theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from another entertaining weekend of Premier League football.
Arsenal make psychological breakthrough
Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Manchester City didn’t just come down to a lucky deflection in the 86th minute of Sunday’s clash. The Gunners did a lot of good work before Gabriel Martinelli’s shot took a fortuitous bounce off Nathan Ake on its way into the back of the net: They held Erling Haaland to a grand total of 0.00 expected goals and limited the rest of his teammates to just four shots, the lowest City have recorded in a Premier League match since Pep Guardiola took charge in 2016.
The game seemed stuck in quicksand until Arsenal decided to take the initiative and reinvigorate play with 15 minutes to go. Declan Rice and Martin Odegaard hounded City on the right flank, forcing substitute Jeremy Doku to send the ball out of play on more than one occasion. They swarmed in packs and hunted down the ball with hunger, elevating their level when the choppiness in City’s game made them vulnerable.
In the end, only one team wanted to win. It says a lot about Arsenal’s performance that said team wasn’t City, the typically possession-hungry champions. If beating Guardiola’s side in the Community Shield in August didn’t count as revenge, it at least showed Arsenal that the team that had beaten them in 12 straight league matches wasn’t as invincible as it may once have seemed.
Arsenal’s progress under manager Mikel Arteta has been all about turning certain victories into touchstones in their evolution from mid-table fodder to title contenders. After losing 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur in May 2022 – a defeat that ultimately cost Arsenal a place in the Champions League – Arteta’s men responded by completing a league double over their London rivals for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign. And after losing to City by a combined score of 7-2 last season, Arsenal demonstrated Sunday just how much they’ve closed the gap.
Rodri’s absence certainly helped the north London side gain a foothold in midfield, and the stats prove how important he is, with City dropping all three games they’ve played without the Spanish metronome this season. Mateo Kovacic was poor and should’ve been sent off in the first half for a pair of dubious challenges, and Bernardo Silva was playing too deep to have an influence in the final third.
But it’s unfair to place an asterisk beside this result. The Gunners defended by committee, and each player made a contribution, with Rice clearing off the line, Gabriel Magalhaes making crucial blocks and interceptions, and Kai Havertz, who’s been criticized for his lack of output, setting up Martinelli for the goal. Arteta encouraged his players to take risks, to play out from the back, and to show personality. While mistakes can happen – goalkeeper David Raya nearly paid the price for one particularly poor passing attempt – the manager has given Arsenal the belief that they can win any game.
Will Premier League refereeing ever improve?
The Premier League couldn’t go a week without stoking the embers of another refereeing controversy.
Last weekend’s infamous offside ruling cost Liverpool a goal in a game they ended up losing, and on Sunday, match official Anthony Taylor and his team of video assistants failed to send off Brighton & Hove Albion’s Pascal Gross for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Though Gross’ tug of Dominik Szoboszlai’s shirt drew a penalty, it should’ve also incurred a red card, as the Brighton midfielder made no attempt to play the ball.
The Professional Game Match Officials Limited, which governs officiating in English football, argued that Szoboszlai was drifting away from goal and therefore wasn’t in a clear goal-scoring position, an odd designation to give to a player who was 10 yards away from the net with no one else between him and the goalkeeper.
Later on Sunday, Manchester City’s Kovacic escaped a red card on two occasions. Match official Michael Oliver and his VAR team adjudged Kovacic’s clear studs-up challenge on Odegaard to be worth nothing more than a yellow. Minutes later, his late tackle on Rice resulted in a simple free-kick when such off-the-ball offenses usually draw a booking. It was negligence at best from one of the most veteran officials in the Premier League.
(Courtesy: ESPN FC / X)
Most fans can agree that the application of the laws of the game is too inconsistent to even begin to take seriously. Liverpool are correct to suggest, as they did in the aftermath of Luis Diaz’s wrongly disallowed goal, that the integrity of the league is at risk. Years have gone by without meaningful change in the way referees handle big decisions, and it has nothing to do with technology. It’s the quality of the officiating and the interpretation of the rules that fall incredibly short of the high standards the Premier League demands.
When former officials like Mike Dean take the arrogant view that former players wouldn’t make good referees – “half of them don’t know the rules of the game,” Dean said while putting down ex-players on a recent Sky Sports panel – it gives off the impression that Dean and his former colleagues are somehow above change. It’s that kind of smugness that attracts further criticism, not sympathy.
