EVERY Premier League club’s biggest strength and weakness this season
Strength – High-tempo attacks
Unai Emery’s attacking tactics have already clicked into place at the Emirates, which is a commendable achievement given the size of his task. After years of laid-back coaching from Arsene Wenger, Gunners players have responded well to the Spaniard’s rigorous demands.
Arsenal now play with greater urgency, looking for early forward passes in order to launch counter-attacks. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have benefited most from the changes.
Weakness – Coping with transitions
All of that positive energy has created a disorganised overall shape, however, which is why Arsenal often get caught out when opponents win the ball. It doesn’t help having Granit Xhaka in central midfield (although he has notably improved over the last few weeks with Lucas Torreira alongside him), but it’s Emery’s use of ultra-attacking full-backs that has been the biggest problem.
Strength – Fraser and Brooks on the counter
Eddie Howe has transitioned towards a counter-attacking mentality this season, which is getting the best out of Ryan Fraser and David Brooks. The former, with three goals and six assists in the Premier League already this season, is one of the best players outside the top six, while Brooks – signed from Sheffield United in the summer – has performed intelligently from the other flank.
Brooks tends to drift into the No.10 space, playing clever slide passes through for Fraser or striker Callum Wilson when Bournemouth break. The 21-year-old has scored three league goals so far, performing above expectations (he only started nine games in the Championship last season, remember) to help challenge the theory that Howe isn’t good at signing players.
Weakness – Defending crosses
Throughout the campaign Bournemouth’s biggest flaw has been in the full-back positions, partly because their new narrow defensive shape leaves them vulnerable to early crosses into the box. Newcastle, Manchester United and Burnley all scored directly from a cross in their respective victories over the Cherries.
Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis are good attacking full-backs, but their defensive work could be better. After Newcastle’s success before the international break, more opponents will be looking to exploit their vulnerability in the coming weeks.
Strength – Attacking efficiency (at home)
There is something pleasingly simple about the number of one-goal wins Brighton are racking up at the Amex Stadium this season. The 35-year-old Glenn Murray has six goals in 2018/19, five of which have come on home turf and directly earned seven points.
Brighton know exactly what they’re doing. Chris Hughton has them very well organised at the back, and although they don’t create many chances, the Seagulls tend to be ruthless at home, particularly from set-pieces. Five of their 13 league goals have been from dead-balls.
Weakness – Individual errors
Lewis Dunk’s mistake at Goodison Park three weeks ago epitomised Brighton’s main concern. They are too error-prone at the back, often gifting possession to the opposition or failing to clear a simple ball.
Dunk made another huge error in a 2-2 draw with Fulham, Yves Bissouma was to blame for Mohamed Salah’s goal in Liverpool’s 1-0 win, and Dale Stephens’ reckless red card a fortnight ago cost Brighton at Cardiff.
Strength – Johann Gudmundsson
There haven’t been many highlights for Burnley this season, but one player who has been more or less at the same level from their hugely successful 2017/18 season is Gudmundsson. With two goals and four assists, the Icelander has dragged the Clarets through a couple of key matches.
The 28-year-old scored once and assisted another in a crucial 2-1 win at Cardiff, as well as defending Ryan Fraser admirably in Burnley’s 4-0 win over Bournemouth. Gudmundsson’s tenacity has been crucial as heads have dropped.
Weakness – Leaky defence
It’s difficult to explain exactly what’s gone wrong for Sean Dyche. Perhaps it’s simply tiredness, with Burnley having started competitive football at the end of July, or maybe their luck has finally run out. The xG stats have always suggested they looked better defensively than they really were.
Alternatively, it could be Joe Hart. The former England goalkeeper is seen by some as a nervous player whose shouting and screaming unsettles those around him. Either way, something has affected the confidence of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee.
Strength – Battling spirit
Few people expected Cardiff to be quite so competitive at this level, and Neil Warnock’s tactical acumen isn’t the main reason for those surprise victories against Brighton and Fulham. Sheer force of will seems to be their biggest weapon.
Set-piece goals and goalmouth scrambles were a feature of both those wins, reflecting the battling spirit that unites the Bluebirds’ dressing room.
Weakness – lack of Premier League quality
That being said, theirs is the weakest squad in the division and an overall absence of Premier League quality will likely cost them a place in it. Callum Paterson and Josh Murphy have impressed so far, but this is a Championship squad.
Strength – Eden Hazard’s form
Maurizio Sarri’s expansive tactics have breathed fresh life into Hazard, who has been given a free role for arguably for the first time in his Chelsea career. What’s more, with so many runners from midfield joining the Belgian, he tends to get more room on the left flank.
He is in the form of his life and has already amassed seven goals and four assists in just eight starts; thus, Hazard makes a goal contribution every 71 minutes, more than any other Premier League player.
Weakness – Increasingly predictable
Chelsea can be guilty of looking for Hazard too often. Their attacks invariably filter through Jorginho to the Belgian, which is why Everton were able to hold them to a goalless draw before the international break.
Marco Silva instructed his players to cut off the passing line to Hazard, and stuck Gylfi Sigurdsson on top of Jorginho. Sarri needs to add variety to Chelsea’s attacking build-up play or risk more teams negating the influence of their talisman.
Strength – Wilfried Zaha’s brilliance
One of the most joyous footballers in the country, Zaha can run a game like few others in the Premier League. His dribbles are still effective even though opponents triple-up on the Ivorian, while his influence on the club is highlighted in that famous statistic: Palace have now lost their last league 13 matches without him, stretching back to January 2017.
Weakness – One-dimensional counter-attacks
Naturally, this has made them one-dimensional. Roy Hodgson’s deep-lying 4-4-2 piles pressure on Zaha to perform miracles on his own; the 26-year-old often makes it through a crowd only to find he is completely isolated.
What Palace really lack is a strong centre-forward for Zaha to feed off, although the poor technical quality of their clunky midfield doesn’t help.