Could a lack of depth cost Arsenal in Premier League push?
It was a chance for some of Arsenal’s second string to test themselves against Premier League opposition, were any to be called upon and needed by Mikel Arteta in the top flight. But it was a night where few of the Arsenal manager’s supporting cast covered themselves in much glory.
The drop-off between the starting XI and what lies beneath will be of concern for the Gunners’ hopes of lasting the course and continuing to push at the top of the league.
A few recruits in January would not go amiss if they are to continue their current run because a spate of injuries in the wrong places would swiftly derail their progress.
“That’s the squad we have,” admitted Mikel Arteta. “We have to try and utilise it as well as possible. But today we came up short. We didn’t do what we needed to do in both boxes to win the match.
“We know where we are and we have injuries in a squad that is already short. We have to manage that in the best possible situation.”
Has Moyes taken West Ham as far as he can?
Whether David Moyes deserves to be under pressure at West Ham is very debatable considering where he has taken the club in the past 18 months. A European semi-final, flirting with the top four – this all after the club being genuinely threatened with relegation. His management of the development of Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen has been a testament to his skills as an elite operator.
Yet, there is a feeling that perhaps Moyes has taken West Ham as far as he can.
The tide is starting to turn that way.
The last thing he needed after such a woeful performance in front of his own fans on Sunday against Crystal Palace was to be knocked out of a competition West Ham should be challenging in. And not only that, getting knocked out by a Sky Bet Championship side that didn’t even play their first team. Blackburn Rovers made 11 changes to their side and still managed to reach the last 16.
That doesn’t look good for Moyes. He would have challenged the fringe members of his squad to grab the shirt. To make a point that he should be starting them. Well, only Michail Antonio made a telling contribution in that regard with an all-action performance that surely puts him back as the main central striker ahead of Gianluca Scamacca, who is struggling to adapt to his new surroundings.
That said, Moyes isn’t blameless. He set his troops up in a 5-3-1-1 formation which lacked balance and any genuine attacking threat down the flanks. Playing Vladimir Coufal and Emerson as your attacking wide players against a Championship outfit seemed a bit unnecessary and very safe. West Ham have built an exciting squad on paper that should be performing better than the results are suggesting – is it the manager holding them back? That is something the hierarchy will have to ponder over the next few months.
Grealish still adding to his game under Pep
Jack Grealish’s end product is under scrutiny at a time when attack-minded players are being omitted from Gareth Southgate’s England squad who have scored many more goals and provided many more assists than the Manchester City player. But his class remains obvious.
Hugely impressive again in his side’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, Grealish drove at the defence with real purpose. He needs to do more of that and Pep Guardiola – so often fiercely defensive of the club’s £100m signing – offered some insight into what he wants more of.
“When he gets the ball out wide or more inside and attacks the back line, always the intention is to pass the ball. We spoke many times with him, ‘No, no, the first intention is to go to score a goal.’
“He always goes there and is not a real threat for the back four because his body language is that he is going to pass the ball. Today, the body language was that he was going to score a goal. And afterwards, shoot or pass. Today, three or four times he did it. This is what we wanted.”
Nobody buys fouls as well as Grealish and few can keep the ball in tight areas with as much composure as he can in the final third of the pitch. But if he can continue to play with the sort of aggression that he showed on the ball against Chelsea then there is still time for him to go up a level.
Small steps for Potter’s Chelsea even in defeat
Guardiola was typically gracious about the efforts of his beaten opponents. “I smell and I see what Graham Potter has done in Brighton and the way that they play. Sooner or later it is going to happen here at Chelsea, so it will be a tough, tough opponent. We did not win against no one.”
Chelsea supporters are having to look a little harder than Guardiola to see signs of things coming together right now. It is four games without a win in the Premier League and they have now lost three of their last four in all competitions. Potter is searching for the right shape and personnel.
This was far from his strongest side but he might have found something, nevertheless. “There was a better structure and a better performance level,” said Potter afterwards. “The team looked closer to what we want it to look like. Overall, I think it was a step forward for us.”
A statement cup win against Manchester City would have been more useful than a competitive defeat in terms of galvanising this group of players and instilling some belief in the changes that Potter is trying to initiate. But maybe this was a start. Guardiola can smell it.
Do Liverpool actually need the Carabao Cup?
Winning breeds confidence and Liverpool’s celebrations after their penalty shootout win over Derby will give their team – particularly their young and fringe players – a boost.
But given how many matches Liverpool played last season – and the impact it has had on the Reds’ performances on this campaign – do they actually need or want progress in this competition?
Jurgen Klopp’s line-up against Derby – an average age of 22 with 25-year-old Joe Gomez captaining the side – hints that success in this tournament is not required this term. His injury-hit squad cannot take any more minutes.
Now Liverpool will start their post-World Cup season slightly earlier than anyone else – a potential distraction ahead of the Premier League restart where they need to start getting points on the board if they’re to muscle their way back into the top four.
Liverpool fans will undoubtedly enjoy seeing their team more often but the players may have different views…
Newcastle’s momentum levels keep on rising
Let’s get one thing straight, first and foremost – this was not a cup tie for the ages. Newcastle recorded the sole clear-cut chance in an otherwise run-of-the-mill encounter and Palace offered little to shout about on Tyneside, either.
But in edging the shootout, in which goalkeeper Nick Pope was the star performer with three saves – are you watching, Mr Southgate? – the Magpies reached the Carabao Cup fourth round for the fifth time in 10 seasons. In three of those campaigns, they have reached the quarter-finals of the competition.
And now, with Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea all having been knocked out on the same night, Sky Bet have priced Eddie Howe’s men as 6/1 third favourites for cup glory in February. They couldn’t, could they?
