Five things we learned from the Premier League weekend, featuring issues for Spurs late on, Arsenal’s big win, and Ross Barkley’s renaissance.
Concentration concern for Spurs?
Tottenham dropped out of the Premier League’s top four after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser at Everton, with Aston Villa leapfrogging the North Londoners into the Champions League places.
Jarrad Branthwaite headed home at the back post from a late set piece, the latest late goal that Spurs have shipped in the Premier League this season. Ange Postecoglou’s team have now conceded eight goals in the 90th minute or later in the Premier League this season, while Spurs exited the FA Cup last weekend after conceding an 88th-minute decider against Manchester City.
Spurs have now conceded 𝐄𝐈𝐆𝐇𝐓 𝐆𝐎𝐀𝐋𝐒 in the 90th-minute this season, the most of any side in the Premier League 😬 pic.twitter.com/yVkOsfCrQ9
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) February 3, 2024
Is there a concentration concern? Oe are Spurs struggling to maintain Postecoglou’s plan for an entire 90 minutes? The Australian will also need Guglielmo Vicario to be much stronger than he has been in recent weeks. The Italian has been one of the signings of the season with his shot-stopping and comfortability on the ball impressing, but recent fixtures have seen teams target the goalkeeper.
Nathan Ake’s winner for Manchester City was the result of Vicario failing to get near a corner delivered towards his goal-line, while Everton deployed a similar tactic as Jack Harrison backed into the goalkeeper for the Toffees’ first equaliser. Vicario protested to the officials on each occasion, but he has to be more physically commanding than he has been of late. Spurs look soft at set pieces right now.
Are you watching, Gareth?
Ross Barkley for England.
The Barkley bandwagon is growing louder after Luton’s midfield maestro produced another outstanding performance this weekend. The 30-year-old was the standout performer as Luton earned a thrilling 4-4 draw at Newcastle, with Barkley involved in three goals and stamping his mark on the midfield battle at St James’ Park.
His career was at a crossroads when Luton took a punt on the free agent in the summer, a fine talent whose career had failed to reach the heights expected. A disappointing spell at Nice proceeded his return to the Premier League, where Barkley has been reinvigorated in the unlikely surroundings of Rob Edwards’ engine room.
Edwards’ decision to move Barkley into a deeper role has brought out the best in the ex-Everton man, who has offered poise, progressive passing and drive with the ball at his feet. Against Newcastle, he was terrific, leading his side for accurate passes, touches, and chances created.
Ross Barkley for Luton vs. Newcastle:
◉ Most touches (79)
◉ Most accurate passes (51/55)
◉ Most passes in final third (23)
◉ Most final third entries (9)
◉ Most chances created (4)
◎ 8 duels won
◎ 6x possession won
◎ 4 tackles
◎ 3 interceptions
◎ 2 successful… pic.twitter.com/XM3LQnElep
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) February 3, 2024
An England recall for Barkley, who won the last of his 33 caps four-and-a-half years ago, would be an astonishing story, but is there an abundance of better options right now? Jordan Henderson’s short Saudi sojourn has damaged his reputation and international hopes, while Kalvin Phillips is attempting to relaunch himself at West Ham.
Barkley, on current form, is worth a look in a two-man pivot even for the uber-cautious Southgate, who is planning for perhaps his final major tournament. Fixtures with Brazil and Belgium next month, elite-level opposition, offer the perfect chance.
What’s happened to Newcastle’s defence?
Last season, Newcastle’s qualification for the Champions League was built on solid foundations. The Magpies boasted the joint-best defensive record in the division, alongside champions Manchester City, conceding just 33 times all season.
Four goals conceded at home to Luton this weekend mean the Magpies have already surpassed that total, with 37 goals conceded in 23 games so far this season. Incredibly, 41% of their goals conceded have come in their last five games.
On Christmas Day, Newcastle had the fifth-best defensive record (22 goals conceded) and the fifth-best Expected Goals Against (xGA) in the Premier League. Since the festivities, Newcastle comfortably have the highest xGA figure (13.84) in the Premier League and have conceded 3+ goals in four of their five games.
Have teams worked out how to get at a previously resilient rearguard? Or are Newcastle’s defensive options performing well below expectations? The answer probably lies in the middle and Howe must find a solution before the club’s European ambitions evaporate.
Time running out for Pochettino
Chelsea’s problems are not a direct result of Mauricio Pochettino’s management. The myriad of issues in West London begins with an ownership who, in an aim to go forward, have set the Blues back.
No clear plan and the rash recruitment of players deemed flavour of the month have made managing this muddled squad a challenge, but there’s little doubt that Chelsea and Pochettino should be doing much better than this. A one-sided loss at Liverpool in midweek was followed by a dreadful display at home to Wolves, as the visitors came from behind to win 4-2 at Stamford Bridge.
Can Pochettino turn things around at Chelsea? 🤕 pic.twitter.com/l5UoiOcvKq
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 4, 2024
Chelsea have spent almost a £1billion on new signings under Todd Boehly. Of them, a staggering 17 new additions and two British transfer record purchases, only Cole Palmer can be deemed a success.
Pochettino has been unable to coax the best from the mishmash of signings, an admittedly chaotic squad rebuild but not one without talent. The defeat to Wolves leaves Chelsea 11th, 20 points from the top of the table, and with a negative goal difference.
Money might not buy happiness but it should certainly bring better results. Time is running out for Pochettino to prove that he is the man to turn it around. The progress this season has been limited.
A huge win for Arsenal – and the title race
This felt like a must-win game for Arsenal.
Defeat would have left the Gunners eight points behind Liverpool in the title race and their hopes in real jeopardy. Mikel Arteta had said pre-match that his team were capable of winning the big games and the North Londoners lived up to that billing, winning 3-1 at an atmospheric Emirates.
A bizarre own goal had seen Liverpool level the game after Bukayo Saka’s opener, a harsh rmoment for Arsenal in an opening half they had dominated. A mix-up in the Liverpool defence then gifted Gabriel Martinelli a goal to restore the host’s lead, before Leandro Trossard sealed the win as his effort deflected through Alisson’s legs.
Arsenal are unbeaten against the ‘big six’ in the Premier League this season:
Man City ✅
Man Utd ✅
Chelsea ✅ pic.twitter.com/bwmZ8lkH0S
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) February 4, 2024
Arteta’s wild celebrations showed how much this meant and Arsenal moved within two points of the top.
It’s a massive result for Arsenal, and perhaps also the best one for the neutrals. Should Manchester City beat Brentford on Monday night, just two points will separate the top three teams. This could be the most exciting Premier League title race in recent years.