Arsenal must learn lessons at Everton
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Aston Villa vs. Newcastle
Chelsea vs. Leicester
Crystal Palace vs. West Ham
Southampton vs. West Brom
Swansea vs. Burnley
Everton vs. Arsenal
Hull vs. Stoke
Tottenham vs. QPR
Sunderland vs. Man United
Man City vs. Liverpool
Weekend battle: Everton vs. Arsenal
Arsenal have not really got going yet. This is understandable because it is early days and they are still coming down from the highs of their Community Shield (and FA Cup) glory. Also, manager Arsene Wenger had already planted the seeds of an excuse with his complaint about the 2014-15 Premier League season starting too soon after the World Cup.
Against Crystal Palace they were fortunate to win but did so, to their credit, via the unexpected means of set pieces. In Turkey versus Besiktas, there was again a distinct lack of rhythm to their play though there was rigidity at the back to get 44.532 percent of the Champions League qualification job done.
Who should start up front for Arsenal at Everton?
Concerns via one's own trumpet about the failure to sign a backup striker could give Wenger a splitting headache that especially throbs after Sept. 1 and when assistant Steve Bould perhaps says: "Olivier Giroud looks a bit tired, Arsene." Indeed, 21-year-old Yaya Sanogo might one day be an excellent striker, but for now he's all flailing arms and legs. Giroud, meanwhile, has not yet got up to full speed, which for him is not especially fast anyway.
- Mangan: Flat Arsenal seek a spark at Everton
That Liverpool are, at the time of writing, reportedly set to sign Mario Balotelli only further rubs Arsenal noses in how unfavourably their striking contingent compares to their rivals. Of course, the Gunners are only two matches into their season -- neither of which they lost -- and there is still time in the transfer window for their manager to right his negligence, while the return of World Cup winners Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil is a double boost (Lukas Podolski is not a starter) ahead of Everton.
And fortunately for Arsenal, Saturday's opponents, Everton, hardly looked at their sharpest at Leicester City on the opening weekend, twice letting a lead slip against the newly promoted side and having to settle for a draw. The Toffees will, however, take comfort from their defeat of the Gunners in last season's corresponding fixture. It was a 3-0 schooling, with Nacho Monreal, who will start this weekend, and Thomas Vermaelen, now sold for a pretty excellent fee of 15 million pounds, particularly awful that day.
"We have a good opportunity on Saturday to show that we have moved forward and that we are stronger than last year," Wenger said in his prematch news conference. It was in this type of game, against a higher-quality side away from home, that Arsenal too often spontaneously combusted last season, bits of their battered confidence and lazy defending strewn the pitch at the final whistle. It is up to Wenger to prove Arsenal have learnt their lessons.
Under pressure: Sam Allardyce
Already? Yes. Heck, West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce was under pressure even before a ball was kicked, let alone for no goal to be scored and a defeat suffered in front of the Upton Park crowd against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday. Ergo, it is with little surprise he is the bookmakers' favourite to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post.
Allardyce, after staving off relegation in 2013-14, came under scrutiny because of his methods rather than the outcome: the football simply wasn't great. But the hierarchy stuck by him, though with a quite clear caveat that hardly felt like an earnest arm around the shoulder: "Provide more entertainment next season."
So when the Hammers failed to take the lead during the 34 minutes they had a numerical advantage against Spurs and also when it was 10 vs. 10, when it is arguably more open, it took very little for the pressure to build.
But Big Sam shrugged it off his hulking shoulders: "If they're going to do it after one game they might as well have done it at the end of last season." In spite of that bullishness, better than the four shots on target mustered against Spurs will rightly be expected when the Hammers face managerless Crystal Palace, who, while impressing against Arsenal, have had a second tumultuous week off the field.
Finding form: Chelsea
Last week, Jose Mourinho's men had the infamy of staring up at the "under pressure" subheading of this column, but now look at him and his Chelsea players basking in the warm and fuzzy glow of "finding form." It's because they only ruddy found form, didn't they. After going a goal down at Burnley on Monday, the Blues rolled up their sleeves and puffed out their chests before playing some quite brilliant football to make it 3-1.
3 - Cesc Fabregas has assisted a goal in each of his last three appearances in the Premier League. Master.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 18, 2014
They then did what Mourinho sides do and buttoned up the match, making the second half not even close to as entertaining -- how dare they tactically deny the observer. A win was expected though, and so it should in the majority of their games this season.
The performance and outcome merely reiterated what a superb set of players Mourinho has at his disposal, as Cesc Fabregas shattered Arsenal fans' hearts with his kissing of the ball for the first assist while Diego Costa confused Fernando Torres by unerringly scoring a poacher's goal. Saturday's fixture is against Leicester, who might well be quaking in their football boots.
Statistically speaking (via @PCarrESPN)
* Arsenal visit Goodison Park on Saturday to face Everton, who finished fifth last season. In the past three seasons, Arsenal haven't won an away game against any team that finished in the top five, going winless in 14 straight such games.
* Arsenal's midfielders were the most active players in the opening weekend. Aaron Ramsey led all Premier League players with 130 touches in the first round of games, followed by teammate Mikel Arteta with 119. And the three players who completed the most passes were all Gunners: Arteta (101), Ramsey (92) and Calum Chambers (86).
* Manchester United face Sunderland Sunday, after losing their opener to Swansea City. United last lost their two opening league games in 1986-87.
* Manchester City host Liverpool at Etihad Stadium, where City scored 63 league goals last season. That tied the club's first-division record for home goals in a season, set back in 1928-29.
* Daniel Sturridge has now played 50 games for Liverpool in all competitions, scoring 36 goals. He has the most goals by any Liverpool player in his first 50 appearances since George Allan scored 41 from 1895 to 1897.
Any other business: Manchester United
Well, that didn't go according to plan, did it? So much for the seeming certainty of new manager Louis van Gaal high-fiving his players and then each member of the crowd after a win in his opening Premier League match in charge. Just like that, 3-5-2 was branded a tactical travesty, before necks were wound in and it dawned on some that, no, the Dutch coach doesn't have an orange magic wand. Indeed, the squad remains well short, even in spite of Marcos Rojo's arrival.
It didn't take long for the Old Trafford blood that cooled during the summer to come to the boil again. The Glazers and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward were soon being rounded upon for a summer of much-needed recruitment that initially promised much but now looks like a trolley dash. Considering the mental fragility of United's players after last season's uncommon anguish, Sunderland away from home on Sunday is anything but a formality.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.