Chelsea win again, Manchester's clubs have a good weekend, Arsenal slump
It's been another action-packed weekend in the Premier League. Iain Macintosh looks back at the best and worst performances.
Are Chelsea ever going to drop points again? That's the question that every other Premier League superpower is asking of Antonio Conte's side this Christmas. Chelsea are supposed to be in transition, they're supposed to be finding their feet in a new system. It's supposed to be a difficult dressing room, full of truculent characters. And yet the points continue to pile up. Will it end soon? Their next two games are at home to Bournemouth and Stoke so...probably not, no.
Come on then. Who doubted Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Who thought he was too old and too slow to tear up the Premier League? It's okay, you're in good company. With a brace against West Brom, the 35-year-old striker took his tally to 11 in the league alone this season. Manchester United are, slowly but surely, pushing through the gears and they can still get a lot better. Perhaps not enough to catch Chelsea, but certainly enough to have a say in the top four race.
And, almost as if they can sense an old power is rising again across the city, Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have finally decided to rejoin the title race. Having beaten United, but lost to Chelsea, Tottenham and Leicester, their record against the preseason "big seven" didn't bode well for the clash with Arsenal. But City responded well to conceding an early goal. The win means those who doubted Guardiola would do well to keep quiet this week.
Only three players have scored for Sunderland this season: The eternal Jermain Defoe; the hulking Victor Anichebe and the surprising Patrick van Aanholt. On Saturday, the latter came to the fore once again to secure three crucial points. Quite how Sunderland were still in the game at that point is a question for opponents Watford and not David Moyes, who has now won four of his last seven Premier League games. Sunderland are off the bottom.
West Ham's new stadium will never truly feel like home until a new wave of heroes have made their name within its walls. This weekend, the first of that number took its place on the pantheon. Step forward, the inanimate carbon rod of its generation, The Post. In a tense relegation battle against Hull, The Post came to West Ham's rescue on three separate occasions. Little wonder that 57 percent of fans voted it man of the match in the club's official Twitter poll!
This time last week we were doffing caps to the strength of Arsenal's character, as displayed in their come-from-behind 3-1 win vs. Stoke. Since then they've been beaten by a Everton side more out of form than an ice sculpture in a sauna and, on Sunday, they let a lead go against a Man City side that shipped four to Leicester. Arsenal's intensity and desire was best encapsulated by Mesut Ozil, who watched the final stages of the game with the stare of a man in the sixth hour of a DVD boxset binge. Unfortunately, he was still on the pitch at the time.
It seems a little churlish to criticise Bournemouth given that, well, you know... they're Bournemouth. But after heroics against Liverpool and the midweek victory over champions Leicester, we might have expected a little more than a half-hearted capitulation to a Southampton side with one or two issues. A win would have taken Bournemouth into seventh but, despite taking an early lead, they were never really in it.
We all know that sometimes it can be harder to play against 10 men than 11 but, come on, Stoke, there's no need to labour the point. The Potters were two goals and one man up vs. Leicester as the half-time whistle blew; even in ordinary circumstances, it should be impossible to mess that up. But against a team that had amassed just a single point on the road all seasn? You wouldn't have wanted to be in the dressing room when Mark Hughes arrived after the game.
In the six away games Swansea have played under Bob Bradley, they have claimed one point, with five goals scored and an eye-watering 18 conceded. Let's just say that there's room for improvement. You sense that the Welsh side's season will be defined by the next four games, as West Ham, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Hull await. The last two of those are away from home; Bradley needs to find a cure for their travel sickness. Or Swansea are going down.
At the end of September, a well-earned point at Everton lifted Crystal Palace to seventh. By the end of December, they could be in the relegation zone. Forget about Alan Pardew and any of his ill-advised comments for a moment, this is an extended period of poor form that could prove cataclysmic. Since that night at Goodison Park, they have lost eight of 10 games, with the most recent Saturday's home reverse against Chelsea. That can be understood but, if they are beaten at Watford on Boxing Day, Palace's owners might decide enough is enough for their manager.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.