It’s another international break. Those dreaded two weeks to wait just when things are heating up in the EPL … Arsenal’s narrow 1-0 victory over City on Sunday blowing the title race wide open.
It was a game that resembled a chess match more than a football game. Hardly the great advert for the Premier League it was billed to be. Unless you are a defensively-obsessed William Saliba fan boy.
But it was another demonstration that City’s supposed impenetrable dome isn’t quite so. Four points now separate the top six and City sit third in that list. Two EPL defeats in a row for the first time since 2018. A sign of the ridiculous standard they have set for the rest of the league and that perhaps that standard is waning.
Ilkay Gundogan’s departure and Rodri’s recent suspension have exposed a possible over-reliance on the latter in midfield. His replacement, Mateo Kovačić, is one of undisputed quality but enough for the world’s best? His rash challenges on the weekend suggest not.
Despite this, it is far from crisis central for City. They are only 2 points off the top and their own total at this point last season. But, with difficult fixtures against Brighton and Man United next up, it is a crucial few weeks for the Citizens to show this season will be no treble-winning hangover.
North London’s EPL domination
Down the M40, things are rosier over in North London. Arsenal, as expected, are looking lively EPL competitors. Their victory on Sunday widely trotted out as a ‘statement’ win by the country’s leading pundits.
It has been a steady, not tantalising, start to the season for the Gunners. They have rarely felt at full pelt, there has been little of the mesmerising free-flowing football of last season. Even their 4-0 demolition of Bournemouth felt more like a demonstration of the Cherries defensive weakness than Arsenal’s overwhelming abilities.
The fact that they are still joint-top despite this will only be seen as a positive by Mikel Arteta. An understated yet solid start. Defensively, they have been outstanding. After some early season experimentation, Arteta’s preferred pairing of Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães have only been dribbled past once so far this season.
Even the almighty Haaland looked bereft facing them. A duo akin to that of Martin Keown and Tony Adams. One that takes no prisoners and isn’t afraid to fight. A character many felt missing in Arsenal’s more recent defensive partnerships.
Things are looking good for the Gunners. Thomas Partey and Gabriel Martinelli’s return adding to this, leaving the sides starting XI a formidable force for any opponent. It just so happens their next opponent isn’t exactly that. It’s Chelsea.
Big Ange’s Spurs revolution
Ange Postecoglou. Big Ange. What more can you say? A man who’s led Tottenham to the top of the table. A sentence few would have imagined uttering on the day of his appointment back in June.
It’s not necessarily his success that has endeared him to Spurs fans. Though it no doubt helps. But it’s his style. Both on and off the pitch.
Tottenham are playing attractive attacking football. Yes, attacking. Son Hueng-Min and James Maddison providing a beauty to life without Kane. No more moody big name coaches with styles of football so boring it could redry your walls.
The response has been instant. Spurs fans quickly realising they had finally escaped the psychodrama of the past few seasons. “I’m loving Big Ange instead” reverberating around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
How could you not? Even the most diehard Arsenal fans must find it hard to not feel the slightest of affections for the Aussie. His down-to-earth persona more reminiscent of the bloke next to you in the pub than a Premier League manager. But he’s certainly worthy of the job.
Despite their success, few still tip Tottenham to sustain a realistic title challenge. That’s in their favour. They can keep ticking along, enjoying the feeling at the top. However long it may last.
Bournemouth and the boys at the bottom
It hasn’t been so enjoyable down at the bottom. A struggle for the new kids on the block.
During the initial weeks of the season, it was little old Luton that everyone had patronisingly decided were going down. Discussions of Derby’s infamous points total often mentioned.
Then everyone quickly realised the other new boys were just as bad. Vincent Kompany’s Burnley proving consistently underwhelming after much fanfare. Like Daniel Farke’s Norwich from years before, Kompany is determinedly sticking to his style despite achieving little success with it.
Sheffield United, on the other hand, don’t even have an attractive style to point to. Paul Heckingbottom’s over-reliance on set pieces giving little for the fans to cheer about. They sit bottom of the EPL, amassing 1 point from their first eight games.
In fact, Luton have been the most impressive of the newly promoted sides. Sitting in 17th on four points, they are a team steadily improving. Since their opening two fixtures, they have not lost by more than a single goal. They are hardly shipping them in and Carlton Morris is proving a consistent outlet up front for the Hatters. A sign of hope for their fairy tale to continue?
Down on the south coast, life is far from a dreamy fairy tale … 3 points from a possible 24 leave Bournemouth 19th in the EPL. Perhaps an apt reflection on why not to sack your well-liked manager after a relatively successful season? I don’t know, just a thought.
Andoni Iraola may be looking for Gary O’Neil’s advice on how to avoid the drop if things don’t turn around soon. Another case of an attractive style not executed well enough. Their high-pressing abilities not quite at the level Iraola managed to implement at Rayo Vallecano.
Perhaps it should be a warning to the other sides at the bottom. Don’t sack your manager too soon. No matter how tempting it may be to bring Chris Wilder back to Brammall Lane…