Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Premier League: 10 Talking Points From The Weekend’s Action

Premier League: 10 Talking Points From The Weekend’s Action

Thursday, 18 January, 2018 - 08:00
Clockwise from left: Marko Arnautovic, Jonny Evans, Jordan Ibe, Arsene Wénger and Roy Hodgson. Composite: Getty Images, Reuters, JMP/Rex/Shutterstock

1) Carroll could be Chelsea’s unlikely transfer target

Chelsea have endured three successive goalless draws for the first time and it is inconceivable the scouting department is not exploring forward options. Something has clearly put them off the pursuit of Alexis Sánchez, whom they courted in the summer. Perhaps they believe he is set upon a reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Maybe they feel they cannot compete with the financial package Manchester United could offer. Possibly they deem the costs excessive. Yet, if that avenue is blocked, and with Crystal Palace unlikely to entertain offers for Christian Benteke, there remains the possibility Chelsea will explore Andy Carroll’s availability. Antonio Conte had hoped to secure a targetman over the summer and is apparently an admirer of Carroll, for all the 29-year-old’s patchy injury record. Such a move would once have seemed outlandish. Yet times may have changed. Dominic Fifield

2) Wenger has made a mess of the Sánchez situation

Back in August, Arsène Wenger spoke of the conundrum he faced in dealing with Alexis Sánchez’s future. “We have to make a choice between efficiency on the field and financial interest,” he said. “In this case, I think I prioritise the fact that he will be useful on the sporting side.” The gamble has failed spectacularly; hindsight is 20/20 but how Wenger must be regretting his decision not to cash in and rebuild last summer. He is left with a stale, disjointed squad whose performance at Bournemouth was just the latest in a series of characterless away showings – all the more frustrating given the improvement in their form at home. There has not been a worse Arsenal side since the 1994-95 season, a campaign that at least brought a European final. That year they were pipped to the Cup Winners’ Cup by Nayim and Real Zaragoza; it looks increasingly likely that Wenger will have to muster whatever resources he has left for a more successful tilt at the Europa League if the current vintage are to play in the Champions League next term. Nick Ames

3) Moyes has turned Arnautovic into West Ham’s best player

West Ham did not look like relegation strugglers in outclassing Huddersfield to overtake the Terriers in the table. In a short space of time at the club David Moyes has not only restored his own credentials as a top-flight manager, he has rescued the reputation of Marko Arnautovic, whose running and chasing brought about all four of the goals. “We’re getting the ball to him more through playing him in the middle,” Moyes said of the temperamental Austrian. “He’s a challenging player to manage but he wants to improve and he’s done everything we have asked. There was a suggestion early on that he wasn’t running about or putting in enough effort, but I think that’s the last thing anyone would say about him now. I think he’s trying to show the West Ham fans that he is not what people think, but a really good player worth every penny the club paid for him.” Paul Wilson

4) Delph’s injury leaves Manchester City short at left-back

Fabian Delph isn’t a left-back. Who knew? For the last few weeks Delph’s presence in Manchester City’s defence has looked a little odd, a little chancy, evidence of Pep Guardiola’s ambition, of the player’s ability to learn and adapt, but also of the oddly unbalanced nature of City’s extravagant full-back recruitment programme. Delph has filled in gamely, but here Liverpool targeted him relentlessly. At times in the early moments the pitch resembled a pool table with a wonky leg as the ball kept rolling out to Delph’s side. He lasted only half an hour, twisting his knee tackling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Benjamin Mendy’s injury has left them reliant now on Danilo, who has looked unconvincing. No doubt the quality elsewhere in the team will disguise it once again. But City do have a weakness here that might just test the limits of Guardiola’s ingenuity against better teams. Barney Ronay

5) Palace’s Hodgson not resting on his laurels

Bakary Sako’s match-winning performance will certainly help in the forward’s attempt to win a new contract; his deal expires in June. But quite what Roy Hodgson thinks of the player, and several other fringe names, remains difficult to read. The manager sang the Malian’s praises and talked up the performance of Wayne Hennessey in goal. A moment later he was stressing the importance of signing a striker and a goalkeeper. One aspect of Hodgson’s sterling job at Palace, thus far, has been his ability to coax Premier League performances from those previously not thought up to the task. There were many such performances on Saturday – from Martin Kelly at centre-half to Jairo Riedewald in midfield. Maintaining the balance that allows the former England manager to get the best from his squad while doing his best to reinvent it is a task he appears to have in hand. Paul MacInnes

6) The first of many for Bournemouth’s Ibe?

