First things first: to stave off insanity if not carpal tunnel, I’m going with a completely arbitrary blend of who’s currently in the top four, who was in the top four at the end of last season [sob], and who seems most likely to be fighting for a top-four spot at the end of this one. If the Hammers feel slighted, well, they can get bent (there’s some quip on a bent doornail in there, but I can’t find it). Shots will be taken, offside will be given, a yellow card, a red card, ere the sun, um, rises. Round up, rivals, Let’s get to it.
1- Man City (3W 0D 0L: 9 pts.)
If you’re plucky enough, you’ll be lucky enough. Brave l’il Man City went into Bramall Lane against those big, bad bullies the Blades, and by dint of pure, honest effort and consciences as pure as the driven snow, emerged with a wholly unexpected three points. Oh. I got the roles reversed. Silly me. Man City did what Man City always do: hog possession, beg for every single penalty, and rely on their massive, massive financial advantages to eventually overwhelm anyone who stands in their way. Even after Haaland wasted chanced after chance, the sense of inevitability was only briefly staved off when Bogle equalised for the hosts in the 85th minute. Sure enough, Rodri saved the day, and City celebrated with all of the tact and restraint one might expect of a treble-winning side winning on matchday three over a newly promoted side.
Yes, I’m skipping West Ham and Tottenham. Nothing vengeful about it. I just don’t see either side staying in the top four. We’ll keep an eye on them, to be sure, but they’ll have to earn my attention. Romance me; beguile me; seduce me.
4- LIverpool (2W 1D 0L: 7 pts.)
I was all set to write a gleeful, taunting screed about how Liverpool fell to pieces at St. James’ Park. Trent Alexander-Arnold gave a backpass his best toreador impression, allowing Anthony Gordon a free run at Allison, whom he nutmegged to open the scoring. Moments later, Virgil Van Djik was given a straight red for barging through Isak, and it looked like the route was on. Hell, Klopp even sent on that Andy Carroll regen in a desperate attempt at salvaging a point. “This post is practically writing itself,” I thought to myself, and then… Núñez turned into a sharp-eyed sniper, beating Pope from virtually the same spot twice to turn this match on its head. That’s just the kind of performance we don’t need to see so early in the season, giving Núñez not to mention the entire squad a massive boost of confidence. I’ll have to save my sass for Newcastle.
5- Arsenal (2W 1D 0L: 7 pts.)
We were lucky to escape with a point. There. I said it. It’s hard to tell which is the bigger factor to our stutter-stop start. Is it the injuries? Is it the bedding in of new signings? Is it Arteta’s mad-scientist formational tinkering. Against Fulham, as many as four players (Kiwior, White, Partey, and Trossard) were played in unfamiliar positions or at least positions in which they’re less comfortable. No one looked all that great other than Saka (well, for the last 89 minutes…), but he was essentially on his own. Passes were misplaced, our midfield was discombobulated, and Fulham were carving us open all too often. Is Arteta playing a long game, risking a few dropped points here and there to achieve the formational fluidity he seems to seek? I hope his Megamind routine doesn’t derail our season before it has a chance. I hope he knows what he’s doing…
8 – Man U (2W 0D 1L: 6 pts.)
Everything at Man U is just fine and dandy and your correspondent won’t say anything to jinx that. I won’t even use apophasis. Instead, I’ll—what? Fine. Apophasis is when you mention something by denying that you’re going to mention it. For example, I could say “Let’s not talk about how generous Stuart Attwell was at Old Trafford”. Instead, I’ll congratulate Man U on a brave & stirring victory of the sort we know they always earn by dint of honest effort. We will really have to sort out our own issues before poking any fun at any issues, real or imagined, that may or may not be happening over at Old Trafford. I’m sure there are some scurrilous rumours being circulated around that insinuate that Man U’s midfield needs sorting. I don’t believe it for a second. For all I know, Man U’s campaign seems to have all the momentum of a runaway freight train.
13 – Newcastle (1W 0D 2L: 3 pts.)
Tsk. There was a time not to long ago that Newcastle simply played not to lose, setting for low-scoring draws due to stalwart defending and a gritty if grim refusal to concede (or score, for that matter). Even when Gordon ran onto Alexander-Arnold’s gift to score, it had the feel of something random and fortunate rather than the result of any tactical masterclass. However, even after Van Djik was sent off, Newcastle couldn’t find a way past Allison…but they also didn’t do much to take advantage of their advantage . Lax defending is not something one normally associates with this side, but they left themselves way too open and committed costly errors when all they had to do was manage the match against a short-handed opponent whom they really should have doiminated. A harbinger of more muckups to come or a wake-up call?
Now, I know it’s risky to even give off the appearance of writing anyone off. I know full well that we’ll have to keep an eye on Brighton, Aston Villa, Tottenham, and Chelsea. Maybe even West Ham and Brentford. Until we sort out our own form, anything’s possible—but I refuse on principle to write any more this week. That principle: laziness.