theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s busy slate of Premier League action.
Maybe Maguire wasn’t the problem
Manchester United were objectively unlucky in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal.
Diogo Dalot twice smacked the woodwork. Bruno Fernandes missed a penalty, and, on another day, there could have been additional spot-kicks for the Red Devils. Sometimes, you simply don’t get the rub of the green.
But that doesn’t absolve United. Far from it.
The damaging loss, which Ralf Rangnick rightly admitted afterward has ended the club’s hope of finishing in the top four, wasn’t just the product of bad luck. It was due, in large part, to some truly dastardly defending in the first half; Arsenal looked capable of scoring every time they approached the penalty area. Alex Telles has a wicked left foot, but he’s a defensive liability who doesn’t do enough from open play going forward to outweigh those deficiencies. Raphael Varane – when he’s been fit this season – has contributed to the malaise at the back instead of rectifying it. When a club gets itself into an early hole the way United did at the Emirates, every unlucky bounce is magnified.
The continued issues at the back also bring to mind the Harry Maguire discourse.
The maligned captain has very clearly not been at his best this season. But Saturday’s showing, which the Englishman watched from the bench after a harrowing week of personal tribulations, serves as a good reminder that, contrary to what many believe, Maguire isn’t the sole reason for Manchester United’s defensive shortcomings. The system is broken, and until it’s fixed, no one player is going to solve the problems.
Good luck, Erik ten Hag.
Xhaka’s good outweighs his bad
Throughout his time at Arsenal, Granit Xhaka has consistently cost his team in big matches. Sometimes his concentration lets him down, but for the most part, it’s indiscipline that inhibits his game and hinders the Gunners’ ambitions.
There was a real possibility Xhaka would continue this trait Saturday. The Swiss midfielder was visibly frustrated following 20 minutes of United pressure to open the second half. It was his worst spell of the game – seven of his 10 attempted passes went backward or sideways over that period, and he hadn’t attempted a tackle.
United, meanwhile, had hit the post twice. The score should have been level or even worse for Arsenal.
Such situations call for a calm head. Such situations don’t call for Xhaka, who absentmindedly hacked the ball high into the stands after referee Craig Pawson blew for a foul. Brandishing a yellow card was the simplest of decisions. Xhaka’s patience was fraying.
But this time, the script was flipped. On a day when fortune favored Arsenal, Fernandes’ attempt to swivel and kickstart a United counterattack went awry and served the ball to Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian passed the ball to Xhaka, and United were exposed. Xhaka took one touch and fired, scoring a stunner only three minutes after his booking.
This is the Xhaka that Arsenal expected following his arrival in 2016: the player with a left foot capable of floating long passes to attackers and bludgeoning shots from the edge of the area. The man who captained Borussia Monchengladbach (and went on to skipper Arsenal, albeit briefly). Instead, that left foot’s reputation is more infamous than wondrous in north London. His aggression regularly boils over.
“If I am late in a tackle, it’s because I’m fighting for Arsenal. If I lose my temper, it’s because I care,” Xhaka wrote for The Players’ Tribune earlier in April.
“Sometimes, maybe I care too much.”
Jesus shows City what they could miss
The specialist roles often handed to Gabriel Jesus – a forward with an aggressive press and top overall marks for tactical intelligence – are among a few reasons the Brazilian scores fewer goals than his fellow Manchester City attackers. Before his goal in the pulsating 2-2 draw with Liverpool on April 10, his only domestic strike since September came in an FA Cup tie against fourth-tier Swindon Town.
Yet, in 53 minutes against Watford, Jesus moved from being level on Premier League goals with Burnley’s Ben Mee and Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp to on par with Chelsea’s Kai Havertz and Everton’s Richarlison. Rather than defending from the front, Jesus focused his attention on getting on the end of chances to score four goals and bolster City’s goal difference in a 5-1 win.
Jesus’ outburst came at an interesting time. Earlier in the week, Borussia Dortmund marksman Erling Haaland reportedly approved a move to City, and rumors emerged that Arsenal technical director Edu and Jesus’ representatives are discussing a potential move to north London.
The transfer makes sense for several reasons. Jesus’ City contract expires at the end of next season, and Haaland’s possible arrival would cut his minutes further. Arsenal need a striker, and Mikel Arteta knows Jesus from his time as Pep Guardiola’s assistant.
But does it make enough sense for City? Jesus feasted on City’s exemplary service for Watford’s visit, but it’s likely the graft and awareness evidenced when he won the ball and set up Rodri’s goal that Guardiola would miss most.
Joelinton back to scoring after directing midfield
The forward who couldn’t score is back among the goals. Joelinton celebrated his 100th Premier League start for Newcastle United with a brace against Norwich City on Saturday, doubling his scoring tally for the season in one fell swoop.
Joelinton had scored just eight times in three Premier League seasons before the trip to Carrow Road, and it was his inadequacy in front of goal that inspired manager Eddie Howe to deploy the 25-year-old in midfield. The experiment worked: Joelinton showed incredible appetite, intellect, and composure as Newcastle’s all-action No. 8, playing a crucial role in the club’s ascent to ninth place in the league. But without a regular stream of goals and assists, Joelinton has yet to take the final step in his evolution.
Howe admits Joelinton still has “center-forward qualities,” and he demonstrated a scorer’s instinct Saturday, slipping outside the defender’s view before lashing home the opener. He drifted in from the left to score his second, eluding Norwich’s man-marking. Joelinton finished the match with just two touches in Norwich’s area – and made the most of them.
Tottenham are hit-and-miss
Harry Kane’s acrobatic attempt on goal in the 92nd minute of Saturday’s goalless draw at Brentford was the closest Tottenham Hotspur came to hitting the net. It would have been spectacular, but it was nothing more than a wish, a piece of improvisation amid a dry and uninspiring landscape.
In the end, none of Spurs’ 15 shots tested Brentford goalkeeper David Raya. They finished without a shot on target for the fourth time this Premier League season – and for the second consecutive match. No other team in the top 10 – not even Newcastle, who endured a 14-match winless run – has gone more than a single game without a shot on goal.
And yet, at the same time, Tottenham somehow have the highest shooting percentage in the league. They’ve hit the target with 37% of their shots, outpacing even Manchester City.
So, what gives? When Tottenham break down teams and get shots on target, they usually win. When they can’t, they lose. And they’ve done plenty of both. That’s why they’ve been so inconsistent this season.
|Match||Shots||Shots on Target||Result|
|at Crystal Palace||2||1||3-0 L|
|at Manchester United||9||1||3-2 L|
|vs. Manchester United||9||0||0-3 L|
|at Everton||8||0||0-0 D|
|vs. Brighton||5||0||0-1 L|
|at Brentford||9||0||0-0 D|
If opponents find a way to box out Kane and Son Heung-Min, Spurs usually struggle to generate any offense whatsoever. Brentford did that Saturday, limiting the pair to a combined eight touches in the area. Needless to say, they had no impact on the game. Kane’s biggest contribution was in his own end: a goal-line clearance off a corner kick to prevent another damaging away defeat for the north London side.