It has been a long time coming – 18 months and 52 games to be exact – but Jordon Ibe finally registered his first goal for Bournemouth when he scored the winner against Arsenal. Signed for £15m from Liverpool, Ibe endured a difficult first season at Bournemouth and, remarkably, it was 29 appearances before he set up a goal for the club in the Premier League, when he came off the bench to turn the game around against Brighton earlier this season. Ibe, 22 last month, has always had potential but the big question is whether he can deliver consistently in the Premier League. “I genuinely believe now that he can have a major impact at this level,” Eddie Howe, Bournemouth’s manager, said. “His numbers are very good in terms of assists this season but now he’s added a goal and I’m really pleased for him personally that that’s out of the way. Hopefully it’s the first of many.” Stuart James

7) Shelvey likely to stay but does himself few favours

Rafael Benítez beckoned Paul Dummett to the touchline and gave his left-back instructions to pass on to Jonjo Shelvey. A Newcastle free-kick was about to be taken and Benítez wanted it played wide across the 18-yard area. Judging by Shelvey’s head-shaking and the glare he directed back towards the dugout, the playmaker disagreed. Later, Shelvey, struggling to impose himself, was replaced by Mikel Merino and, clearly annoyed, he batted away Benítez’s outstretched hand while stomping past him. Cue more pronounced head-shaking. Newcastle’s manager – who, given his alarming lack of transfer market support from Mike Ashley, has bigger problems – played down the incidents but is unlikely to forget them. Neither will the watching England head coach, Gareth Southgate. With the expected absence of signings apparently preventing Benítez from offloading Shelvey this month it seems football’s Geordie soap opera has yet another subplot. Louise Taylor

8) Deeney too important for Watford to let go

The Troy Deeney question remains a sizeable one for Watford. The club’s self-styled big character, never afraid to be outspoken or ruffle feathers, returned from a second suspension of the season with his team in a tricky predicament. They were two goals down and totally inhibited when Deeney was part of the half-time change that gave Watford heart. He set up the equaliser with a header that was turned in via Abdoulaye Doucouré’s hand. Deeney may have missed a chunk of the season because of bans but he has come off the bench to turn games against Arsenal, Manchester United and now Southampton. If Watford are seriously considering selling a player with that kind of impact, they had better have a ready-made replacement lined up. Southampton’s dismay to be pegged back was understandable but they did show enough quality to suggest a win is not far away. Amy Lawrence

9) West Brom’s Evans shows why bigger clubs are interested

There are not many centre-backs in England who have proved themselves able to cope with the best attackers in the biggest matches. But Jonny Evans is one, still at his physical peak yet still playing for West Brom who, before Saturday, had not won in 20 games. Such is the Premier League and such are Swansea City that somehow they now sit second-bottom – though they have work to do if they are to stay up. Whether they can achieve that depends a lot on whether Evans stays. Arsenal and Manchester City are interested in buying him, and with good reason: though he lacks an outstanding single attribute, on his game he is an excellent all-round defender, intelligent, composed, good on the ball and sharp in the tackle. He may not have a fancy name or reputation, but Sir Alex Ferguson always rated him and he knew a thing or two about what makes a player. Daniel Harris

10) Allardyce knows he needs to get Everton firing again

Sam Allardyce was candid enough, after Everton’s capitulation at Tottenham, to admit his honeymoon period is over. They have scored once in their last five league games, picking up two points, and if they do not rediscover the vigour they showed after his arrival then a return to the relegation battle cannot be discounted. It piles the pressure on Saturday’s meeting with West Brom and Allardyce, who admitted he felt “shock” at their Wembley performance, feels there is little room for error. “Next week’s game is massive on whether we’re going to start slipping into that relegation zone or decide we don’t want to be there,” he said. He pledged to “go back to square one” but hopes the potential acquisition of Theo Walcott will be a step nearer by then. “I hope we can do it in the next week or two,” he said, but a similarly negligent showing against the Baggies could risk deterring even the most receptive of new recruits. Nick Ames

The Guardian Sport

Editor Picks