Premier League: 10 talking points from this weekend’s action

Premier League: 10 talking points from this weekend’s action

1) Arteta has lost his grip on spiralling Gunners

How much worse can it get for Arsenal? Against Burnley they were slowly gaining momentum before Granit Xhaka swung his hand and shattered Mikel Arteta’s fragile gameplan. From there, an own goal from their shot-shy striker brought defeat and boos from 2,000 scattered fans at the final whistle. This was almost too perfect an implosion, peak Arsenal taken to sobering new heights. It is tempting to feel sorry for Arteta, but this alarming new pattern of self-destruction is happening on his watch. His job role changed from head coach to manager in September, reward for a stellar first season. By broadening his focus, Arteta may have lost the steely grip on his squad that drew such impressive collective displays last season. Burnley were solid, organised and positive when the chance came; they looked like a team and Arsenal did not. That should worry Arteta just as much as the growing rap sheet of red cards. Niall McVeigh

• Match report: Arsenal 0-1 Burnley

2) Benteke is finally flourishing at Palace

Plot twist: Christian Benteke is back. After marking his first league start of the season with two goals against West Brom, Benteke kept his place against Tottenham and was key to their second-half comeback. Now 30 and with just eight goals in the last four seasons, time appeared to be running out for the club’s record signing. On the evidence of the last two games, perhaps the career obituaries can wait a while. Palace are no longer such a blunt instrument in attack: with the dynamic Eberechi Eze now complementing Wilfred Zaha in the final third, they have quick players in central areas who can feast on the sort of chaos that Benteke creates. Benteke’s struggles stemmed from the burden of being a lone target man in a struggling team. When he has runners around him to capitalise on second balls and knock-downs, he can be effective in ways that are often harder to anticipate. Early days, but maybe the problem wasn’t Benteke, but the system around him, all along. Jonathan Liew

• Match report: Crystal Palace 1-1 Tottenham

Christian Benteke (second left) celebrates after Jeffrey Schlupp (No 15) equalised for Crystal Palace.

3) Iwobi and Sigurdsson take Everton back to the future

Everton’s first home win in more than two months was unquestionably built on an outstanding defensive display against Chelsea – no small feat with a backline comprising entirely of central defenders – but the contributions of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alex Iwobi were also notable. The two expensive midfielders have attracted plenty of criticism at Goodison Park but both received rousing ovations when substituted as 2,000 vocal Evertonians recognised the quality and industry they brought to an impressive victory. A combination of the two is essential to winning fans over in the long term, and is the basic requirement Carlo Ancelotti demands from every player. As the manager said afterwards: “After starting the season really well we lost our concentration and our attitude a bit. We now have a busy period, starting with a really tough game on Wednesday [at Leicester] and I hope to see the same attitude and spirit then. We will see.” Andy Hunter

• Match report: Everton 1-0 Chelsea

4) Parker’s reshaped Fulham can beat the drop

Three weeks ago, Fulham conceded three goals to Everton inside 35 minutes, leaving them with four points and 18 goals against after nine games. Since then, they’ve let in four in three against Leicester, Manchester City and Liverpool, accumulating four more points, and suddenly look like a team. It’s a very different team to the one which started the season, with only two players who started on the opening day keeping their places. Scott Parker’s decision to change from a back four to a back three has made a difference, and so has the strength and composure of the now-regular Ruben Loftus-Cheek. But the biggest change has been Parker’s decision to go with quick, dynamic attackers: the intelligent movement of Ivan Cavaleiro, Ademola Lookman and Bobby Decordova-Reid caused Liverpool all manner of first-half aggravation, and offered a variety of out-balls in the second. It would no longer be a surprise to see Fulham avoid relegation. Daniel Harris

• Match report: Fulham 1-1 Liverpool

Fulham's Ivan Cavaleiro runs with the ball against Liverpool.

