Thoughts and analysis from pivotal weekend of Premier League action (2023)

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from Saturday's slate of action in England's top flight.

Spurs undone by individual mistakes

Tottenham Hotspur have done themselves no favors this season. Unforced errors - not tactical blunders, injuries, or personnel issues - have cost this team precious points. Absent-minded defending has also laddled Spurs with deficits to overturn, and that, combined with erratic goalkeeping, has proven their downfall. They've been their own worst enemy, and if they just found a way to turn off all the friendly fire, they'd certainly find themselves higher than fifth place in the Premier League table.

But that's the reality of this club. Tottenham have conceded first in 12 of the 18 matches they've played so far in the Premier League, and while they've demonstrated they can erase multi-goal deficits, comebacks materialize less often than they'd like.

Tottenham fell into a familiar hole in Sunday's north London derby, and despite their best efforts in the second half, they couldn't find a way out. Dejan Kulusevski did a tremendous amount of work on the right wing, floating in to take snapshots across Aaron Ramsdale's goal. Harry Kane also buzzed around the penalty area. But nothing came of it. Arsenal had built a 2-0 lead by that point, and it rarely came under threat.

Thoughts and analysis from pivotal weekend of Premier League action (1)

The problem was that Arsenal had a lead to begin with. Tottenham practically invited them to take the advantage. Hugo Lloris gave off enough nervous energy to power a small city, and Arsenal surely sensed the goalkeeper's jitters as he dawdled on the ball and second-guessed himself in the opening stages of the first half. All Arsenal had to do was shoot in Lloris' direction and hope he'd make a mistake. He did exactly that when he bundled Bukayo Saka's attempt into his own goal. No longer confident playing the ball out, Lloris then offered to hoof it clear. But his teammates never seemed ready to play the long game. Arsenal wrestled back possession with ease and scored a second from one such play.

Tottenham again lacked the serenity and confidence to achieve a decent result. If they had played the entire game as they did in the second half, they would've given themselves a chance to take points off the league-leading Gunners. But it's clear these players aren't on the same wavelength. It's Antonio Conte's job to fix that.

Arsenal are champion material

Sunday's win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium didn't reveal anything we didn't already know about Mikel Arteta's squad. It just confirmed the many good things about this team. Take, for example, the way Arsenal approached the game. They took the initiative from the very beginning, outshooting their opponents 7-2 while winning virtually every second ball in the opening half-hour. They showed the hunger and desire to win without being desperate. Arsenal relentlessly attacked Tottenham until they scored and paced themselves until they found a second.

The biggest strength of this side is consistency. That's the only thing that kept them from finishing in the top four last season. Now, they're keeping clean sheets and building everything from the back. The Gunners have recorded five shutouts in their last seven Premier League fixtures and won all but one of them. They're no longer subjecting themselves to the violent swings of back-and-forth contests or willing to exchange blows in multi-goal thrillers. They just keep things tidy and take their chances.

(Video) Arsenal top Spurs & United beat City in massive derby weekend | The 2 Robbies Podcast | NBC Sports

Thoughts and analysis from pivotal weekend of Premier League action (2)

It helps to have a number of protagonists playing the best football of their careers. Martin Odegaard, the club's fledgling captain, has scored eight goals in the 2022-23 Premier League campaign, tying his previous single-season high. The development of Eddie Nketiah in the absence of injured starter Gabriel Jesus is a revelation. Saka's also close to hitting double digits in both goals and assists for the first time in his career. It's all coalescing at the right time.

Now proud owners of an eight-point lead atop the Premier League table, Arsenal have every reason to feel they can win their first title since 2004.

Mudryk arrival eases pressure on Potter

Only Everton boss Frank Lampard was ahead of Graham Potter as the manager most likely to get sacked next in the Premier League heading into the weekend. But, unlike Everton, Chelsea returned to the win column, beating Crystal Palace on the same day that the club celebrated the signing of a rising star who could end up playing a role in saving Potter's job.

Despite suffering through a rough spell that contributed to growing doubt over the former Brighton manager's ability to coach an elite club with seemingly boundless resources, dishing out €70 million in guaranteed money for Mykhailo Mudryk suggests that Potter will get time to turn Chelsea's season around.