Sterling flourishing under Poch
England boss Gareth Southgate might regret his decision to overlook Raheem Sterling. Days after Sterling was left out of England’s squad for upcoming Euro qualifiers, the winger responded with an explosive performance against Burnley to help Chelsea secure three vital points and back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since March.
He wreaked havoc all afternoon at Turf Moor during his – and Chelsea’s – best performance of the season, combining his trademark pace and dribbling to keep Burnley defenders under constant pressure in a match that was another example of his continued improvement under Blues coach Mauricio Pochettino.
The English star’s struggles during his debut campaign at Stamford Bridge were well-documented. But it’s been a completely different story so far this season for the 28-year-old.
Sterling more than vindicated Pochettino’s decision to start him over Mykhailo Mudryk, who scored his first Chelsea goal in Monday’s win over Fulham. The Ukrainian was healthy after picking up a knock in the victory but was kept out of the lineup as a precaution. The decision proved fruitful for Pochettino.
Sterling added to his bloated stats against promoted teams, scoring his 15th goal in 18 Premier League contests against clubs that have jumped up a tier. But it was his work in the build-up to Chelsea’s other three goals that best exemplifies his progression with Pochettino and what the Argentine coach expects of the former PFA Young Player of the Year winner.
Sterling’s been most dangerous this season when he’s aggressive. He showed again Saturday that defenses still struggle to contain him when he challenges defenders directly, forcing them to commit while opening up space for teammates. He can also take matters into his own hands, just as he did when he bravely drove into the box and won a penalty. He consistently created chances against Burnley with quality passing and crosses, such as the one that led to Nicolas Jackson’s goal nine minutes after Sterling scored his third Premier League goal of the season.
After the game, Pochettino was over the moon with Sterling’s response to the omission from the national team. “The performance was fantastic and we go into the break with a different feeling. … (Raheem) knows he needs to perform and show the manager of the national team he’s wrong,” he told reporters, according to CBS Sports’ Ben Jacobs.
McTominay may have saved Ten Hag’s job
Manchester United were staring at a third home defeat in just eight days when Saturday’s match against Brentford hurtled toward second-half stoppage time.
Not even their eternally optimistic manager, Erik ten Hag, could have envisioned late substitute Scott McTominay scoring the goals that may yet change the course of United’s season.
McTominay has come up clutch this year, just not for his club. Scotland’s impressive World Cup qualifying campaign – which sees a self-deprecating football nation in the unusually lofty position of first place in a group featuring Spain and Erling Haaland’s Norway – owes a lot to McTominay’s recent scoring form.
Now, he’s inspired United at a time when hope has become a rare commodity.
His brace against Brentford – converted in the second and sixth minutes of second-half injury time – gives United a reason to believe heading into the international break. Imagine if McTominay hadn’t shown the opportunistic streak that his more attacking teammates, namely Marcus Rashford, have lacked in recent weeks. The Glazers would’ve likely faced the prospect of a mid-season firing, which they’ve historically loathed doing.
That’s not to say McTominay’s goals alone will save United from further pain. That would require an entire shift in tone. The fact remains that, for at least 90 minutes on Saturday, United once again struggled to get a meaningful return from upwards of 67% of possession against a team with one-fifth of their payroll. Individual mistakes from Casemiro, Victor Lindelof, and under-fire goalkeeper Andre Onana allowed Brentford to take a lead that they could then defend, and defend they did, allowing only four shots on target before the start of second-half injury time. Three of those shots came from outside the area.
But McTominay’s uplifting cameo should remind his team that United aren’t ever ones who fold, that there’s always time to turn things around. They’re now four points off the top four and face the same deficit in their Champions League group with 12 points still up for grabs.
“Just never give up no matter the situation,” McTominay said. “At this football club, it is demanded that you never throw the towel in. For me, I have been brought up here since I was five, I know that better than anyone.”
