reason… Fulham’s Penalty nightmare is reason enough to be invested in their live matches! It’s now 3 misses from 3 games by 3 different players, and what could be more comical than missing a last minute penalty for a draw? It’s obviously falling over whilst taking said penalty and kicking it twice resulting in a free-kick. It’s no laughing matter at the Cottage, theoretically that goal would have earned another point.

What they did bring was open spaces, as predicted in the Over Goals market, and it’s expected that will continue for both sides. Fulham do not look full of goals and yet… they’ve now equalled Arsenal and Wolves – doubling Sheff Utd and Burnley. Could this momentum infront of goal salvage enough points? Nah…

Everton returned to winning ways, but their drop off in the 2nd half will have raised major concerns. Ancelotti will get consistency in this team, built from organisation and structure, but this weekend with a change of shape they allowed Fulham to get back in the game. The real treat about all of this was it being shown live on the BBC meaning more people than ever were tuned in and it didn’t disappoint the neutrals.

Man of the Weekend: Jose Mourinho

Jose deserves all the attention and plaudits for the result against City this weekend, but he was equally right to point that credit to his full squad of players who put the graft in to achieve the performance. Everyone knows how Jose works in specialist games like this, that the whole event is broken down into opportunities for success and failure and he knows that comes down to the individuals to win individual battles. What is more impressive is how he has built this collection of players into more than just a team, but a military unit, that fights for one another, fights for the badge, fights for the win. He now has another – arguably more difficult – proposition next weekend, not that he would be drawn on it until the Thursday night fixture has been completed in their pursuit of all 4 trophies available?!

Result of the Weekend: Sheff Utd 0 West Ham 1

Here’s why Sheff Utd are in the shit. They no longer have any confidence to string passes together, to get shots on goal, nor to prevent the opposition the space to create their own chances. Then there’s not enough time between games to shake that lack of confidence. As predicted before, this is not a situation Chris Wilder has ever been in with Sheff Utd and will lead to further pain.

Losing at home to West Ham is another disappointment and another loss to a bottom half side that will re-enforce their imposter syndrome that they actually do not belong in the Premier League. The worst possible thing to happen to Sheff Utd has been lockdown, as they’re by far the worst team on record playing without fans.

One thing they definitely should not do, is remove Chris Wilder from his job. They should look to get away on a clean break, to reset. If that fails, just accept the inevitable and make the necessary actions to return to the Premier League at the earliest opportunity.

In Form: Che Adams

Fair play to Adams, who endured a torrid time settling into Premier League life with Southampton. It took him 20+ Premier League appearances before he was able to find the back of the net, and had been so out of form that occasionally Shane Long was picked ahead of him. Fortunately, that one goal – a lob over Ederson in a Southampton win over City last season – has been a catalyst (within 90 second video below).

He started this season very brightly working alongside Danny Ings, still in the England forward’s shadow, but finding ways to contribute. Now it appears his redemption is complete. Saints fans would have been devastated by the loss of Ings to injury but in the games without him, Adams has 2 assists and one goal in Southampton’s 2 wins and a draw. If he continues this run of form when Ings returns, Southampton will have a goal scoring front 2, which can cause problems against any defence. In the meantime he can continue to work with Theo Walcott who scored his first Saints goal since joining on loan.

Out of Form: Arsenal – again.

It’s over 6 hours since Arsenal scored a League goal in open play. To word this differently… Arsenal have failed to score from open play in all but 4 of their League games, breaching only the Fulham, West Ham and Sheff Utd goal line with match points return. Those victories seemed to be evidence of the positive changes Arteta was making at The Emirates. Fast forward past underwhelming football boredom against Liverpool, Man City, Leicester, Man Utd, Aston Villa and Leeds and you have a side struggling.

Whilst those sides are arguably the better of the Premier League, Arsenal head into the North London Derby in a fortnight with only a tough Wolves match to prepare – in which they will almost certainly draw a blank again. They say form is temporary, class is permanent. Is there any class there? Remember this is a side that has been full of class in utilising furlough, letting staff go, keeping Ozil on but refusing to play him, in-house arguing about their football mascot… Arsenal fans could find out too late that the class has gone too. The hope in their favour is in having met most of the big sides and turning round wins against the bottom half of the table.

Arsenal On-field, Farcical Off-field – Ozil’s Exile Exposes Divide at Emirates

Arteta’s on-field evolution papers over pre-existing cracks in the foundations.