The club was apparently so eager to announce the 22-year-old winger's transfer from Shakhtar Donetsk that an official statement was released in the first half of Chelsea's 1-0 victory in order to unveil him in-person to Blues fans at halftime.

Join us in welcoming our new number 15, Mykhailo Mudryk! 👏 pic.twitter.com/QiNPzWPNFY

— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 15, 2023

On the surface, Mudryk could easily be mistaken for a panic buy after a rash of injuries devastated Chelsea’s attacking core. The need for reinforcements - including Joao Felix, who arrived on loan from Atletico Madrid last week - suddenly became a necessity for the 10th-placed club after Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic went down. But, unlike Wout Weghorst, the 30-year-old Dutch striker that Manchester United surprisingly signed on loan last week, Mudryk is no stop-gap.

Chelsea obviously envision a long partnership with the Ukraine international. With Mudryk tied down to an eyebrow-raising eight-and-a-half-year deal, it unofficially signals a vote of confidence for Potter. The only concern now for Chelsea will be whether the pair can deliver results on the pitch. Otherwise, the manager merry-go-round at Stamford Bridge could be about to spin again.

Are Manchester United … back?

It hasn't happened often in recent years, but if you looked closely, there was a smile on Sir Alex Ferguson's face after the latest edition of the Manchester derby.

After almost a decade of letdowns, such an expression was rare. The Manchester United icon even became a meme when a video of the Scottish tactician went viral while the Red Devils were being humiliated in the last derby in October. With Manchester City leading comfortably on their way to winning 6-3, he was shown on camera as the commentator said, "Sir Alex Ferguson was asked in 2009 if Man City could ever go into a derby as favorites. He said, 'Not in my lifetime.' Now it's every time."

(Video) Reactions after Arsenal dominate Spurs in derby | Premier League | NBC Sports

Fast-forward three months, and it's a completely different tune for both teams. United's strong form of late suggested Saturday's affair at Old Trafford would be much closer than the season's first installment of the Manchester derby. After going behind in the second half of Saturday's encounter, United stormed back to change the narrative, scoring two late goals to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory over the reigning Premier League champions.

— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 14, 2023

There'll be plenty of debate in the days and weeks to come about United's controversial equalizer. However, there's no doubt that Ten Hag's team has transformed after registering its ninth straight win in all competitions to cement its place in the top four.

"Now you see a proper team that works hard for each other," Bruno Fernandes said after the game.

It might still be too early to mention United in the same breath as title contenders alongside City and Arsenal. But it's safe to conclude that the problems that plagued United during their stuttering start to the season are officially a thing of the past. The win also sparked a glimmer of hope of finishing ahead of City in the table for the first time since Ferguson retired in 2013.

Match officials got it wrong in Manchester derby

The debate about the aforementioned equalizer won't be much of a debate at all, actually. Unless it's with a Red Devils supporter, there's seemingly no doubt among the rest of the football world that United's second-half goal shouldn't have counted.

The linesman and match official got it wrong when they let Fernandes' goal stand in the 60th minute, despite Marcus Rashford's obvious interference in the build-up.

The United striker was miles offside when Casemiro's pass was played through to him. Rashford raced to meet the ball before shielding it without making contact, allowing Fernandes to fire a curling shot beyond Ederson. It was an impressive finish, but had City's defenders already turned off at that point, thinking Rashford was offside and a call from the referee was imminent?

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Probably. But that didn't matter in the end. Match official Stuart Attwell came to the head-scratching conclusion that the goal was good after seemingly receiving reassurances from the linesman, who initially - and correctly - put his flag up and called the play back for offside. But, after seemingly giving in to pressure from United players and irate home fans foaming at the mouth just feet behind him, linesman Darren Cann presumably told Attwell that he made a mistake.

The official offside ruling from the FA. There are several rulings here which seems to suggest what Marcus Rashford did for the Bruno Fernandes goal is offside. #MUFC 2-1 #MCFC pic.twitter.com/rS2Tygr2RZ

— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) January 14, 2023

The decision triggered a visible shift in momentum, culminating in United scoring a pair of goals with less than 10 minutes remaining against a City outfit that looked shell-shocked after the decision.

Liverpool have zero midfield presence

Jurgen Klopp said he'd never seen a worse performance as manager of Liverpool. Perhaps that's true, but Saturday's 3-0 loss to couldn't have come as a surprise. The Reds have been reeling for months. Their lack of consistency has made upsets like Saturday's at Amex Stadium seem all the more routine.