5) Rice lands Hammer blow at Elland Road

There is a long way to go before Gareth Southgate decides if either Kalvin Phillips or Declan Rice make the cut for the opening game of next summer’s European Championship, and the England manager may yet decide he can accommodate both in his starting lineup. The Phillips v Rice debate has increased since the Leeds player achieved promotion to the Premier League, and the 25-year-old has acquitted himself well so far this season. But it was Rice who edged matters between the two holding midfielders as West Ham secured victory at Elland Road on Friday. David Moyes was rightly effusive in his praise of the player, insisting he has been magnificent all season, and this was undeniably one of his best performances alongside the equally no-nonsense Tomas Soucek. Aaron Bower

• Match report: Leeds 1-2 West Ham

6) Maddison can unlock Leicester potential

The Premier League table has rarely looked stranger so many games into the season: the top 10 are separated by seven points, and the three clubs at the bottom of that list (Manchester United, City and Aston Villa) have games in hand that, if won, would concertina things further. Nicely ensconced in third after breezing past Brighton, Leicester are one of few teams in the race looking settled, the return of their injured players giving them options and competition for places all over the pitch. Over the last few months, Brendan Rodgers has relied heavily on the counterattacking prowess of Jamie Vardy, but in Sunday’s victory James Maddison demonstrated the lock-picking skills that offer Leicester a different way to win; it’s hard not to wonder just how far they can go. Daniel Harris

• Match report: Leicester 3-0 Brighton

James Maddison celebrates a goal against Brighton.

7) Solskjær expects festive run to shape title race

Following Saturday’s derby draw, Manchester United find themselves on 20 points, outside the top four but with a game in hand. Starting with Sheffield United on Thursday, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side have five Premier League matches over the festive period, also facing Leeds, Leicester, Wolves and Aston Villa in what looks a tricky run of games. Solskjær believes that by the end of this period, a firmer picture may emerge regarding the title race. “Christmas time, with the amount of games in a short space of time – there will be changes in positions,” said the Norwegian. “We have [played] a game less but it’s a big moment in the season – you get to new year, then you have a break with the FA Cup: maybe then we will have a clearer view of how it will look.” Jamie Jackson

• Match report: Manchester United 0-0 Manchester City

8) Ghosts of Baggies past haunt Bilic

Slaven Bilic surely endorses the adage about it being better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Feted during West Brom’s journey out of the Championship, he has barely had time to unpack his new, Premier League logo-embossed tracksuits before finding himself recast as a leading candidate for the sack. With tricky games against Manchester City and Aston Villa coming up, Bilic could have done without losing to Covid-ravaged Newcastle, where Steve Bruce lacked a raft of senior defenders and fielded a still convalescent Isaac Hayden out of position at centre-half. Yet while Hayden excelled, West Brom’s supposed defensive rock, Branislav Ivanovic, foundered. After the centre-back’s concentration lapse prefaced Miguel Almíron’s opener, Bilic watched former West Brom loanees Jacob Murphy and Dwight Gayle combine for the latter to head home the winner. Talk about football’s immutable law of the ex. Louise Taylor

• Match report: Newcastle 2-1 West Brom

Chris Wilder checks his watch.

9) Blunt Blades need to sharpen up fast

Sheffield United’s team buses took it in turns to beep as they pulled away from St Mary’s but, as Chris Wilder knows, they have nothing to be chipper about. His side have lost 14 of their past 15 league games since beating Chelsea in July and look a shadow of their former selves. The rangy Sander Berge passed up the Blades’ best opening before Southampton went ahead and while Rhian Brewster proved a sprightly presence off the bench, they struggled to penetrate. Billy Sharp was easily tamed by his former club and Oli McBurnie struggled before being withdrawn with a shoulder injury. On Thursday at Bramall Lane the division’s lowest scorers – five goals across 12 matches – simply must find a way to trouble Manchester United. Ben Fisher

• Match report: Southampton 3-0 Sheffield United

10) McGinn shows value of new Villa deal

Some players knock off after securing a new contract. Not John McGinn. After agreeing a deal that should keep him at Aston Villa until 2025, the Scot demonstrated his value to the club with a powerful performance in the victory at Wolves. He has regained his thrust and dynamism, a point exemplified by his drive into the box in stoppage time at Molineux that led to the match-winning penalty. “He’s been exceptional since he came here,” said Dean Smith. “But then he had a bad injury and we had to get him back to fitness. Now he’s showing what he’s about and he certainly warranted his new contract.” The Villa manager sees McGinn as an integral part of his team’s development, alongside the likes of Tyrone Mings, Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins, Matty Cash and Emi Martínez. “They are all players who are a good age who can get better and better.” Paul Doyle

• Match report: Wolves 0-1 Aston Villa