‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’ was the cry ringing around most Arsenal-supporting living rooms on Boxing Day evening. After all, they’d all just received exactly what they had asked for for Christmas – three points and the utter embarrassment of Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium.
And with that result, yet another ‘football club in crisis’ narrative is averted without the need of a manager getting sacked whilst there are still turkey leftovers in the fridge. It’s amazing the difference three points make and equally amazing is how decent Mikel Arteta’s team look when he’s forced not to pick David Luiz and Willian. Or maybe, it was Sam Allardyce suggesting Arsenal were in a relegation battle – that interview pinned to the wall of the dressing room whilst someone explained to Mari who Allardyce was.
Of course, Arteta might have been planning to unveil Pablo Mari at the back ahead of Luiz without the Brazilian being absent and he could well have pencilled in Emile Smith-Rowe in ahead of Willian regardless. However, if we were to presume that both South Americans probably would have played then fate might have just bought Mikel enough time to sort his team out.
If Smith-Rowe was inspired then Saka was on a different level entirely as the England international terrorised Chelsea for the entire match. Frank Lampard might have called his team out for rocking up and thinking 60% would have been enough to roll the hapless Gooners over – and could you have really blamed them for thinking that? – but it needed the likes of Saka, Martinelli and, yes really, Granit Xhaka to kill the Blues off.
There was something quite fitting about the Premier League’s finest pantomime villain scoring a fine free-kick to put Arsenal 2-0 but each of the goals had something to talk about – and frankly, that’s what I am here for.
Many are suggesting that it wasn’t a penalty, but I (boringly predictably, I know) once again point to the ‘anywhere else on the pitch’ theory with an added dollop of ‘look how the players reacted’. The fact that Reece James wore the look of a man who knew he’d been caught opening the presents under the tree before Christmas morning told me there was more than enough contact there for it to be a penalty. And with no other Chelsea players steaming in to have their say suggested that was the general feeling within the ranks.
As for Saka’s finish – did he mean it? I mean, I’m not going to call the kid a liar. I’ll leave that to Jack Grealish.
Chelsea could have put the wind up Arsenal far more, especially if Jorginho had scored the late penalty – the thing with those hop, skip, pause then jump spot kicks is you really, really have to score if you don’t want to look like a right idiot.
As mentioned, Big Sam is back and, therefore, Little Sam is too. Randomly, Allardyce was the last manager to win a Premier League match against Liverpool at Anfield some 1000 plus days ago.
Whilst many, yeah including me, felt his new West Brom side were never likely to gives us one of those quirky little pub quiz questions, Sam will have probably seen enough to think he can keep the Albion in the top flight and protect that precious reputation of never being relegated. Mainly because they nicked a massively unexpected point.
We’ve seen a lot of sides come to the home of the champions and defend deep – WBA took this to a new level, often defending in their six-yard box, but who am I to mock? They stayed in the game and, from a needlessly given away corner, Ajayi’s header defied physics by spinning back over the line. And nobody could have denied it wasn’t coming.
WBA to stay up? You’d presume so now, wouldn’t you?
Jose’s Spurs kicked off in 8th and finished in, well, 6th. Sometimes, you dream of an early goal in a match to open it up, to provide some entertainment and hope. This was not one of those games – the last thing we needed as a Spurs goal in the first few minutes for obvious, previously bantered about reasons.
However, the best moment of the first 45 minutes was not Ndombele wrong-footing Patricio from distance – it was Ndombele driving forwards, three versus one on the Wolves defence. To his right, he had Harry Kane – goalscoring icon extraordinaire. To his left, he had left full-back, Sergio Reguillon – a man yet to score in the Premier League. Kane is central, a clean shot at goal. Reguillon is wider, with a tougher angle from which to score. You know where he needs to pass. Wolves know where he should pass. Reguillon knows where he should pass as, after all, this is nothing more than a decoy run from deep. Kane is already working out the four different ways he will score. So, obviously, Ndombele plays it left and Reguillon is in shock as he shoots tamely wide.
