PL hits and misses: Arsenal's personality keeps them on Liverpool's tail


Arsenal show personality, patience and passion

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Arsenal

Mikel Arteta demanded his Arsenal team show their personality at Nottingham Forest – a place where many top teams have faltered.

Since Forest came up to the Premier League, they’ve beaten Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and this season’s Aston Villa at the City Ground. Manchester City and Chelsea failed to win there last season too.

But amid a raucous home atmosphere, Arsenal’s personality shone through. Within half an hour, they had made 111 touches in the final third compared to just one for Forest, who were pinned back and their fans were left stunned and silent.

The only issue was that, for most of the game, the important statistic was 0-0.

Then came the patience. Jesus missed two big chances at the start of the second half but his willingness to keep going, score one, then set up another, won his side the game.

Then came the passion. After full-time, with Forest nearly coming back to claim a point, Oleksandr Zinchenko was furious at Ben White – both players had to be separated amid the celebrations.

A lot has been made about what Arsenal lack. New striker, new winger, new left-back are among the cries. None are coming, so Arsenal are sticking to what they do have.
Sam Blitz

Luton showing serious signs of survival

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Luton and Brighton

Nervy. Unsecure. A sense of dread.

That’s how Everton and Nottingham Forest will be feeling after Luton’s latest barnstorming three-point haul.

It’s now just one defeat in their last nine matches across all competitions as a firm feel of belonging is rubberstamped over this expertly organised Luton side. They did to Brighton what Brighton usually do to their opposition: make their head spin.

Roberto De Zerbi’s side were out of this encounter before they knew they were in it as Luton scored twice in the opening two minutes. A phenomenal feat, especially for a team that had yet to score in the first 15 minutes of a Premier League game this season.

Luton showed so much bravery in pressing so aggressively, man for man, against players of the ilk of Pascal Gross, Lewis Dunk and Pervis Estupinan. It was risk-reward football and Luton came out holding the aces. They are out of the relegation zone with a game in hand on Everton, who dropped below them. This survival mission is gathering pace.
Lewis Jones

Eze and Olise deliver style and substance for Palace

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Sheffield United

There was a moment in first-half stoppage time at Selhurst Park which encapsulated the brilliance of Eberechi Eze. After nonchalantly juggling the ball away from a Sheffield United defender, drawing gasps from the home fans, he released Michael Olise with an incisive reverse pass. Style over substance? No. Eze is all about style and substance.

It was fitting that the pass was aimed at his partner in crime. Between them, Eze and Olise had the Blades chasing shadows. Injuries have restricted them to only four starts together this season. But if they can stay fit, Palace can forget any relegation worries.

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It is a big if, of course, given they both had to be substituted in the second half of Tuesday’s game, but it is in everyone’s interests – except those of Palace’s opponents – that they avoid any further absences. They are that good to watch in full flow.

It was difficult to pick between them against Sheffield United. Eze’s goals were brilliantly taken – the first in acrobatic style from close range, the second from distance following some bewitching footwork – but then so was Olise’s, powered in off the upright from outside the box to seal the victory.

Olise, of course, also grabbed two assists, his dazzling performance showing not even a hint of rustiness despite spending the last month on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. He was sensational. So was Eze. Palace are a different team when they are available.
Nick Wright

Need for predatory striker evident on both sides at Craven Cottage

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Fulham and Everton

Fulham had beaten Everton on both previous occasions this season, with victory coming in the form of a 1-0 league win in August before a penalty shootout triumph in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals in December. But Tuesday’s draw means they have now played 10 Premier League games this season without scoring, more than any other side.

The wasteful Rodrigo Muniz headed straight Jordan Pickford from Bobby Decordova-Reid’s cross. Then Beto served up a contender for miss of the season deep into stoppage time. It underlined how both these sides are in need of a predatory striker.

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Everton striker Beto missed a glorious chance to give his side all three points in their 0-0 draw with Fulham

In total, Fulham had 25 shots to Everton’s 21. The visitors created five big chances to Fulham’s four. There were enough opportunities for both sides to win this twice over.

