Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.
What’s wrong with Gabriel Martinelli?
Arsenal’s season is stuttering after a run of three consecutive defeats in all competitions, with Mikel Arteta’s team lacking the fluidity of the side that topped the table for much of last season.
Among the biggest concerns has been the form of Gabriel Martinelli. The 22-year-old was Arsenal’s joint-leading scorer last season with 15 goals, equalling Roberto Firmino’s Premier League record for the highest-scoring campaign by a Brazilian.
This season, Martinelli has scored just twice from 18 appearances. Only four players to have had 30+ shots this season have a worse conversion rate (6.1%) than Martinelli, while none of those players are deemed ‘regular’ goalscorers.
Martinelli’s lack of goals is not solely from poor finishing, however. His expected goals (xG) figure of 3.11 indicates a lack of clear-cut chances during the current campaign. For context, Scott McTominay, Jay Rodriguez, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Oliver McBurnie are among the players to have recorded higher xG figures than Martinelli in the Premier League this season.
Arteta must find a solution if Arsenal are to remain in the race.
Welcome back, Ivan Toney
After eight months on the sidelines, Ivan Toney is eligible for a Premier League fixture. The striker’s suspension for breaching gambling rules came to an end this week and Toney could feature as Brentford take on Nottingham Forest.
The 27-year-old’s return could hardly be more timely for a Bees team in free fall right now. Thomas Frank’s side have lost five Premier League games in a row and seven of their last eight, leaving them just three points above the drop zone.
“I feel ready and can’t wait to start playing.”
Ivan Toney – The Return 🎬 pic.twitter.com/ABDlVxoQda
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) January 18, 2024
A lack of attacking options has contributed to that slump and Toney’s return can solve those issues. He scored 20 goals in the Premier League last season, a return only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane bettered.
Losing Toney was a monumental blow to Brentford, who saw their star sidelined without the benefit of a transfer fee to replace him. Far more than just his goals, Toney’s aerial threat is crucial to Brentford’s direct brand of football.
With Ollie Watkins and Dominic Solanke in career-best form, Toney needs to hit the ground running to have any chance of making the England squad for Euro 2024. He could be the difference in Brentford’s battle to beat the drop.
Nunez must play in the absence of Liverpool’s chance creators
The FA Cup schedule and Premier League’s mini-break came at an ideal time for Liverpool’s title challenge. With Mohamed Salah at the Africa Cup of Nations and Trent Alexander-Arnold sidelined through injury, the Reds are without their two most creative assets.
Add in Dominik Szoboszlai and Andy Robertson’s injuries and Liverpool’s likeliest chance creators are all absent for this weekend’s trip to Bournemouth.
Most Big Chances created in the Premier League so far this season:
17 – Mohamed Salah
12 – Trent Alexander-Arnold
11 – Son Heung-min
All unavailable for the next gameweek. 😳 pic.twitter.com/njq2KyLDus
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 11, 2024
Enter, Darwin Nunez.
The Uruguayan might need refinement in the final third, but Nunez is a magnet for making things happen and Liverpool’s best route to openings in the absence of their missing stars.
In the club’s Carabao Cup semi-final with Fulham, the 24-year-old entered the game in the 56th minute with Liverpool trailing. At full-time, he had two assists, the highest expected goals figure (0.76), joint-most shots (4), opposition penalty box touches (12) and completed dribbles (3) of any player on the pitch.
Nunez has been wasteful (and unfortunate) on occasions this season, but he is often a one-man crusade of chaos in the opposition half. His ability to create openings singlehandedly could be crucial in Liverpool navigating this period.
Blades meet Irons in unusual rivalry
Sheffield United take on West Ham this weekend in an unusual rivalry that contains plenty of bad blood.
The origins of the rivalry come from the 2006/07 season when West Ham embarked on a Carlos Tevez-inspired run of results to relegate Sheffield United. West Ham were later fined £5.5m after being found guilty of breaching Premier League rules over third-party ownership, in relation to the signing of Tevez and compatriot Javier Mascherano.
The Argentine had scored seven goals in the final 10 games of the campaign, including a final-day winner at Manchester United. Sheffield United, outraged, took the Hammers to court following their relegation.
An out-of-court settlement saw West Ham pay the Blades £20m in compensation, though it took more than a decade – including a drop into League One – for Sheffield United to return to the top tier. The animosity remains.
Can in-form Wolves end Brighton woes?
Wolves are a team on the up under Gary O’Neil. It’s three consecutive Premier League wins and five unbeaten in all competitions, with progress to the FA Cup fourth round secured with a replay win over Brentford in midweek.
Wolves take on Brighton in the Premier League on Monday night and can move level on points with the Seagulls with a win at the Amex Stadium. O’Neil’s men will need to improve on a woeful recent record in this fixture, however, having lost their last four meetings with Brighton.
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 20, 2023
That run has seen Wolves concede 16 goals, including a 6-0 thrashing at Brighton in April, as Roberto De Zerbi’s side recorded their biggest-ever top-flight victory. Brighton also won the reverse fixture 4-1 at Molineux earlier in the campaign, a fixture remembered for a stunning solo goal from Kaoru Mitoma.
Wolves have improved since then, and a positive result will be evidence of how far they’ve come.