The ‘Mystery of Mesut’ has been the defining soap opera narrative at Arsenal ever since the “will they, won’t they” climaxed in 2018’s season finale, with Arsene Wenger finally riding off into the sunset. Once Europe’s ‘King of the Assist’, Mesut Ozil’s reputation has taken somewhat of a battering. Unfairly called out as lazy, and not working hard enough – Opta stats showing he ran more that most of his team mate – he’s been accused of stealing a wage – yet actively participates in all training sessions – then there was the late night special when he and Kolasinac were mugged at knife point, the press and fans’ banter mocking his behaviour of hiding in the car during the assault. It’s been a rough time for Mesut Ozil, yet he has – until now – remained an Arsenal player and committed to the club. And why not? At £350k a week, he has no reason to leave. The story has taken a latest twist this week, with Ozil unregistered by Arsenal for Premier League and Europa League duty. Ozil’s last season at the Emirates will be fulfilling media events, and not one single on-field occasion. This is the end of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

Arteta’s On-field Evolution

To be fair to Ozil and Arteta, this is nothing of a surprise. Since Arsene Wenger left, and even for a period whilst he was finishing his reign – Ozil’s form had dropped off. His ability to influence games was waning, and without his key passes in Arsenal’s attacks, he didn’t contribute enough to the team strategy.

Arteta has since developed somewhat of an evolution at Arsenal. A focus shift has occurred, with more emphasis on pace, passing from the back, and pressing swiftly from the front. In this time, Arsenal’s form has improved significantly – not to mention the three successes at Wembley vs Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. No mean feat. This evolution has come at the expense of Mesut Ozil, and justifiably, he has no place in Arteta’s plans. It’s cruel, but it’s reality.

It’s not just harsh on Ozil, but other players of a similar vein are feeling the impact too. Look at Dele Alli at Tottenham, who no longer implement the #10 role behind the striker. Some teams do still maximise that position, James Maddison at Leicester is thriving there. But whilst the trend of football moves to a 4-3-3 formation with wide strikers, an anchor man and two central midfielders, the longer players like Dele and Ozil need to sit it out or find a new team.

What’s astonishing about this whole fiasco, is the incredibly poor timing of this decision-making, and complete lack of understanding between the on-field management, and the off-field management – whether that is the Manager, the Press Officer, the Head of Finance, Chairman, Owners, even Wenger himself who carries so much weight at the Emirates.

Mesut Ozil’s HIGH salary of £350k per week has been shared widely, casting doubts in the first instance as to how that was ever offered in the first place. This new contract was offered as the prior one was running down, and there was a fear of the player leaving on a free (as Aaron Ramsey has, Jack Wilshere did, and Alexis Sanchez came close to – costing the club millions in revenue). In racing to save that situation, they made him the highest paid player at the club. Interestingly at that time, he wasn’t even a guaranteed starter – the writing was already on the wall – but the club made the move anyway – to protect their asset.

At £350k a week, Ozil is not just Arsenal’s highest paid player but one of the best paid players in world football. His performance since sitting on this salary has diminished with stakeholders all around Arsenal dumbstruck as to the purpose of keeping him around as non-playing staff when that £17.5m annual could have been used to help balance the books – and not force the sale of players like Martinez to Aston Villa.

It’s not just the playing staff that Ozil’s salary could be contributing in more effective ways – as seen by Arsenal’s 50+ redundancies, including the infamous Gunnarsaurus. The story behind letting go their club mascot is filled with such disgrace, not from the business point of view, but the brand management and public relations teams. The fact that, it’s completely swayed public opinion to start supporting Mesut Ozil is embarrassing. From stealing a wage to the ultimate public servant in offering to pay the salary of the man behind the mask – and keep him in employment – when the average person is struggling with Covid-19 lockdown.

There are some very questionable business decisions being made, but the most bizarre again comes back to their treatment of Mesut Ozil, communication from the team to the board, and projections of their own finances.

With Mesut Ozil’s position in the team being disputed, and ultimately concluded by being unregistered and now a non-playing member of staff WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU LET THE TRANSFER DEADLINE PASS?! This is insane. For the next 8 months, Mesut Ozil will cost Arsenal approximately £11m in wages. He cannot play for them, he can contribute on the training field, he can make public appearances – for £11m. In contrast, Gareth Bale is costing a total of £20m for his one season at Tottenham.

Understandably, they would not want to lose him to a rival – but who even is a rival? Ozil may have refused Arsenal’s attempts to let him go, a story we’re yet to hear – but if he is unable to play any football given the football decision, I am sure he would accept a temporary challenge of going anywhere – including the Championship – for the sake of playing some football in 6 months. He also needs to ensure match fitness to maximise the potential of a new contract with a new team in the summer. The situation SCREAMS of bad management, and bad management from the top of the board. A problem like Mesut has been a problem for almost 4 years and yet they have still failed having reached this point again.

Along with handling the other incidents at the club it’s hard to have belief they know what they’re doing. Arteta’s keeping things progressing on the pitch – aside from going away to the Big 6 – Arsenal have 100% winning record this season, definitely something to have optimism about. But if they’re unable to get their shit together behind the scenes, these soap operas will continue to destabilise the club.