The concern for Fulham will be the injury sustained to Raul Jimenez while for Everton, Beto still only has one Premier League goal with Udinese receiving the first instalment of the £25.75m spent on him in July. Dominic Calvert-Lewin now has one goal in his last 19 games.

This remains an awkward moment for these two clubs after both were dumped out of the FA Cup following disappointing home defeats on Saturday. For Fulham, there was the added blow of having missed out on a trip to Wembley after losing the Carabao Cup semi-final.

Amid complaints about ticket prices, the bleak mood is shared by Tuesday’s counterparts after the initial galvanising effect of four straight wins following Everton’s 10-point deduction wore off over the festive period.

Sean Dyche’s side have now taken only two points from their last 15 in the Premier League. With Amadou Onana missing, Abdoulaye Doucoure’s return to training is extremely welcome.
Ben Grounds

Blades just can’t compete with two £50m players

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Sheffield United went into their game at Crystal Palace seven points from safety yet, after twice taking the lead against their out-of-form hosts, they ended the match empty-handed – and nine points behind 17th-placed Luton.

It could be a crushing blow for the Blades, who have won just two of their 22 matches since returning to the Premier League. Goals from Ben Brereton Diaz and James McAtee provided the platform for a third victory, but they and their team-mates simply could not deal with the brilliance of Michael Olise and Ebere Eze.

“I suppose that is what you’re up against in this league, minimum £50m players,” boss Chris Wilder lamented after the final whistle.

And whichever way you want to look at it, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Wilder’s side deserve their place at the bottom of the league.

Opta now rate Sheffield United’s chances of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship at less than one per cent. If they pull it off, it will be one of the greatest survival stories the Premier League has seen.
Joe Shread

Villa face test to show they can bounce back

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Newcastle

Unai Emery had described this as a “great opportunity to see how much we have improved” after having lost to the same opposition 5-1 on the opening weekend but Aston Villa struggled to get to grips with Newcastle again, deservedly beaten 3-1 at home.

Given that previous meeting, coupled with the fact that Newcastle finished above Villa last season, perhaps this result should not have seemed so shocking. But Villa had not lost at home in almost a year, drawing only once. They and their fans are not used to this.

Villa supporters will argue that their side was unrecognisable from the one that has been so strong in front of their fans this season but some of the features of that football were on show here. The team was unchanged from the FA Cup draw at Chelsea last time out.

Emiliano Martinez was patient in possession, drawing opponents before releasing it, while Douglas Luiz tried to control the game in midfield. But there was a lack of intensity and that calmness in possession is not so well received when two or three goals behind.

The challenge now is for the players to bounce back and everyone else to retain some perspective. Emery revealed afterwards that he had long since made a mental note to tell his team how proud he is of them on the day that they finally lost their unbeaten record.

There is no cause for panic at Villa, just the return of key players. Pau Torres has been missed and expect Leon Bailey to be restored to the starting line-up against Sheffield United on Saturday. Win that and go on another run, that is the message now.
Adam Bate

Cup has been the catalyst for Newcastle

Fabian Schar celebrates his second goal against Aston Villa
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Fabian Schar scored twice as Newcastle stunned Aston Villa at Villa Park

Newcastle finished 2023 with back-to-back defeats against Luton and Nottingham Forest with pressure building on manager Eddie Howe and an injury-hit squad. The new year started with a 4-2 reverse at Liverpool in which the scoreline flattered them.

The mood changed with a derby win over Sunderland in the FA Cup and what is impressive is how Newcastle seemed to have used that as a catalyst to turn their season around. The supporters at Villa Park sang of Alexander Isak sticking the ball in the Sunderland net.

That win was expected, this was not. After an encouraging showing against Manchester City and another FA Cup win at Fulham, this was the best of the lot against an Aston Villa side that have been near flawless in front of their own fans. It was a deserved victory.

The defence stood firm, the midfield tracked runners and Anthony Gordon has his energy back. Isak’s injury is obviously a concern with Callum Wilson also missing but Newcastle are up to seventh. A difficult period is being negotiated. There is a way through.

“I think it has been a big, big week for us,” said Howe. “The Fulham game, we knew staying in the FA Cup was going to have a big say in the feel around the club. We took that positivity into this game and hope it kicks renewed life into our Premier League season.”
Adam Bate



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