Liverpool’s bad habit
Liverpool’s resilience, a hallmark of their most recent trophy-winning campaigns, has been on full display this season. The Reds already have five comeback victories across all competitions in 2023-24, showing poise and the fighting spirit so synonymous with their manager, Jurgen Klopp, any time they take an early shot to the gut. They almost made it six on Sunday, with only a late Lewis Dunk tally holding them to a 2-2 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion. That ability to bounce back should be lauded; Liverpool have gained a Premier League-high 10 points from losing positions this season. But at some point they need to break the habit of going behind early. Only Luton Town and Sheffield United have conceded the first goal more often than Klopp’s side this season. Coming from behind week after week simply isn’t sustainable.
Too much tinkering by De Zerbi?
Dealing with the demands of a league season – along with the relatively infrequent domestic cup competitions – is manageable, especially for clubs with the benefit of Premier League resources. Introducing European action changes the equation entirely, though. Roberto De Zerbi and Brighton are learning that lesson very quickly. The Italian bench boss has rotated his squad heavily since the Seagulls began their maiden Europa League campaign last month and, in sticking with that approach, made six lineup changes for Sunday’s high-octane draw with Liverpool. It’s no coincidence that Brighton have just one win in their last six games across all competitions, a spell in which De Zerbi’s side has conceded 15 goals. Brighton are still learning to balance the added responsibilities.
European rigors impact Newcastle
Eddie Howe, and an injection of riches, have turned Newcastle into one of the top sides in the Premier League. Much like Brighton, replicating that ascent once European football is in the mix is another animal entirely. Sunday’s 2-2 draw with West Ham United provided the first real glimpse of how difficult it is to manage that added strain. Just days removed from the emotional high of their scintillating Champions League destruction of Paris Saint-Germain, the Magpies came out totally flat against the Hammers. Their individual quality ultimately earned them a point – not an uncommon sentiment for top teams after a draining midweek performance. But considering the continental heavyweights in their Champions League group, this could be a common theme for Newcastle. The ability for Howe and his players to manage this situation will shape their season.
More to come from Kudus
Mohammed Kudus is off the mark. The exciting Ghanaian scored his first Premier League goal on Sunday, rescuing a point for West Ham with an 89th-minute strike from just outside the penalty area. Big things are expected of Kudus, West Ham’s marquee summer addition who arrived from Ajax in a €43-million deal. David Moyes has eased him into the fray thus far; Kudus hasn’t yet started a Premier League match, making five appearances off the bench for a total of 72 minutes. Sunday’s goal could be the moment that ignites his debut season in east London. The more playing time he earns, the better off West Ham, and neutral viewers everywhere, will be.
Spurs unrecognizable from calamitous, error-prone past
In previous campaigns, Tottenham Hotspur wouldn’t have won. After many wasted chances and Yves Bissouma’s deserved second yellow card for diving, Spurs could’ve entered halftime at Luton Town convinced things weren’t going to go their way. But Ange Postecoglou’s Spurs are a different beast. James Maddison teed up Micky van de Ven – two excellent summer signings – for the game’s only goal, meaning Tottenham are now enjoying their best start to a season since their last league title in 1960-61. “Seems to be a situation where manager and players now consider themselves fortunate to be playing for the club and all have a point to prove,” former Premier League full-back Danny Higginbotham tweeted. “Too often in recent years it seemed that it was the other way round.”
Bournemouth’s issues run deep
There are few reasons to be positive about Andoni Iraola’s start to life as Bournemouth boss – especially when you consider how his predecessor, Gary O’Neil, is overperforming at Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Cherries have scored the fewest goals this season (five), and Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Everton went some way to justifying Iraola’s belief that the defense is his biggest concern. Considering the club’s hasty decision to let O’Neil go and its £165-million outlay over the past two transfer windows, it seems unlikely that Iraola will be afforded the time needed to try to address Bournemouth’s considerable problems in defense and attack.
Best wishes to Bash
Sheffield United favorite Chris Basham faces a tough road back to professional football after suffering a horrific injury during his side’s 3-1 loss at Fulham. The 35-year-old, who was making his 394th appearance for the Blades, was about to deliver a cross when his standing leg gave way beneath him. The footage is unbearable to watch, and the match was stopped for 10 minutes while the center-back received treatment on his lower leg. Basham worked at McDonald’s after being released by Newcastle United as a teenager, but he then trod a remarkable path from non-league to Premier League that includes three promotions with Sheffield United.
Stat of the weekend
It was a comeback that even Sir Alex Ferguson can’t match.
Tweet of the weekend
More like Kennelworth Road.