Another action-packed Premier League gameweek has come and gone, with the race for a top four finish sprung wide open by the stalemate between Liverpool and Tottenham, while the battle to avoid relegation has got a little hotter with Swansea rallying and now ten teams sit just seven points apart at the wrong end of the table.
With all of the above in mind, who were this week’s key winners and losers in the English top flight?
Loser: Tottenham Hotspur
For a while there, Tottenham were many English football fans’ ‘second team’. They’ve got a core of English players, play the game in a fast and aggressive manner and were the most likely outfit to shake up the status quo of the Premier League’s big boys – even if Leicester City did a better job of that not many moons ago.
But, some worrying moments have crept into their game of late, and none more so than at Anfield on Sunday.
There is a hypocritical section of football fans in this country which harangues ‘foreign’ players for every dive, every naughty tackle and every terrible haircut that they bring onto the field of play, while turning a blind eye to anything similar that a good old English fella might do.
Perhaps Sunday’s encounter might change that.
Dele Alli produced the kind of dive that Tom Daley would have been proud of in an attempt to con the referee into awarding a penalty, and of the two spot-kicks that Spurs were awarded the first was won by an act of blatant simulation by our very own Harry Kane.
After being accused of diving by Virgil van Dijk, Kane responded by saying ‘I felt contact and I went down’. Basically, the England frontman has admitted he made the most of Loris Karius’ wild lunge and, quite simply, dived.
It’s slightly unpleasant, and we have to ask as football fans is this the route we want the beautiful game to go down. Can taking points off a big four rival be justifiable if its achieved through foul means?
Winner: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The £56 million frontman didn’t do all that much on his Arsenal debut, truth be told, although he did get off his sick bed to open his Gunners account in an easy 5-1 win over Everton.
It was more about his presence on the pitch, and what his signing meant to the fans, that had the Emirates abuzz. Finally, Arsene Wenger had shown some ambition and signed a genuinely world-class operator to prowl in-front of the likes of Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan; a mouth-watering prospect indeed.
Perhaps this was Wenger’s last roll of the dice: if his side don’t finish in the top four or win a trophy this term then surely his time in the Arsenal hotseat would be over.
Loser: Paul Pogba
Being benched in favour of a 21-year-old who has made only a handful of first team appearances would be the source of disgruntlement for any player, but it must be particularly so for one of the most expensive players in the world.
Paul Pogba has attracted plenty of criticism in his time at Manchester United, and after a dismal display in the 0-2 midweek defeat to Tottenham, the French international was left out in favour of youth team player Scott McTominay.
Jose Mourinho was keen to stress that he wasn’t being punished for his anonymous display at Wembley. “To sit on the bench one day is not the end of the world,” he said.
“The intention is not to punish anyone. To punish someone I also need someone to punish me because we are a team. I made a few changes thinking about the characteristics of this game.”
It’s hardly a ringing character endorsement, and this may sound cynical but you do wonder if Pogba has just two or three months to save his United career.
Winner: Carlos Carvalhal
Just look at Swansea’s form since the Portuguese manager took charge: W3 D2 L1.
The Swans were vilified for appointing Carvalhal given that he had left Championship side Sheffield Wednesday ‘by mutual consent’ shortly before he was announced at the Welsh club, and you can forgive their supporters for feeling a little miffed that the owners would take such an unmitigated risk with their top flight status.
But the turnaround has been remarkable. Wins over Liverpool and Arsenal have been backed by draws at Newcastle and Leicester, which aren’t necessarily easy places to go when you’re in the doldrums.
Most new managers enjoy a wave of positivity after taking over – it’s the classic ‘honeymoon effect’, but Carvalhal seems to have rejuvenated the Swans from top to bottom. They are out of the relegation zone for what feels like the first time for an eternity, and there are at least three teams worse off than them right now.
Loser: David Moyes
This is a little harsh because, by and large, David Moyes has done a decent job at West Ham, and you do wonder how much of an influence he has over player recruitment.
But with nine first teamers out injured – and these aren’t any old players either, we’re talking Carroll, Lanzini, Arnautovic, Obiang etc – he really should have pressed home the importance of bringing some new faces into the club.
Instead, the January transfer window saw just two players make the move to London: Joao Mario, and the rather panic-purchased Jordan Hugill on deadline day, while Andre Ayew, Diafra Sakho, Reece Oxford and Reece Burke all departed.
The Hammers’ thin squad was well and truly exposed at Brighton on Saturday where they went down 1-3, and they now haven’t kept a clean sheet in eight attempts.
Fixtures coming up include Liverpool (a) and Manchester United (h), plus relegation six-pointers against Swansea (a), Watford (h) and Southampton (h). Be under no illusion: the Iron are bang in trouble once again.