Klopp tried to find a solution. He changed his formation Saturday, hoping his players would play a more compact game. He even made a quadruple change midway through the second half. Nothing worked.

The most alarming issue lies in midfield. For whatever reason - a lack of confidence, a lack of understanding, a lack of chemistry - Liverpool have made it easy for opponents to pass through the middle of the pitch. It's a shocking development for a side that used to pride itself on its relentless pressing and made the field as small as possible. The opposite is now true. Liverpool give opponents virtually endless possibilities when in possession of the ball, and they don't have the pace to recover.

Thoughts and analysis from pivotal weekend of Premier League action (3)

But Brighton didn't have to do all that much to cut through Liverpool. They'd find a player in open space after exchanging just a couple of passes and had the time to do virtually as they pleased when they entered the final third. The absence of any midfield presence only magnified Liverpool's issues at the back, with Fabinho and Thiago hardly offering cover to their already-jittery center-backs.

Saturday's capitulation wasn't just a bad day at the office. It carried further hints and clues that Liverpool - as mighty as they were just a few months ago - are in disarray. Seven points adrift of fourth place, Klopp's side suddenly finds itself in a dogfight for a Champions League berth. And there's little reprieve in sight, with Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United, Newcastle United, and Real Madrid on the horizon.

Quick free-kicks

Guardiola thinks title race is over

It wasn't just United that celebrated Saturday's derby result. Arsenal also had to be delighted with how the game unfolded. The loss gives the Gunners a chance to increase their lead atop the Premier League table to eight points if they win Sunday's north London derby at Tottenham. So, it was probably music to Arsenal supporters' ears after Pep Guardiola's proclamation that the Premier League title race is over after City dropped points for the second time in four games since the league restarted on Boxing Day. Though it might've been a genuine statement from the Spanish manager, waving the white flag in January could also be Guardiola's way of waking up his troops following two straight losses in all competitions for the first time this season.

(Video) Arsenal a cut above Tottenham in North London derby | Premier League Update | NBC Sports

Trossard who? Mitoma steps up for Brighton

Thoughts and analysis from pivotal weekend of Premier League action (4)

Despite all the drama around Leandro Trossard's expiring contract and seemingly inevitable exit, his omission from Brighton's matchday squad again made no difference at all. Roberto De Zerbi's side easily handled Liverpool, making 20 to 30 passes at a time. While the Reds played poorly, the surging Seagulls upped their game, showing confidence on the ball. Japanese international Kaoru Mitoma continued to strut his stuff in Trossard's place, tormenting Trent Alexander-Arnold with a sequence of penetrating runs that left the Liverpool right-back holding his hands up in frustration. If Trossard does end up leaving Brighton in January, fans can rest easy knowing Brighton have the personnel to continue playing high-octane football.

Fans are doing Everton no favors

Everton's form is undoubtedly a cause for concern. Fans should expect more from a club of its stature. But the scenes that preceded Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Southampton made a tense situation even worse. The club's entire board refrained from attending the match at Goodison Park out of fear for their safety, with fans calling for immediate change at seemingly all costs. Everton chairman Bill Kenwright received emails that he wouldn't leave Liverpool alive. The Athletic's Greg O'Keeffe and David Ornstein reported that a fan had put club CEO Denise Barrett-Baxendale in a headlock. Fans also crowded Everton's team bus as it approached the stadium, setting off a menacing mood on Merseyside that seemed to hover over the players and affect their performance. Afterward, one fan demanded that Yerry Mina, who played no part in Saturday's loss, stay with the club if it's relegated. The environment at Everton is toxic, and it won't get any better if the people who run the club feel unsafe.

Stat of the weekend

Is it time for Tottenham to move on from Hugo Lloris?

Hugo Lloris has made 4 errors leading to an opposition goal in the Premier League so far this season, twice as many as any other player.

Unreliable. 👀 pic.twitter.com/nkn1jd3yJK

— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 15, 2023

Tweet of the weekend

Mikel Arteta knows his players all too well.

Pinpointing the exact moment Mikel Arteta realised that Granit Xhaka needed stopping pic.twitter.com/nAH7Z4UQnY

(Video) Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth

— Sam Dean (@SamJDean) January 15, 2023

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