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Eight talking points ahead of the midweek action

There’s a full midweek schedule of Premier League action this week and ahead of the latest round of fixtures we’ve picked out some of the division’s major talking points.

Record number of goals and cards!

The opening months of the Premier League season have been engrossing and the statistics point towards more eventful action than ever before.

Sunday was a thoroughly entertaining a day of Premier League football, with 24 goals scored across the six games. There has been an average of 3.16 goals per game in the Premier League this season, the highest on record in the top-flight for 58 years.

There have also already been 31 red cards issued in 140 matches, surpassing the number of sending offs from the entire 2022/23 campaign (30). At the current rate, referees will issue 84 red cards this season, surpassing the current record of 75 dished out in 2002/02 and 2005/06.

Odegaard the key to Arsenal’s title challenge

Arsenal are top of the Premier League table and have the chance to up the pressure on their challengers against Luton on Tuesday evening. The Gunners can extend their current advantage and look in strong shape to do so, having found real form in recent games.

Mikel Arteta’s side spectacularly booked a place in the Champions League’s last 16 after thrashing Lens 6-0 last week, before a comfortable win over Wolves at the weekend. The 2-1 scoreline was closer than the game suggested, as Arsenal created a season-high non-penalty xG of 2.89 and fired 19 shots on goal.

Arsenal are fluid right now and Martin Odegaard has been central to that. The Norwegian has scored in successive games and was a joyful watch against Wolves. Odegaard made six key passes and created three big chances, while offering work-rate off the ball with six recoveries.

Odegaard’s incision makes Arsenal a better side and his encouraging form offers hope ahead of a crucial period. The league leaders face tough trips to Aston Villa and Liverpool before the turn of the new year.

Aston Villa to capitalise on Rodri absence?

Manchester City’s chaotic draw with Tottenham followed a familiar trend against their North London bogey team. Pep Guardiola’s side dominated the clash, won the xG battle 2.6 to 0.5, but somehow failed to leave the Etihad with all three points.

Spurs continually prove to be problematic for City, but the 3-3 draw was symbolic of their recent form. Three consecutive Premier League draws have seen the champions drop to third in the table, while Guardiola’s side needed a second-half fightback to turn around a 2-0 deficit against RB Leipzig in the Champions League last week.

City look more vulnerable than usual right now and next face an Aston Villa team flying on home soil. Unai Emery’s side have won 13 consecutive home league games and are the Premier League’s top scorers at home this season, with 23 goals in six matches.

City will travel to Villa Park without Rodri in midfield. A fifth booking of the season has ruled the Spaniard out of the clash, in a big blow to Guardiola. Rodri served a three-game suspension earlier this season, a run which saw the Citizens lose all three games. City, meanwhile, are unbeaten in all competitions this season with Rodri present.

Since his debut, City have lost six of the 16 league games Rodri has missed (37.5%). With him, they have lost just 12.67% of the 150 games he has played.

Are Crystal Palace headed towards a relegation battle?

Crystal Palace sit 12th in the Premier League table ahead of the midweek games, but recent form will have the Eagles looking nervously behind them.

Roy Hodgson’s side have won just one of their last six Premier League games, with only Sheffield United and Burnley having taken less points over the same period. Hodgson’s plans have not been helped by cruel luck with injuries.

Having finally welcomed Michael Olise back into the side, Palace lost Eberechi Eze and Cheick Doucoure. The latter was named as Palace’s Player of the Season in 2022/23, while Eze brings a creativity that is lacking in his absence.

Palace host Bournemouth this week, facing a Cherries team who are three unbeaten and finding form under Andoni Iraola. Defeat would see Bournemouth move level on points with Palace, who need to improve to keep their distance from the relegation places.

Can Fulham afford to lose Palhinha?

Joao Palhinha’s proposed move to Bayern Munich fell through in the closing stages of the summer window, a situation which had Fulham fans breathing a sigh of relief. The Portugal international has been a duel monster since signing for the Cottagers and again leads the Premier League for tackles this season.

Palhinha’s ball-winning brilliance and the heroics of Bernd Leno largely papered over the cracks of defensive weakness last season. This season, just five teams have a higher xGA figure than Fulham, despite Palhinha’s prolific winning of the ball. He has made 204 tackles since arriving in English football, 81 more than the next nearest player, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye.

Bayern retain interest in the 28-year-old ahead of the January transfer window, but his exit could drag Fulham into a dogfight, even given links to the highly-rate Andre of Fluminense.

Last summer, Arsenal spent £105m to reinforce their engine room with Declan Rice, but Palhinha is contesting more duels, making more interceptions and winning a higher percentage of his aerial and ground duels than the England midfielder. It’s the sort of presence that would be almost impossible to replace.

Is the Man United cycle beginning again?

Here we go again.

Reports this week suggested a section of the Manchester United squad are unhappy with Erik ten Hag and his methods, with the club’s disappointing start to the season continuing with a dull defeat at Newcastle.

It’s a cycle we’ve seen before. Here are the steps:

  1. New manager comes in and is backed in the transfer market
  2. Optimism swells after positive start
  3. Results dip
  4. Dressing room discontent emerges in the media
  5. Finger-pointing begins, and ends with the manager
  6. New cycle begins

Ten Hag has made mistakes, no doubt, but this is the same group of players who were (allegedly) equally vocal in their unhappiness at Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Ralf Rangnick.

Rangnick was widely mocked for saying Manchester United needed ‘open-heart surgery’ during his time as interim boss, but his comments rang truer than ever after a poor performance at Newcastle last weekend. For all the investment and change of recent years, United appear no closer to breaking the cycle.

Salah nears new records

Two teams at opposite ends of the form table meet at Bramall Lane this week, as title hopefuls Liverpool travel to struggling Sheffield United. Jurgen Klopp’s side have taken more points than any other side across the last six games, while Sheffield United suffered a 5-0 battering at relegation rivals Burnley at the weekend.

The game appears an ideal opportunity for Mohamed Salah to seal his latest landmarks. The Egyptian needs one more goal to reach 200 in all competitions for Liverpool, with the 31-year-old set to become just the fifth player to reach that milestone for the Reds.

Salah’s next league goal will also be his 150th in the Premier League, a record that would move him level with Michael Owen and into the Premier League’s top ten scorers of all time.

Howe’s hand suffers another blow

Eddie Howe deserves huge credit for managing Newcastle through their injury crisis, with the Magpies remaining in Champions League contention. Nick Pope has become latest player to join the club’s lengthening list of absentees after dislocating his shoulder during the 1-0 win over Manchester United at the weekend.

The goalkeeper is facing an extended spell on the sidelines, joining the likes of Harvey Barnes, Callum Wilson, Dan Burn, Sven Botman, Sean Longstaff, Joe Willock and the suspended Sandro Tonali as unavailable options.

Anthony Gordon also picked up a knock at the weekend, ahead of his return to face former club Everton. Newcastle will hope the winger has recovered sufficiently to feature, having been in outstanding form this season.

Gordon scored the only goal against Manchester United on Saturday, a ninth goal involvement in 12 Premier League starts this season. A maiden England call can not be far away.

Read – Noughties Nines: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – The Hunter

Read more – Remembering December 2006’s Goal of the Month competition

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