theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday’s slate of action in England’s top flight.
Arsenal throw away points
Arsenal turned back the clock Saturday with the type of performance that cost them the Premier League title last season. In a match the Gunners were expected to win comfortably, Mikel Arteta’s men threw away two points against an inferior Fulham side that fought back from being a man down to secure an impressive 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium.
From Arsenal’s perspective, such an outcome might’ve been avoided had Arteta not taken an unnecessary gamble with his team selection ahead of the contest.
Arsenal gifted Fulham a shock lead inside the opening minute after a poor pass from Bukayo Saka gave Andreas Perreira a clear passage to score past an out-of-position Aaron Ramsdale. From there, however, it was all Arsenal, as the hosts rebounded quickly to dictate the pace.
But the tying goal that seemed imminent in the first half wasn’t scored until more than an hour after Arteta decided to put his best players on the pitch. Jakub Kiwior received a surprise start at left-back over a fit Oleksandr Zinchenko, while Thomas Partey looked lost and overwhelmed playing out of his normal defensive midfield position to take up right-back duties. The Ghanaian seemed to be learning the job on the fly before Zinchenko mercifully replaced him.
Eddie Nketiah‘s introduction for Leandro Trossard and Fabio Vieira‘s substitution for Kai Havertz, who was poor during the few times in the first half he touched the ball, helped make the difference. Both substitutes were heavily involved in Arsenal’s two goals.
However, it was deja vu for Arsenal, with costly home draws against West Ham United and Southampton last season still fresh on their mind. Like those two games, Arsenal only managed to walk away with a point Saturday. After a noticeable dip in intensity in the minutes after taking the lead, Fulham scored a late equalizer, leaving the north London club to wonder what might’ve been had Arteta opted to field his strongest team to begin the game.
don’t talk about Bruno
The questions over Bruno Fernandes‘ credentials to be Manchester United captain are justified. Too often, he costs his team when his tantrums hinder his on-field effectiveness. Too often, he fails to address his own shortcomings and blames others, like when he chose to forget his terrible header in last week’s loss to Tottenham Hotspur and instead slammed the match officials for missing a penalty when the ball struck Cristian Romero‘s arm.
Calling a spot-kick in that instance would’ve been extremely generous. Fernandes was clutching at straws.
But just a week later, Fernandes hauled his team out of a two-goal hole and to victory with a performance of creativity, industry, and leadership. He’s shown the worst and best of his character in a matter of days.
His clever free-kick to the edge of the area caught out nine Nottingham Forest players packed inside the box, and the recipient of Fernandes’ pass, Marcus Rashford, kept his eyes on the Portuguese playmaker. Fernandes ran into space behind Brennan Johnson – who formed the one-man wall for the set-piece – and met Rashford’s chipped return with a header cushioned into Casemiro‘s path. The Brazilian stabbed the ball in from close range to make it 2-2.
Arguably, Fernandes’ most important contribution wasn’t his clinical match-winning penalty. The game swung strongly in United’s favor when the midfielder galloped after Casemiro’s long ball over the top of the Forest defense before he was felled by Joe Worrall. The red card was shown, and a comeback victory was inevitable.
“In all aspects, he played a game at the highest level,” United boss Erik ten Hag said of Fernandes’ display.
This is what Manchester United need from Fernandes. Greed and petulance aren’t the hallmarks of a good captain. Teamwork and perseverance are. If Fernandes can overcome the selfishness that denies him a place among the very best midfielders in Europe, Manchester United have a much bigger chance of challenging for the Premier League title.
West Ham discover Brighton’s kryptonite
West Ham fans won’t care that it’s only three games into the season after their Hammers ended Saturday atop the Premier League table. And who could blame them? Especially after the way West Ham lit up the hottest team in the Premier League with a lethal brand of counterattacking football.
On the heels of beating 10-man Chelsea, West Ham delivered an even more impressive result against a Brighton & Hove Albion side that’s been the talk of the Premier League after opening the season with dominating wins in which they scored eight goals over two games.
Brighton continued their inspiring play Saturday and were, by far and away, the better side for large portions of the game. But the Seagulls couldn’t handle the smash-and-grab tactics applied by their east London counterpart, resulting in a resounding win for West Ham.
In ceding the possession for most of the game, West Ham still managed to defy the odds and beat the red-hot south coast club by soaking up pressure and striking on the break with devastating results for Brighton.
Up a goal after James Ward-Prowse’s opener, Michail Antonio was instrumental in West Ham’s second, starting the counterattack with a perfect outlet pass to Said Benrahma, whose ball into the box was perfectly collected by goalscorer James Bowen. Antonio snuffed out whatever hope lingered among Brighton fans after Bowen’s strike with a goal of his own.
Brighton snatched a goal back, but the damage was done.
While another counterattack clinic probably won’t be needed against Luton Town next week, West Ham would be foolish not to employ a similar game plan in their following match, a date with treble winners Manchester City.
Awoniyi’s stock rises even higher
Taiwo Awoniyi is the target every time Nottingham Forest get the ball. You can’t blame them. The Nigerian marksman has now scored in seven consecutive Premier League matches after his early breakaway goal at Manchester United – a run that no African has surpassed and only Mohamed Salah and Emmanuel Adebayor have matched. He’s so much more than goals, though. He can lead counterattacks with his running or by jostling with defenders, holding up the ball, and bringing his teammates into play. It’s harder to identify weaknesses in his game with each passing week. And, at 26, Awoniyi is a tempting proposition for a club seeking a striker at the peak of his powers and proven in England’s top tier. Forest would be lucky to still have him at the start of next season.
Are Spurs now getting it right in the transfer market?
Despite Harry Kane‘s departure, there may be brighter times ahead for Tottenham. The club’s recruitment is paying off. James Maddison has effortlessly slotted into the team, always asking for the ball and often dictating play, and he opened the scoring in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Bournemouth. Full-back Destiny Udogie, 21, stayed at Udinese on loan after last season’s transfer but is now a nailed-on starter under Ange Postecoglou, summing up his attacking exuberance in the buildup to Dejan Kulusevski‘s finish. The assured, strong defending from Micky van de Ven, who was signed from Wolfsburg, is drawing comparisons to former Spurs favorite Toby Alderweireld, but the Dutchman can also bail his team out with his impressive speed. Suddenly, Spurs’ future is in good hands. “We’ve got our Tottenham back,” their fans chanted in the Bournemouth away end.
Stat of the day
We’ve all heard the old footballing trope of scoring too early. Does it work for two goals?
Tweet of the day
There was only one stat that counted in Brighton: goals. West Ham won 3-1 in the Seagulls’ backyard despite having around 20% possession and attempting 537 fewer passes than the hosts.