Reshaping Arsenal: Life after Alexis Sanchez
The much bigger change waiting to happen at Arsenal
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The hectic festive period in English football is perfectly summed up by the fact that one Gameweek can end on one day and the next set of fixtures kicks off the day after. Before the new round starts, here's a look at the hot topics from Gameweek 21.
1. Wenger's historic day ruined by a dubious penalty
Football and the world as a whole works in mysterious ways sometimes. On his 76th birthday, Sir Alex Ferguson had to pass on his record for most games managed in the Premier League. The old enemy of his, Arsene Wenger passed the Scotsman, taking charge of his 811th match.
However, Wenger and his team failed to mark the historic day with a victory. Arsenal played out a 1-1 draw at West Brom. An 83rd minute James McClean own goal seemed to have given the Gunners a narrow victory, but it wasn't to be.
Referee Mike Dean gave a dubious penalty for the hosts near the end of the game, which Jay Rodriguez scored. Petr Cech has failed to save all 13 penalties he has faced in the Arsenal goal across all competitions. But was it actually a penalty?
The ball did hit Calum Chambers' arm in the penalty era, but it was impossible for him to react to it and his arm was close to his body. If his hand wouldn't have been there, the ball would've simply hit his chest. Even WBA manager Alan Pardew admitted that it was a tough decision for Arsenal.
It was a great result for the Baggies, but they are now winless in 19 Premier League games. A shockingly poor run.
2. Carvalhal got off to a winning start
While Wenger has over 800 Premier League games to his name, Carlos Carvalhal was in charge of his first one at the weekend. The 52-year-old is the seventh man at the helm of Swansea since Garry Monk left in December 2015. He managed to get off to a winning start with a dramatic 2-1 result at Watford.
No much had changed on how the Swans looked on the pitch, but after going through a lot of misfortune throughout the season, they finally got some luck. On the 86th minute, Jordan Ayew made it 1-1 with what looked like a goal from an offside position, and just a few minutes later, Luciano Narsingh ended up being at just the right position to put a rebound past Heurelho Gomes.
Carvalhal has had moderate success in England leading Sheffield Wednesday to two playoff finishes in the Championship. His results in charge Wednesday included a fabulous 3-0 win over Arsenal in the League Cup. He looks like a fearless manager, who mostly makes the opposing teams adapt to his gameplan rather than the opposite. Playing without fear is exactly what Swansea needs to do in 2018. They have nothing to lose.
Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal are among Swansea's next four opponents. It will be fascinating to see how Carvalhal approaches these matchups and how well the team does in them.
3. Newcastle hates playing at home
Newcastle is the only “easy” opponent Swansea is going to face in January. It's a road game as well for the Swans and maybe they can count with three points from it already.
The Magpies were flying high earlier in the season, but they have been abysmal in the last few months. They have won only two matches since the start of October and there have been nine losses in last 12 fixtures. Five of the losses have come at St. James' Park.
The players seem to hate playing at home. They have scored in only one of the last six home matches. There's only been one clean sheet as well and this means that they have picked up just one point from last possible 18 at their place.
Newcastle has slipped to 16th in the league because of the poor run at home and relegation suddenly looks like a real possibility. They currently hold only a 1-point advantage over the danger zone.
It's very tough in the Premier League to win any away match, and when you can't even get points at home, then you're pretty much doomed. Of course, there's still plenty of the season left and the gaps are really small among teams in the bottom ten, but Newcastle could soon be among the relegation favorites if they can't get back on track at home.
4. Southampton enjoys visiting Old Trafford
Southampton knows all about home struggles. From April to October, they amazingly failed to score in nine of their 11 home games. Considering that run, you could say the Saints don't really like playing at St. Mary's. But looking at results, they do enjoy their trips to Old Trafford.
Mauricio Pellegrino's team battled out a 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Saturday. If it weren't for another impressive David de Gea performance, the visitors might've even taken all the points. Not for the first time in recent years.
Southampton lost last season at Old Trafford 2-0 with Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting both goals for United, but that's actually their only loss in last five visits there. Charlie Austin scored a late winner there in January 2016 and 12 months before that, Dušan Tadic was the hero in another 1-0 result.
United has lost only six home games since the start of 2015. Manchester City is the only other visiting team besides Southampton that has managed to win at Old Trafford more than once during that period.
The result at United probably came with mixed feelings for the team, though. They have now gone eight games without a win away from home, which is the club's worst run since 2004/05, which ended with relegation.
5. Scoring against Liverpool easy as pie for Vardy
Leicester's recent rise has stalled with no wins in four, even though they have managed to score the opening goal in three straight matches. The most recent one was at Anfield. Jamie Vardy's 3rd minute strike meant that Liverpool was in a losing position at half-time for the first time this season in a home match. They managed to turn it around in the second half though, winning 2-1 in the end.
Vardy has scored in three straight matches at Anfield and in total, he's scored seven of Leicester's last nine goals against Liverpool. Only Andy Cole (11) and Thierry Henry (8) have scored more Premier League goals against the Reds.
After Puel's arrival, Vardy at first struggled to get on the scoresheet, but he now has three in four games across all competitions. He seems to enjoy special occasions as it's become pretty common that he scores against the big boys.
Vardy has found his scoring boots at a very good time. After hosting Huddersfield on Monday, Leicester's next game is in the FA Cup against Fleetwood Town, who sold Vardy to the Foxes in 2012 for £1 million - a non-league record.
Only a couple of years before his move to Fleetwood, Vardy was working 12-hour shifts in a carbon-fiber splint factory. He used to earn £650 per week playing for the side, which has reached League One and almost made it to the Championship last season. It's been a fairytale rise by both parties.