With just 7% of the season played, informed opinions are understandably a little thin on the ground right now. All we have are the kneejerk reactions that we carried with us into the international break, based on scant evidence and sometimes even just a single poor performance.
Yet, there are exceptions to this rule just like there are always exceptions to rules and in this case that’s because sometimes, occasionally, a truth hits home straight away. You just know, without the need to kick its tyres and take it for a test-drive.
The season has barely begun and already these five declarations can be considered as fact.
Arsenal ARE in crisis
At various stages of last season, the following clubs were deemed to be in ‘crisis’: Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea pre-Tuchel.
That’s right, all of the ‘top six’ were supposedly mired in a state named after the Greek for ‘decision’ because change is the only feasible option or else suffer for the rest of eternity.
In the event Spurs and Chelsea switched up their managers but City didn’t and they comfortably won the league. United didn’t and they finished as runners-up. Liverpool didn’t and the Reds ended their campaign unbeaten in ten. Finally, the Gunners kept the faith and, well, maybe they should have took note of the countless headlines prophesizing all manner of doom and gloom.
To declare a club in crisis is really the cheapest currency these days but here we are once again and here they are, being Arsenal.
Across the summer the club spent £149m on players who improve their squad but not the team exponentially. Their two best experienced players – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette – both look like men who’d rather jump ship. Their manager continues to confound and all of this bleeds like a prematurely picked scab into apathetic and chaotic performances that saw them easily downed by Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Arsenal need a leader or three. They need creative players who actually get on the score-sheet with semi-regularity. Most of all, they need direction.
Until at least one of these flaws is seriously addressed they will remain banter fodder drifting ever further away from a top six berth.
Brentford will be a lot of fun
It was hardly a surprise to see the Bees buzzing for their opening encounter at home to Arsenal, with a 17,000 capacity crowd at Brentford’s new stadium relishing every moment of their first top-flight game for 74 years. In the space of 90 high-octane minutes, Thomas Frank’s side made an early pitch to be everyone’s second favourite team this season, due to their honest endeavour and attacking intent.
If that all sounds a touch patronizing, then regrettably that is almost unavoidable when celebrating the considerable merits of this likeable club. They are indeed a ‘breath of fresh air’ while their rise and continued success can rightfully be viewed as a ‘fairy tale’ as they compete on a weekly basis against clubs with vastly bigger budgets and better resources.
What’s more, the West London outfit are going to be bags of fun. Brentford adhere to an attractive brand of football regardless of the opponents and were the Championship’s top scorers for two years’ running. Ahead of their dismantling of Arsenal, Frank insisted: “We’re going to attack the league,” and though consecutive draws against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa revealed the substance behind the style, these games also felt like the calm before an eminently watchable storm.
Benrahma is the real deal
“Said is an exciting talent with a lot of ability and the right qualities, who will complement the other attacking players we have at the club.” That’s what David Moyes said after West Ham had completed the shrewd capture of the Brentford winger for a potentially bargain £25m last year. The Hammers boss could barely hide his contented grin.
And understandably so, because throughout the previous campaign the Algerian has tormented the Championship, scoring 17 times and assisting a further nine. He easily walked into the Team of the Year and by every estimation was a genuine star in the reckoning.
“Not everybody is going to hit the ground running. Some come in quickly and some don’t. Said is still learning. I think he just needs to calm down a bit.” That was Moyes again, speaking last winter, halfway through a miserable debut season for the 26-year-old in East London that eventually resulted in just a singular goal and a raft of disappointing displays.
It’s admittedly early days yet but so far in 2021/22, Benrahma appears like a player transformed, or more accurately the player that West Ham signed.
If two goals and two assists in his first three games is cause for great encouragement his link-up play with Michail Antonio is more promising still.
Manchester United are not yet back to their best, but they now know the way
For far too long for a club of United’s standing, they were in urgent need of a top-notch right winger. That shortcoming was finally addressed – and emphatically so – this summer when they finally secured the services of Jadon Sancho.
Another long-standing deficiency was at the back, with Harry Maguire too often adjusting to a different partner, all of them inferior. In early August, Raphael Varane signed a four-year deal, the Frenchman unquestionably one of the finest exponents of his craft.
Already this term, we have witnessed United at their swashbuckling retrospective best, with crucially Fernandes and Pogba combining to devastating effect, as the Reds have gone on to break a Premier League record for the most away games unbeaten. And now, Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to Old Trafford, still capable of single-handedly taking a team a whole level higher.
Will they win the title this season? That remains doubtful given Chelsea’s improvement and City’s formidable squad depth, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side still feels a little slight of elite quality in midfield.
For the first time post-Ferguson however, United are heading in the right direction, that being up.
Doubt Trent at your peril
Liverpool’s title-winning season in 2019/20 capped a career highpoint for the right-back as he additionally won the PFA Young Player of the Year and was even nominated for the Ballon d’Or. The Reds’ homegrown talent was on an astonishing upward trajectory that had many consider him the best full-back in Europe.
A series of underwhelming displays last term however saw that momentum stall, as his stats plummeted – just focusing on his attacking attributes, his goal creating actions fell by a remarkable 55% – and defensively he looked somewhat suspect. Frankly, he resembled a player burnt out before his 22nd birthday.
That has changed and quite dramatically already this season, carving out the most chances (15) from the Premier League’s opening three matchweeks and reveling in the Reds most recent game against Chelsea.
An England recall was a fitting reward for his blistering early output and once again we are reminded that form is temporary but class is permanent.
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