Tuesday, March 9, 2021

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

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Arsenal are paying for their poor transfer business, Pickford is showing his worth to Everton and Manchester United are making life hard for themselves

1) Arsenal’s bright future held back by bad buys

As Arsenal edged their way back into the game against Manchester City, there was plenty from which Mikel Arteta could take heart. Yet for all their grit and assurance, the possibility that the hosts might actually steal any points from an uncharacteristically sloppy City side remained painfully distant. With the exception of the burgeoning partnership between Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka, which faded after a bright first half, too few Arsenal players were able to inject their play with any urgency. Perhaps this will be remedied by the return of Gabriel Martinelli but either way it does not speak well of the £72m Nicolas Pépé, who traipsed off after 73 unremarkable minutes, nor the exorbitantly salaried Willian, who sat out the game as an unused sub. A club that recently made dozens of staff redundant must learn to use its money better – and not just for the sake of PR. Alex Hess

2) Pickford embodies Everton’s collective focus

Car horns sounded outside Anfield while, inside the away dressing room, Duncan Ferguson led Everton’s players in wild celebration. An outpouring of emotion was understandable after a near 22-year wait for victory at Anfield, and reinforced the importance of a derby that Carlo Ancelotti likened to Roma v Lazio for intensity. It was Everton’s calmness and cool focus throughout the game, however, that distinguished their performance from many previous derby outings and from a Liverpool team now enduring the club’s worst home run for 98 years. Jordan Pickford embodied the concentration and quality in the Everton ranks. As the equally outstanding centre-half Michael Keane said: “There is a lot of pressure and a lot of people on his back after what happened in the home game, even though it was an accident. It takes mental strength to come back and perform like he did at Anfield. We are really lucky to have someone like him.” Andy Hunter

3) Midfielders slow United down

Manchester United seem insistent on making life hard for themselves in matches they should be winning with ease. Against Newcastle they started two defensive midfielders in the form of Fred and Nemanja Matic, two players who sit deep and play the ball out at the slowest possible pace. Considering Newcastle’s main attacking threat, Callum Wilson, is sidelined with an injury it seemed unlikely they would ever offer much concern, as proved by their 28% possession at Old Trafford. United were always going to dominate the ball for the whole match, so why not start someone with the vague capability to use it in order to give forward momentum? Juan Mata, Mason Greenwood and Amad Diallo would have offered a more positive outlet than the two sitters. Instead United had to struggle, structureless, to a tame victory against a side with little to offer in the final third apart from at set-pieces. Will Unwin

4) Pragmatic Hammers at their best

West Ham prioritised style over substance for too long. They wasted time and money going after glamorous targets instead of chasing players who were willing to work hard. It made them easy to play against. But the vibe is different under David Moyes. The Scot can find a bargain and is happy to bring in players who have been overlooked elsewhere. He solved West Ham’s problems at right-back by signing Vladimir Coufal for £4m and his side’s gritty victory against Tottenham owed much to a fine performance from Craig Dawson, who has proved the doubters wrong since joining on loan from Watford. Dawson may be unfashionable but he is reliable. He was a rock alongside Issa Diop in central defence, helping West Ham to contain Harry Kane and cope without the injured Angelo Ogbonna, their best centre-back. The centre-back’s unfussy approach has played a big part in West Ham’s push for Champions League qualification. Jacob Steinberg

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