Following the weekend’s Premier League action, we pick out some of the heroes and villains from the best and worst of the weekend’s fixtures.
Tottenham are the new Premier League leaders after maintaining their perfect start to the season, with West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool all drawing this weekend – the latter two sharing the spoils at Anfield on Saturday evening.
Elsewhere champions Manchester City closed the gap on the pacesetters after thrashing Arsenal 5-0 at the Etihad, the pressure on Mikel Arteta increasing following the Gunners’ winless start to the campaign.
Heroes and Villains from the Premier League weekend
Hero – Andreas Christensen
Chelsea’s strong start at Liverpool looked in danger of unraveling on the stroke of half-time, Reece James dismissed for a goal-line handball that allowed Mohamed Salah to equalise from the spot.
Facing 45 minutes with a man disadvantage and a home crowd willing the hosts forward, it took a resilient display from Thomas Tuchel’s side to emerge from Anfield with a valuable point.
Andreas Christensen was arguably the stand-out from a determined defensive display, the Denmark international showcasing just why the west Londoners are keen to secure him to a new contract.
Christensen has not always convinced, but he looked at home in the centre of Chelsea’s back three system and made seven clearances as the Reds were kept at bay.
Thiago Silva – who came on as a second-half substitute – deserves a mention, the veteran providing a cool head amongst the heat.
Villain – Granit Xhaka
Braindead and baffling.
Granit Xhaka’s red card was the latest lowlight in an Arsenal career that has had more twists and turns than a cheap garden hose, a senseless dismissal at the Etihad making the Gunners’ mountainous task that much steeper.
There is simply no excuse for an experienced player – one who commands a questionable leadership presence – to make a two-footed lunge, well in the knowledge of the repercussions.
🟥 Most PL red cards since August 2016:
4⃣ David Luiz
4⃣ Granit Xhaka 🆕 pic.twitter.com/NI67b6Hrnp
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 28, 2021
Frustration no doubt played its part, but the truth is that Xhaka – two goals down and outplayed by the Premier League champions – wanted out of the battle.
Hero – Gabriel Jesus
Gabriel Jesus’ right-wing renaissance continues, with the Brazilian maintaining his place in the Manchester City side following a brilliant performance against Norwich last week.
Once again Jesus was at the heart of an emphatic win for Pep Guardiola’s side, providing the assist for Ilkay Gundogan to break the deadlock before opening his own goalscoring account for the season.
Jesus has perhaps been too selfless to feature regularly as a recognised number nine, but his array of attributes appear tailor-made for the wide position, providing Guardiola with a selection headache given the presence of Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez at the Etihad.
Much has been made of City’s failure to sign a centre-forward during the transfer window despite links to several leading names, but there is enough firepower in their ranks to ensure the champions remain title favourites.
Villain – Calum Chambers
The second Arsenal player to feature following a catastrophic showing at City, with Calum Chambers arguably the worst of a woeful bunch.
Mikel Arteta opted for three central defenders at the Etihad and will perhaps have been aiming to restrict the Premier League champions to crosses, only to see that idea undone as Chambers was beaten in the air after just seven minutes.
Chambers’ poor positioning saw him lose Ilkay Gundogan for the opening goal, whilst he provided Jack Grealish with far too much room in the build-up to City’s third.
Hero – Conor Gallagher
Conor Gallagher was amongst the bright sparks of West Brom’s season despite relegation last term, with Crystal Palace moving swiftly to sign the midfielder on loan from Chelsea this summer.
Three games into his Eagles career and Gallagher has already become a fans’ favourite, with the 21-year-old getting the Patrick Vieira era up and running with a brace at West Ham this weekend.
Palace had failed to score in successive games to start the season, but Gallagher’s double helped remove some of the unhelpful comparisons surrounding Vieira and Frank de Boer’s doomed reign.
The midfielder’s energy in bursting forward has been a welcome addition to the Eagles side and Gallagher reaped the rewards of his industry with two equalising goals to rescue a point, both finishes taken in fine style under pressure.
An ageing Palace had stagnated under Roy Hodgson, but players of Gallagher’s youthful promise and profile can breathe new life into the side this season.
Villain – Mikel Arteta and Edu
Spotting a theme here?
There can be no escaping the miserable fortunes of Arsenal at present, with the club having endured their worst ever start to a season and heading into the international break bottom of the division.
The toxicity surrounding the Gunners starts from the ownership and runs right down to the players, with manager Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu under huge pressure.
Arteta’s decision to field a two-man midfield of Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard at the Etihad this weekend seemed bizarre, even with the ‘security’ of a three-man backline that looked hopelessly out of its depth.
Questions must also be asked about the position of Edu, whose recruitment has simply not been good enough.
Arsenal are the highest-spending side in European football this summer, but appear to have regressed despite an outlay of more than £130m.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and each of the five summer additions – Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale and Martin Odegaard – have promise, but can any help Arsenal bridge the gap to the Premier League’s best in the short to medium term?
Arsenal do not possess the spine of a top-four side and adding promise to a rotten core has not helped their chances of a Champions League return – they are further away than ever and Arteta and Edu are unlikely to get the time to see their gamble through.
Hero – Harvey Elliott
Liverpool found themselves frustrated after failing to break down Chelsea’s resistance at Anfield, the hosts forced to settle for a point despite possessing a man advantage for the entire second half.
One bonus for the Reds however was the performance of Harvey Elliott who, after being handed his first Premier League start last weekend, was awarded another huge show of faith from Jurgen Klopp as the European champions visited Merseyside.
Elliott was unflustered and impressed throughout, the 18-year-old’s invention and encouraging understanding with Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold standing out.
📊 Harvey Elliott’s contribution for Liverpool today
11x possession gained
Completed 75/86 passes
1 chance created
11.88km covered, most in match
2nd PL start pic.twitter.com/X24Ggc6rK6
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 28, 2021
Elliott’s emergence following a season on loan at Blackburn has added a new option to Klopp’s side, with more senior options including Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain forced into a watching brief by the teenager.
The tendency of Salah and Alexander-Arnold to move into central areas opens up a question on balance and width however, with Elliott also preferred to come inside from the right channel onto his left foot.
However, he has already shown in the infancy of his Liverpool career that he can be a player for the here and now.
Villain – Jamaal Lascelles
The pressure on Steve Bruce is rising at Newcastle as the supporters call for change at St James’ Park, with the under-fire Magpies manager denied a relieving three points against Southampton in dramatic fashion.
Allen Saint-Maximin looked to have snatched a stoppage-time winner for Newcastle and a first win of the new Premier League season, only for James Ward-Prowse to level in the 96th minute from the penalty spot.
The guilty party for the penalty was club captain Jamal Lascelles, whose desperate lunge brought down former Newcastle player Adam Armstrong in the box.
Lascelles’ mistiming of his challenge cost his side dearly and upped the unrest surrounding his manager’s position at the helm.