With Spurs fans presuming that lessons had been learned and that there was no way they’d sit on a one-goal lead and hope to keep a clean sheet you can understand their shock when their side managed to concede, again, in the final ten minutes.
Manchester United were trying something new on Boxing Day. Having won their previous hundred away matches after going behind, United chose to experiment with scoring first against Leicester City despite Marcus Rashford’s best efforts to maintain tradition.
It was a decent game, one United probably thought they had in the bag until they remembered that Jamie Vardy hadn’t scored yet. Sure, Vardy’s goal goes into the history books as an own goal for Tuanzebe, but it was his in Christmas spirit.
Growing up, there were so many English strikers that could have had wonderful international careers. I mean, if you didn’t know the truth, watched all the goals Andrew Cole, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler and, er, Micky Quinn scored in the top flight you’d easily be convinced that they’d each scored 40-odd for their country. Nowadays, it’s just Vardy who feels like he should have many more England goals to his name.
Staying with my younger years, I also found myself wondering how Sir Alex would have reacted to Bruno Fernandes giving away possession so cheaply ahead of Leicester’s first equaliser – I suspect he wouldn’t have cared too much for all his assists, penalties and ‘being a leader’ in that moment, just don’t try and nutmeg someone in your defensive third.
It’s safe to say that Wilf Zaha managed to get into the head of Tyrone Mings. Despite Villa’s defender falling for some classic gamesmanship, Crystal Palace were utterly impotent and unable to bounceback from their 7-0 battering by Liverpool.
Ollie Watkins was the literal definition of doing everything but scoring, having a hand in each of Villa’s three in their 3-0 win.
Peppy G thinks James Ward-Prowse is the best free-kick taker in the world, so it was a good job Fulham’s Areola was concentrating enough to produce the best save of the day in their 0-0 draw with Southampton.
Back in the day, Sheffield United started having their Christmas party earlier and earlier each year as it was usually the turning point in their season and saw them start to pick up points and climb up the table. In this day-and-age it is highly unlikely even Chris Wilder allowed his team to celebrate the festive period and, true to form, they lost without scoring – this time 1-0 to Carlos Ancelotti’s Everton who moved up into 2nd place, briefly. Ancelotti is even getting a tune out of matchwinner Gylfi Sigurdsson and that, folks, is true management.
Man City kept yet another clean sheet since they chose to leave no Stones unturned and they probably should have racked up a few more than just two against Newcastle United. Steve Bruce continued to remind people that staying in the Premier League is the sole aim of the season meaning he spent the rest of the evening with Newcastle fans demanding he should be sacked. 2020 has seen many things change – but Newcastle fans being utterly unrealistic and living in a world where they think it’s still 1995 is not one of them.
I wonder if we will ever find out what time Sean Dyche was allowed to go into the referee’s room? It must have been super-windy at Elland Road as Rob Jones can’t have heard Dyche asking over and over again.
The reason Dyche was so keen for a chat was probably twofold – firstly, it did look like Nick Pope got a bit of ball when sending Patrick Bamford flying in the area after just five minutes. Clear and obvious error? Probably not and the same could have been said had it not been given.
The one that will have really stuck in Dyche’s throat was Ashley Barnes’ ‘equaliser’ being ruled out because Burnley’s Ben Mee dared let Leeds’ keeper Meslier come jumping over the top of him in the identikit example of ‘goalkeeper getting too much protection’.
I am no Brighton fan at all – don’t get me wrong I like their pretty football that often ends in a draw or a defeat – but even I was thinking that ruling out Lewis Dunk’s goal for handball would have been pretty harsh given he was standing about 3cm away from Soucek heading it into him. So, I was glad common sense prevailed until I remembered the rule that if the ball touches the arm directly leading to a goal then it is handball.
Still, West Ham didn’t really seem to be trying to win the match – they picked Mark Noble – so it’s all good. Mind you, West Ham never beat Brighton so maybe the Moysiah was playing a sensible game, especially given that a simple corner into an area saw Soucek – that’s Sow-cheque, apparently – head home an equaliser that was a tad on the easy side.