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Premier League hits and misses: Arsenal’s young stars shine in absence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang | Football News


No Auba, no problem

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win over West Ham

Mikel Arteta’s decision to strip Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy and leave him out of his squad again dominated the pre-match discussion as Arsenal faced West Ham. Events on the pitch, however, showed the club’s future lies not with him but with their young players.

The 2-0 victory was secured thanks to goals from Gabriel Martinelli, 20, and Emile Smith Rowe, 21, and included a man-of-the-match showing from Bukayo Saka, 20. It allowed Arsenal to move into the top four and provided vindication for Arteta’s boldness in the process.

“It was a statement,” said a smiling Arteta afterwards. A statement, perhaps, that Aubameyang is no longer the crucial figure he once was. The 32-year-old has only scored four goals in 14 Premier League appearances this season and he was not missed.

Alexandre Lacazette filled in ably, both as striker and captain, but it was the young tyros buzzing around him who really flummoxed West Ham. Saka was a constant source of danger and so too was Martinelli, who is recapturing his best form at exactly the right time.

The Brazilian’s clinically-taken opener, together with Smith Rowe’s breakaway second, mean that 10 of Arsenal’s 23 Premier League goals this season have been scored by players aged 21 or younger. It is the most by any side in the division and underlines the vibrancy and excitement within their ranks.

Indeed, Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli are not the only ones impressing. Against West Ham, Arsenal kept their eighth clean sheet of the season thanks to a five-man defensive unit with an average age of just 23. For context, only Manchester City and Liverpool have kept more in the Premier League.

It remains to be seen whether Aubameyang can be reintegrated after his latest misdemeanour. But perhaps the more pertinent question is whether this thrilling, young side really needs him at all.
Nick Wright

All hail King Kevin!

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester City’s win over Leeds

If you consulted the Premier League table before this latest round of fixtures, it would have been a stretch to reach the conclusion that Manchester City had missed Kevin De Bruyne.

The reigning champions have juggled the injuries and Covid-induced spells on the sidelines endured by their talisman, and kicked off a point clear at the top of the table, while crucially playing ahead of their main challengers to their crown, Liverpool and Chelsea.

The visit of Leeds presented Pep Guardiola with the chance to hand De Bruyne his first Premier League start since November’s Manchester derby. The Spaniard claimed Marcelo Bielsa’s side represented a true test of exactly where the Belgian’s fitness levels were – and we were given a truly-emphatic answer.

After Phil Foden had opened the scoring with the 500th Premier League goal of Guardiola’s City reign, and Jack Grealish nodded in his first Premier League header, De Bruyne stole the show, spearheading a scintillating attacking display as City hit seven.

De Bruyne was responsible for two of those, ramming home the hosts’ third with an unerring near-post drive, but it was his second which made everyone – City, Leeds, and the Premier League as a whole – stand up and take notice.

Seconds after Foden was denied a second by the offside flag, Ilkay Gundogan’s simple pass inside found De Bruyne. It was from there where the Belgian produced another vintage moment, unleashing a thunderous drive, the kind only he seems able to produce, which nearly ripped the net off the Leeds goal.

Two exquisite goals stole the headlines, but it was his imperious man-of-the-match performance which will have excited City, who, with ‘King Kevin’ back at the helm, have the chance to kick on in this congested Premier League title race.
Jack Wilkinson

Ramsey brings away comfort and joy for Gerrard

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win over Norwich

Just 38 days after he was let go by Aston Villa, Dean Smith saw the gulf in class between the side he has inherited and his former employers as Villa won 2-0. It was the fourth time in six games that Norwich had failed to score under new boss Smith, who is under no illusions as to the size of the task he faces.

As he vanished down the tunnel at Carrow Road, he may have afforded himself a wry smile at the small but not insignificant role he played in his own team’s latest demise.

It was entirely fitting that it would be Jacob Ramsey – a player he developed at Villa – who had the final say on this heavily one-sided affair in East Anglia as his snapshot was batted down by Tim Krul in the final act.

The 20-year-old has played in 14 of Villa’s 16 Premier League games this season, and after faith was initially instilled in him by his previous manager, Smith’s loss is now Steven Gerrard’s gain.

Aston Villa's Jacob Ramsey (right) celebrates scoring their opener with Matty Cash
Image:
Jacob Ramsey celebrates scoring Villa’s opener

Villa reinvested the £100m received for Jack Grealish on the likes of Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia, but it is Ramsey who seems to have benefited the most from last summer’s transfer activity.

Fittingly against Arsenal earlier this season, Ramsey became Villa’s youngest Premier League scorer since Grealish netted in September 2015.

While they are very different players and this was a poor Norwich performance, the early signs are that he is going to benefit tremendously from working under Gerrard, with Smith’s foundations firmly in place.

Ramsey said afterwards: “I’ve been watching clips of the gaffer and he was one of the best goalscoring midfielders and that’s what I want to be.”
Ben Grounds

Ward-Prowse must be considered among the PL greats

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Crystal Palace’s draw with Southampton

If any young player reading this wants to improve their free-kick technique, hit play above and watch James Ward-Prowse’s superb effort against Crystal Palace.

It was a trademark hit from the Southampton captain. Any time he lines up a ball in range, you expect it to go close and this one was right on the money – curled sumptuously into the top corner and through the fingertips of Jack Butland.

He is one of Southampton’s best weapons – as manager Ralph Hasenhuttl described him – and he is now among some of the Premier League’s best for direct free-kicks.

Wednesday’s effort was his 11th Premier League goal from a direct free-kick, putting him one behind Gianfranco Zola and Thierry Henry. The record is currently 18, held by David Beckham.

These names are some of the Premier League’s best, and it is time to start recognising Ward-Prowse among them for free-kicks.

Hasenhuttl said of his skipper: “It’s such a good weapon that we have to be often here in the situation where they have to foul us… When he always finds the best moments to score, he can do it all the time. Today was definitely a very good one.

“I’m very happy to have him in my squad, I’m very happy that he has this quality and we must, even more, get free-kicks in this position.”

Of course, eyes will also turn to the upcoming World Cup squad. Ward-Prowse missed out on the Euro 2020 cohort by a whisker, despite many saying he should be included for his set-piece delivery alone.

This will, of course, be another talking point in the next few months – especially if he closes on that Beckham record – leaving Gareth Southgate with a tough decision to make.
Charlotte Marsh

Neves maturing into all-action midfielder

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Wolves’ win over Brighton

Ruben Neves is thriving for Bruno Lage at Wolves. No longer is he just all about the long-range stunners. After a season of stagnation in Nuno Espirito Santo’s regimented system, the Portuguese midfielder seems at ease playing a more all-action style alongside Joao Moutinho.

In the 1-0 win over Brighton, the midfield duo were outstanding without the ball, crashing into tackles and breaking up play when needed. Only Declan Rice and Rodri have won possession back for their side more than Neves this season as he seems to be relishing the ugly part of the game.

But what Neves brings to the party, which stands him out as a midfielder with the ability to go right to the top, is his vision. He provided the match-winning moment of quality on an evening where it was lacking in most areas of the pitch when finding Roman Saiss with a beautifully-chipped pass that took the Brighton defence out of the game.

At full-time, the away end, packed to the rafters with Wolves fans, sang his name. In this type of form, he is their most important player.
Lewis Jones





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