In all honesty, right now, there is nothing to suggest their momentum is in any danger of suddenly dropping from beneath them. Newcastle are well-balanced, well-coached and sit third in the Premier League table, with a healthy four-point cushion over Manchester United in fifth. They have lost just one of their 17 matches in all competitions – and that only came courtesy of a 98th-minute sucker-punch against Liverpool.
Six of the 16 teams that will enter the fourth round play in the Championship or below. Of course, lower league opposition are not to be taken lightly, as Brentford found out against Gillingham on Tuesday, but in the form Newcastle are in, they could well make some impressive progress.
Will Kane fatigue be a concern for England?
No one could believe their eyes when they saw Harry Kane on the starting line-up for Tottenham in their Carabao Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest.
With their Champions League group stage going to the wire, this was the chance for the England captain to get some much-needed rest time ahead of the World Cup and he didn’t get it, playing an hour before coming off with Spurs 2-0 down.
Since the start of June, Kane has been involved in 27 matches for club and country, starting 26 of them. He has been on the bench for just 117 minutes of football since then. If he plays the whole 90 minutes against Leeds on Saturday, he will have averaged a game every 5.7 days over the past five months.
Just what must Kane be doing in his very rare spare time to be keeping mentally and physically fresh, and where is his breaking point? England fans and Gareth Southgate must be hoping that it doesn’t come during the next six weeks between now and the World Cup final.
Kane now has to lead the country having led Tottenham’s line in every single match this season to date. Spurs boss Antonio Conte says he is managing his workload in training sessions, which are known to be intense as it is.
“Yesterday, we had a soft training session, really soft,” Conte said after the game. “And at one point he stopped himself to recover energy.
“He’s ok, it’s only fatigue but it’s normal because Harry has played every game. But when you have a player like him it’s difficult to not decide to play with him.
“In this situation, if I wanted to start with another player it’s impossible. Because with injuries Richarlison, Kulusevski and Lucas Moura out from the start of the season – no one is speaking about this – and Sonny two weeks ago. Today would have really difficult if Kane said to me ‘coach, maybe it’s best to not start today because there’s a risk of injury’.”
Jones watches on as Saints struggle, but still reasons for optimism
A lot of Southampton fans got the news they had been hoping for on Monday when it was confirmed the club had decided to part ways with Ralph Hasenhuttl. With their side sitting in the Premier League relegation zone after losing six of their past nine games, most felt it was time for a change.
Southampton first-team coach Ruben Selles took charge of the midweek Carabao Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday, with incoming manager Nathan Jones watching from the stands at St Mary’s.
Despite Southampton fielding a much-changed team from the one that was heavily beaten by Newcastle in the Premier League on Sunday, Jones was still able to gain some useful insight into what he is about to inherit.
Southampton had 18 shots against Sheffield Wednesday. They scored once. It’s the story of their season and one that undoubtedly contributed to Hasenhuttl’s dismissal. In their 14 Premier League games so far, only during defeats at Wolves and Manchester City have they managed fewer than nine shots in 90 minutes. But they’ve managed just 12 goals – the joint-fourth lowest in the division.
Despite lacking a cutting edge in the final third, though, Saints’ ability to create so many chances will encourage Jones given the average age of his prospective new side. During an £83m overhaul this summer, 10 new players arrived at St Mary’s – six of them aged 20 or younger. Southampton now have the second-youngest starting line-up (24.3) in the Premier League.
Jones has a track record of nurturing youth – just look at Leicester’s James Justin and Bournemouth’s Jack Stacey – and he would have been particularly impressed with 19-year-old Samuel Edozie’s performance against Sheffield Wednesday. Signed from Manchester City in September, the winger’s pace and trickery caught the eye of the home fans and he deservedly received a loud round of applause when he was substituted in the second half.
Make no mistake, though, scraping past League One opposition on penalties shows the scale of the task facing Jones. Saturday’s trip to Liverpool – likely to be his first game in charge – is a free hit, but if Southampton lose it will be the first time they have spent Christmas in the Premier League’s bottom three since 2004/05. They were relegated that season.
However, with Jones’ ability to develop youngsters and get the most out of his players, the St Mary’s hierarchy will be hoping he is the man to steer Southampton away from that very same fate. Despite their recent struggles, there are reasons for optimism.
Wolves rack up the shots again – and it finally pays off
A lot has been made of Wolves’ struggles in front of goal, both this season and last – and for good reason. They scored just 38 goals in 38 Premier League games last term and have already dropped well below that average of one per game with just eight scored in 14.
The numbers in all competitions are quite staggering, when it boils down to it. First under Bruno Lage and then, for just a matter of days more, Steve Davis, Wolves have attempted 197 shots, 63 of which have been on target, yet they have scored just 11 goals. The lack of a killer instinct has, so far, cost them dear.
It looked as though that would be the case again on Wednesday night, when Leeds came to visit. The visitors could well have been a couple ahead very early on were it not for a series of brilliant saves from Matija Sarkic, but though they grew into the game after weathering the early storm, for long periods Joel Robles’ goal lived a charmed life.
In the end, it was a moment to behold that settled the game when Boubacar Traore’s first-time stunner from 20 yards – one of 12 attempts throughout the tie – flew into the net.
It sealed a much-needed win – Wolves’ fourth in 17 matches in all competitions – though not necessarily the most convincing. Then again, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try and try… you get the gist.
There is sure to be an uplift around the place when new head coach Julen Lopetegui gets to work at Molineux at the start of the World Cup break and takes charge of his first match just before Christmas – and his first port of call could not be clearer.