Arsenal show they are serious title contenders while Man Utd's unlikely lads step up - Premier League hits and misses

February 09, 2024

Rampant Arsenal show their title credentials

Having struggled to convert their dominance into goals for much of the season, Arsenal now can't stop scoring. Their six-goal thrashing of West Ham on Sunday made it 16 in their last four games.

Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Liverpool were swatted aside. But this, their fourth consecutive win, was their most devastating display yet; their biggest away victory in Premier League history and another statement about their credentials.

This is a serious team. Already the best in the league defensively, they have now found a level of cutting edge to match. The game at the London Stadium was just the latest reminder of their potency from set-pieces. But they were rampant from open play too.

There is no out-and-out No 9 capable of rivalling Erling Haaland's scoring exploits, of course. But Arsenal are sharing the goals out. Against West Ham, there were five different scorers. They threatened from all angles. West Ham could not cope.

Bukayo Saka's double puts him on five goals from his last five Premier League games and he is not the only attacking player to have hit a rich vein of form at what feels like the right time. Leandro Trossard has three in his last four. Gabriel Martinelli too.

The fluidity of their front line was too much for West Ham, with Martin Odegaard orchestrating proceedings and Kai Havertz constantly finding space to exploit. The fact they still have Gabriel Jesus to return from injury is another source of encouragement.
Nick Wright

The unlikely lads stepping up for Man Utd

Manchester United are salvaging what at times has been a calamitous season. Three unlikely lads are helping on that front.

Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay and Diogo Dalot. All three stepped up to the plate at Villa Park in what could just be a victory that completely changes the trajectory of where United are going this season.

Maguire was given player-of-the-match by Gary Neville - a performance full of grit and aerial dominance in both boxes.

McTominay was the match-winner with a barnstorming header - his seventh goal of the Premier League season, no player has scored more for United.

And, Dalot was exemplary with the ball, including his cross for the McTominay winner. He looks every inch a Manchester United right-back now, even for the longer-term.

All three players have been linked with a move away from the club in the past 18 months but the lure of being a Manchester United player has been too big for them to give up when push came to shove. You can tell they really care playing for the club - and you can't have too many of those in your squad when trying to build a successful football team.

They have their imperfections but you can't knock their contributions.
Lewis Jones

Why on earth did Emery take Bailey off?

Aston Villa had clawed it back to 1-1 against Manchester United and were pushing for a winner. Looking dangerous and more likely to get the crucial third goal, Unai Emery took Leon Bailey off.

"It was tactical," he told Sky Sports after the game. The fact he had to answer questions on it says a lot.

Bailey was running the show down the Villa right. He set up the equaliser, no Villa player had more successful one-on-ones than him, half-time Man Utd substitute Victor Lindelof was having a torrid time. Gary Neville was calling for Diogo Dalot to swap with Lindelof to stop the tide.

Bringing Bailey off let Man Utd off the hook. Erik ten Hag responded by making a positive substitution himself with matchwinner Scott McTominay. The Man Utd manager won the battle of the dugouts.
Sam Blitz

West Ham's capitulation increases pressure on Moyes

Freak results are a part of football, an unavoidable reality. There is, however, a way in which a team can lose on such days. West Ham's capitulation against Arsenal on Sunday certainly wasn't that.

Watching Arsenal score four goals in 15 first-half minutes was shocking enough but what made it more jaw-dropping was the inevitability of it all. There was an almost immediate surrender, which Bukayo Saka, scorer of two goals, said Arsenal could sense.

"We smelt blood today and went for the kill," the 22-year-old told Sky Sports.

David Moyes admitted this was one of the darkest days in his 26 years as a manager, but rightly reminded us that it wasn't so long ago that they were enjoying some of the best days in the club's recent history.

The issue he faces is the disconnect he has with the fans who crave a more attacking brand of football. Results like this, despite Moyes' safety-first approach, don't help the manager's cause. The discontent among the naysayers will only grow after this historic defeat.
Zinny Boswell

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