Midweek Premier League Action: Five Things we Learned

The Premier League is back

After what felt like an eternity, the Premier League is back. The action kicked off at Villa Park at 5pm as unlikely European hopefuls Sheffield United faced Aston Villa, before Arsenal travelled to the Etihad Stadium to take on the champions Manchester City.

There were plenty of controversial and intriguing moments throughout the day, capped off as Pep Guardiola taught a very public lesson to his former-assistant as City slammed Arteta’s Arsenal 3-0.

1. First VAR, now goal-line technology

Without a doubt, the biggest talking point from the first game back in the Premier League was the error made first by Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland; an error ultimately compounded by Hawk-Eye.

In the 42nd-minute, Sheffield United’s Oliver Norwood whipped a free kick into the box, only for Nyland to claim the ball and carry it clearly over the line – you didn’t need technology to know that it was a goal. However, referee Michael Oliver did not receive the crucial signal sent to the watch to notify him.

Hawk-Eye have since “unreservedly” apologised, acknowledging in a post-match statement that the ball had indeed gone over the line. The company claimed it was the first time such an incident had occurred in over 9,000 matches where the technology has been present.

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2. Dean Henderson continues to stake a claim for Old Trafford's number one

Henderson has been a key factor in the Blades’ inspirational rise up the Premier League table, but the on-loan keeper must surely have his heart set on bigger things with his parent club, Manchester United.

The Englishman is now tied with Nick Pope for the most clean sheets in the top flight with 11, which is a remarkable five more than fellow Englishman and Three Lions’ number one Jordan Pickford and three more than United’s current star, David de Gea.

Henderson is proving his worth at the highest level, and the 23-year-old has surely captured the attention of senior management at Old Trafford, as Solskjaer recently stated he is in their plans for the future.

In the meantime, Sheffield United manager Dean Wilder said that the club were hoping to get the loanee back for the 2020-21 season, stating "If there is an opportunity, we would love to take that up.”

3. David Luiz is still David Luiz

After coming on as a substitute for the injured Pablo Mari in the first half, David Luiz had another one of those Luiz-esque disasterclasses caused entirely by himself.

In injury time to close the first half, Luiz went to intercept Kevin De Bruyne’s lobbed through ball only to utterly mess up the control.

The ball ricocheted off the Brazilian’s thigh and allowed Raheem Sterling to smash the ball past a helpless Bernd Leno, who had a solid game, yet again.

Early in the second half, it went from bad to worse for Mikel Arteta, as Luiz fouled Riyad Mahrez in the penalty area after a reckless and hopeless attempt to prevent the Algerian from goalscoring.

In truth, Luiz had one of the worst individual performances in recent Premier League times and had just another shocking performance to add to his unwanted resume. The Brazilian was substituted on in the 24th-minute and was at fault for two goals before being given his marching orders in the 49th-minute. His presence certainly made an impact – just not the one Arsenal fans had in mind.

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4. Kevin De Bruyne and Man City remind us of their true talent

Was there really any doubt that Manchester City were going to dominate Arsenal yesterday? If there was, it vanished when Granit Xhaka suffered an early injury and was replaced by Dani Ceballos, which left the Gunners with an insanely inexperienced midfield three of the Spaniard, Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock to take on David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and De Bruyne.

The Belgian was the star once again, conducting the tempo of the game as he controlled Arsenal with ease. Luiz may have made a huge error for the first goal, but it was de Bruyne who supplied the through ball into space for Sterling to rush onto.

On top of that, City’s superstar midfielder sent Leno the wrong way from the spot to double the home sides lead. As a result, De Bruyne has now been directly involved in more Premier League goals than any other player this season, and his 25 goal contributions (nine goals, 16 assists) is the Belgian’s best goal involvement tally in a single top-flight campaign in England.

5. Mikel Arteta's faith in youth is admirable but untimely

Arsenal’s manager Arteta suffered a harsh return to the Etihad as the Gunners lost 3-0 to City, but eyebrows must have been raised around the country when the away side presented their lineup.

Joe Willock, 20, and Eddie Nketiah, 21, both found their way into the starting eleven, ahead of considerably more established names Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette.

Arteta has since claimed that Ozil was left out of the squad due to tactical reasons, but the World Cup winner’s absence was notable yesterday – Arsenal significantly struggled to link the midfield and attack, with no incisive offensive midfielder largely because Ceballos had to play deeper with the injury to Xhaka. Willock, who is rated rather highly, understandably struggled to keep pace with De Bruyne and Silva.

Arsenal’s attacking trio were quiet, but Nketiah did have a solid chance in the first 90 seconds of the game and squandered it over the bar.

Could Lacazette have done better? It is ultimately difficult to tell, and whilst Arsenal do have an exciting core of young players coming through, starting them away to Manchester City was perhaps one bold decision too many.

By Andrew Gamble

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