Arsenal were quick to point out that despite their interest in signing Brentford striker Ivan Toney they can play just as well without a dedicated goal scorer leading the forward line. The Gunner’s are the top flight’s only unbeaten team at the start of October and they are undefeated in all competitions this season. Mikel Arteta had to defend himself last week when Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah missed easy scoring chances in the London derby against Tottenham. Last weekend Arteta had the last word when four different scorers defeated Bournemouth 4-0. That was a repeat of the game against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League and this season already Arsenal have seen nine different players hit the back of the net. This weekend they line up in a top of the table clash at home to Manchester City however as I write this column Arsenal tell me that Bukayo Saka is doubtful with yet another hamstring problem sustained in the midweek game against French club Lens. A medical test on Saturday will determine if he plays.
Arteta has recognized that City are vulnerable in the centre of midfield with Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne missing and he has planned with captain Martin Odegaard how they will exploit what they see as a weakness in the league leaders.
Mateo Kovacic is a formidable player for City but given the task of playing a deep holding role he has struggled. Kovacic is a tough player and often finds himself the target of referees however Pep Guardiola has consistently overlooked Kalvin Phillips to replace Rodri which surprised many people and even assistants at the club. This proves that the coach doesn’t fully trust him. Once again Phillips has been advised to think about a move and there will be plenty of clubs showing interest in taking him. Kovacic was poor against Wolves, making too many sloppy passes and losing too many tackles but despite replacing him with Phillips after 60 minutes, Guardiola still has faith in his Chelsea signing. This game is going to be won or lost in midfield but Arteta’s new force of likely goalscorers could give Arsenal the edge.
VAR-so wrong, so often!
The big topic this week has of course been Liverpool being robbed by VAR when they scored a perfectly good goal but lost it due to an incorrect offside decision by the referee and VAR.
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Liverpool are still working on the best way to prove beyond doubt that Tottenham’s Cristiano Romero played Luis Diaz onside. A little known fact is that part of the refereeing team that disallowed Luiz’s goal were on duty in the United Arab Emirates only 48 hours earlier. Human error can never be ruled out but when a mistake is not corrected by the system that is supposed to ensure fair play then something is very wrong. Two of the biggest mistakes which have occurred since VAR was introduced included Brighton having a goal incorrectly disallowed playing against Crystal Palace last season. In a second case VAR drew the wrong guidelines on the screen which would have shown a Brentford goal against Arsenal was offside.
Clubs spend millions trying to be the best, fans pay exorbitant ticket prices to support their teams and TV viewers pay for matches and commit nearly two hours of their time expecting to see a game which is correctly supervised. VAR is proving not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul.
Ten Hag facing sack?
What a difference a season makes. It would not even have been a discussion last year but now Manchester United coach Erik Ten Hag is close to losing his job. Yes, word is he could be sacked very soon if things do not improve at Old Trafford despite assurances from the club that his position is safe for now. The Reds have accumulated only nine points this season, conceded 20 goals in ten fixtures, which is their worst record since 1966/7 and they have lost six of their first ten games for the first time since 1986/7. United have also lost their first two Champions League group stage games and they have only half the Premier League points of rivals Manchester City and are nearer to the relegation places than top of the table.
Ten Hag has shown a ruthless streak in dealing with players. Cristiano Ronaldo was sacked for his TV outburst against the club, Jadon Sancho is banned from squad training and dining with the rest of his teammates and Marcus Rashford was punished for arriving late for training. That kind of tough management succeeds if you are winning – not if you are constantly losing. I looked up at the United director’s box during the loss to Crystal Palace last weekend and the club directors were looking dismal and worried. It was the same in the midweek loss to Galatasaray in the Champions League.
Marcus Rashford is way off his excellent form of last season and midfield giant Casimero is well below his best and was sent off against the Turkish champions. United’s dressing room is unusually quiet these days and there is a lack of confidence. Former club captain Harry Maguire has been constantly humiliated and even Bruno Fernandes has lost his loud brash approach to games. David De Gea’s replacement Andre Onana is proving to be a liability with his erratic displays and risky passing out from the back. Ten Hag is on borrowed time. His tactics are in tatters and once again United are being consumed by the lack of a winning strategy under Ten Hag.
Hamstring injuries see key players out
The most common injury to a professional footballer is one which affects the hamstring. Two players likely to be out for between six and eight weeks are Chelsea’s left-back Ben Chilwell and Crystal Palace winger Eberechi Eze and their respective clubs tell me that neither is looking positive for a quick return after pulling up with hamstring injuries.. Mauricio Pochettino said of Chilwell, “It doesn’t look good. We are very sad about the news but we need to assess the damage and the club doctor will keep us informed.”
Palace’s Eberechi Eze had a splendid game in their 1-0 win against Manchester United and was a constant threat down the wing. He won his first England cap in June and was on call to play again for the national team against Australia and Italy but those chances have now gone.
Mudryk shows signs of confidence
Mauricio Pochettino was pleased with his confident Chelsea team although their staff admitted that in midweek Fulham were not playing their best football. Going forward Conor Gallagher, so nearly sold in the summer, is prospering playing in a more advanced position and he is working well with new signing Cole Palmer. The two often changed positions
and the midfield looked stronger than in any other game so far this season. Palmer showed fans that he can keep possession and find space in which to make good intelligent passes which he did when assisting Armando Broja who also made his first start for the Blues. He demonstrated passion and determination. Mykhailo Mudryk, who many fans had written off, paid back some of the faith shown in him by Pochettino and scored by taking down the ball onto his chest and putting it into the net. Make no mistake Mudryk has worked for this and astonished his teammates with his training and gym work and when he is away from the club he works with his personal trainer Dima Chaposkyi. He has in fact copied his fitness fanatic and hero Cristiano Ronaldo. This weekend Chelsea take on Vincent Kompany’s struggling Burnley and despite the coach insisting that the Claret & Blues will survive in the PL it is another chance for Pochettino’s team of youngsters to justify the money spent by the new management.