Six things we learnt from the Premier League: Same old problems for Arsenal; Chelsea in cruise control; Spurs can take heart from poor start

Rodgers is right to look over his shoulder at Liverpool, Newcastle reap the rewards of sticking with Pardew and something must be done about diving

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The Independent Football

Same old Arsenal, same old problems

What can you say about Arsenal this season? They spent big in the summer, came off the back off an FA Cup victory that ended the nine-year trophy drought, and have recorded their worst start in 32 years. The 2-1 defeat to Manchester United led to large sections of the Emirates crown voicing their anger and frustration at Arsene Wenger and his side, and you’d have to accept that the Gunners are already out of the title race.

There’s been a lot of talk that Wenger’s failure to add a defensive midfielder in the summer has cost them dearly, but the root of the problem is two-fold: their defence is nowhere near strong enough, and their so-called talented attack aren’t taking their chances. Had the likes of Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere found the back of the net on Saturday when the opportunity arose, Arsenal could well have been out of sight before Kieran Gibbs turned the ball into his own net.

But regardless, the fact that a team who had been expected to challenge for the title is starting a left-back of Nacho Monreal’s calibre – or lack of – at centre-back even though they only have one injury to a central defender shows that the squad was not prepared correctly to challenge for top honours. Suddenly, you have to question whether it’s good enough to finish in the top four.

 

Chelsea can win the title without Diego Costa

Jose Mourinho knew he needed a world class striker and midfielder in the summer, so what did he do? He went and bought Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. Lo and behold Chelsea are top of the table by seven points and haven’t lost a game all season. Such is the inconsistency that all of the Blues’ main rivals are showing, they are almost nailed on to win the title back this season, and you’d even expect them to lift the trophy if the worst happened and Costa suffered a long-term injury.

The striker has been a revelation since arriving at Stamford Bridge, but has constantly been struggling with a niggling hamstring injury. He looks to have fully recovered from that problem after scoring his 11th goal of the season in the 2-0 win over West Brom, but such is the threat that Cesc Fabregas and particularly Eden Hazard pose you’d have to back Mourinho’s side to win the league without Costa available. Now that’s a scary thought.

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Given Spurs’ poor start, they’re well within reach to strike

Mauricio Pochettino cut a relieved figure on Sunday after Christian Eriksen’s late winner saw Spurs grind out a 2-1 victory at Hull. His side may be struggling for a run of form this season, but given they’re far from their best Spurs find themselves just two points from the top four and level with North London rivals Arsenal.

The emergence of Harry Kane has also been a welcome sight for the Argentinian, and if he can begin to gel the squad together to play his style of football, things at White Hart Lane may not be as bleak as they currently appear. Their next three league games against Everton, Chelsea and Crystal Palace are hugely important in order to generate some momentum for the festive period.

Spurs1.jpgBrendan Rodgers is right to look over his shoulder

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admitted after the 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace that he is under pressure to remain in a job at Anfield. That might seem ridiculous to think that the manager earmarked as one of the more talented in the Premier League and who guided an under-strength Liverpool side to second place in the league just six months ago could fear for his job, but the Northern Irishman is right to do so.

Football is a results business, more so in the top flight, and seeing Liverpool languishing down in 12th after a third straight league defeat should set alarm bells ringing. The sale of Luis Suarez has proven disastrous for the club – even if it was the right decision – and the fact that Rodgers spent all of the £75m generated from his sale on players that haven’t performed well enough only adds to the pressure on him. The one shining light for Rodgers is that they have a favourable run of fixtures until the 14 December clash with Manchester United that should see them creep up the table, slowly but surely. Failure to do so, and Rodgers could be gone by Christmas.

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Brendan Rodgers leaves the pitch at Selhurst Park

Newcastle are reaping the rewards for erring on the side of caution

Going into October, Alan Pardew must have been fearing for his job, despite what was coming out of the Mike Ashley camp. The continual support for the Newcastle manager – while welcoming in the Premier League – appeared to be in vain. Newcastle were struggling with a number of injuries, but Pardew had lost the fans and signs were beginning to appear that he’d lost the dressing room too.

Yet Ashley stuck with his man, and look at them now. The Magpies are well and truly soaring, and recorded their fifth straight league victory via the 1-0 win over QPR on Saturday to rise up to fifth in the table, level with fourth-place United. While changing a manager can sometimes provide an impetus midway through the season, it’s a welcome sight to see a manager triumph under such conditions.

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Moussa Sissoko celebrates scoring for Newcastle

Players guilty of diving need to be retrospectively punished

It’s been talked about for years and years, but until the FA actually do something about it diving will remain in the sport. This weekend, both Ross Barkley and Victor Moses were guilty of doing so – the latter for the second time this season – while Jan Vertonghen was accused by Steve Bruce of going down theatrically after a clash with Gaston Ramirez.

James Tomkins was also made to look foolish when he was pushed in the chest by Kevin Mirallas, only to grab his face like a sniper had got him right in the eye in something you’d expect in Saving Private Ryan, not at Goodison Park. So what will happen to these cheats? Nothing.

Players who have clearly dived to gain an advantage need to be banned for at least three games in order to rid the sport of this virus. The problem here lies in that incidents like the one seen at the Emirates this weekend between Marouane Fellaini and Jack Wilshere go unpunished. Wilshere, perhaps thinking he was in the Octagon rather than on a football pitch, thrust his head into the face of the United midfielder – a feat in itself given the sizeable height difference between the two – but Fellaini just stood there in a state of bemusement.

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Ross Barkley got away with a dive against West Ham

Wilshere should’ve been red carded, but because Fellaini didn’t exaggerate the offence, the Englishman remained on the pitch. Until the FA get it right and take retrospective action, diving is going to remain in the game.

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