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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Boxing Day fixtures: Five things we learned

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Following Premier League’s traditional Boxing Day schedule, we look at five things we learned from the latest action.

Nketiah answers Arteta call

The news that Gabriel Jesus is facing an extended spell on the sidelines was greeted with understandable concern at Arsenal this month. A knee injury sustained at the World Cup is set to keep Jesus out until the spring, with Arsenal set to feel the absence of a forward who has been a central figure in their rise to the top of the division.

Before the season’s return this week, Jesus had started each of Arsenal’s 14 league fixtures. In that time he had been directly involved in ten goals, while his work-ethic from the front had set the tone for Mikel Arteta’s vibrant side.

Arsenal lack options in Jesus’ absence, but his misfortune has handed a chance to Eddie Nketiah. The 23-year-old had scored 13 goals in just 19 starts since the start of last season, but has largely struggled for status with the Gunners since emerging from the academy ranks.

11/11 – Eddie Nketiah has scored 11 goals in his last 11 starts for Arsenal in all competitions at the Emirates, notching his 11 goals from just 16 shots on target. Clinical. pic.twitter.com/0V7QEdy1SZ

— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2022

Persuaded to sign a new deal last season, he had failed to start a Premier League game this. That all changed against West Ham on Boxing Day, in a performance that will offer encouragement to Arsenal.

Nketiah was a lively presence as the Gunners came from behind to extend their lead at the top of the table, with his all-around game impressive as he linked from the front. He was rewarded for his display with the third goal, in a moment that –  whisper it quietly – had a hint of Ian Wright to it. Nketiah brilliantly rolled Thilo Kehrer with a sharp turn and finish and his well-taken goal should only increase confidence that he can shine in Jesus’ absence.

Darwin Nunez = Chaos

Darwin Nunez’s career might just be eight Premier League starts old, but the Liverpool forward has already proved to be a polarising figure. The differing perceptions regarding Nunez were perhaps amplified following Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Aston Villa.

Nunez was awarded the man-of-the-match award by Amazon Prime, while Jurgen Klopp said that the forward had played an ‘incredible game’ during the win at Villa Park.

One swift check of social media, however, and you’ll soon be greeted with countless tweets deriding the forward and a host of montages swiftly pieced together of his missed chances.

Nunez – who failed to get on the scoresheet – missed four big chances at Villa, the joint-most in a Premier League fixture this season. Remarkably, it was the same number of completed passes the Uruguayan mustered.

Darwin Nunez missed as many big chances (4) as he completed passes (4) vs. Aston Villa.

Not his day. 🫥 pic.twitter.com/nMIMWbYxOd

— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) December 26, 2022

“When you look back, you cannot imagine how many big chances [other strikers] they made in the beginning. We are completely calm,” Klopp said on Nunez’s performance.

“The work-rate he put in, the depth he creates for us, he is unstoppable in the moment, there is no defender who can really catch up speed-wise. I know all of the stories around, it is completely fine. He played an exceptional game tonight and we won 3-1, that’s all that counts.”

The 23-year-old has become a compelling watch. He’s hustle and hard-work, pace and power. Undoubtedly raw, when it comes together he has looked brilliant. When it has not quite worked, he has appeared unrefined and flustered. What he does guarantee, however, is chaos. How he evolves will be a fascinating watch.

Slow starts of Jekyll and Hyde Spurs continue

The break in the season has not helped Spurs address their pre-World Cup issues, with the club’s 2-2 draw at Brentford again exhibiting the best and worst of Antonio Conte’s team.

Not for the first time this season, Spurs started slowly and required the rocket of Brentford racing into a two-goal lead to spark themselves into life. Harry Kane’s outstanding header pulled one back, before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – enjoying the best goalscoring form of his career this season – turned in a leveller for the visitors.

Antonio Conte reflects on today’s performance against Brentford ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/EpdQglkmvg

— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 26, 2022

Spurs dominated possession and had 61% of the ball, while Conte’s side recorded more shots (16-9) and shots on target (8-5) than their hosts. The Italian outlined his frustration at their inability to perform across an entire 90 minutes, however, as Spurs conceded the first goal for a ninth straight game in all competitions.

Conte’s comments might have said otherwise, but there is a need for improvement in the backline if Spurs are to secure Champions League football. Their defending in west London was not good enough and January could prove an opportunity for Spurs to strengthen their Achilles heel.

Magpies momentum shows no sign of slowing

Eddie Howe issued a rallying cry to Newcastle after watching his side move up to second in the Premier League table with a 3-0 win at Leicester.

“We can do anything,” Howe told Match of the Day.

“The season is still young enough for all possibilities to exist for us. I want the fans to believe we can do anything.”

It’s now six straight wins for Newcastle for the first time in more than a decade, with momentum beginning to build around the Magpies and an unlikely tilt at Champions League football. Newcastle have not competed in Europe’s elite competition since 2002/03, but the club’s resolute defence, intelligent coaching and yes, investment, has those on Tyneside beginning to dream.

No side has lost fewer Premier League matches than Newcastle this season 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Djiap4xhOj

— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) December 26, 2022

The win over Leicester was arguably the club’s most impressive performance of the campaign, as the visitors raced into a three-goal lead inside 32 minutes. Miguel Almiron continued his purple patch, while there were outstanding performances from recruits Kieran Trippier, Bruno Guimaraes and Sven Botman.

Newcastle face four bottom-half teams in their next six games and return fresher than their top-four rivals after the season’s pause. Only Crystal Palace and Southampton players had less minutes on the pitch at the World Cup.

Toothless Toffees edge closer to the bottom

Everton appear to be a sinking ship right now. It’s now three consecutive league losses and six in eight for Everton, who hover just a point above the Premier League’s relegation places.

Perhaps more of a concern has been the manner of those defeats and the opponents during that run. This weekend saw Everton lose at home to Wolves, a side who began the fixture bottom of the Premier League table.

It followed a trend of Everton losing to sides down at the bottom, with Bournemouth (17th) and Leicester (18th) beginning recent wins over the Toffees mired in trouble. The latest loss saw Rayan Aït-Nouri score a stoppage-time winner to lift Wolves and ensure Julen Lopetugi’s reign began with a win.

Everton = in a relegation battle

Frank Lampard on the reality of his side’s position in the Premier League table#PLonPrime #EVEWOL pic.twitter.com/4jilxfPCNs

— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) December 26, 2022

Everton have been all too accommodating opponents for struggling sides of late, helping to breathe new life into the faltering fortunes of relegation rivals. It is a recipe for relegation and Frank Lampard is under pressure to show he can turn things around.

Addressing the club’s lack of goals next month is crucial and Everton can no longer rely on Dominic Calvert-Lewin maintaining his fitness. Only two teams – Wolves and Nottingham Forest – have scored less than their 12 goals this season.

Read – Five of the greatest Boxing Day Premier League games

Read Also – Five of the best: Premier League Boxing Day goals

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