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This week, The Briefing assesses the Premier League contenders, considers Chelsea's decline and reflects on Sheffield United's misery
What did this weekend tell us about the chasing pack?By Nick Miller
Sep 25, 2023
The thing that was most striking about the north London derby was how similar the two teams were.
Both looked incisive and thrilling in attack. Both had moments of defensive vulnerability. Both dealt with adversity, in their own way. And both showed that, after key men went off — Declan Rice for Arsenal; James Maddison and Son Heung-min for Sp**s — their teams ultimately can be quite brittle.
But it was also striking how close they looked in terms of quality levels. Arsenal will (justifiably) argue they have a season or so of good form behind them, whereas Sp**s have only six games. But on this evidence, it would be pretty tough to confidently say who is going to be better for the remainder of the season.
It’s a testament to just how quickly Ange Postecoglou has made sense of this very new and young set of players. The sample size is small but this game perhaps provided evidence that their hopeful start to the season isn’t just about good vibes and stirring oratory.
Maddison suggested as such, after the game: “Neutrals talk about Tottenham, they often say: soft, weak, bottle it, Spursy, all that rubbish. The last couple of weeks show we might be going in a slightly different direction.”
This is not necessarily to suggest Arsenal are weaker than they were last season, when they pushed Manchester City until the last few weeks of the campaign. They had some key players out injured and are still trying to incorporate the new additions and new ideas that Mikel Arteta has brought in.
Son and Maddison impressed — but Sp**s coped when they went off too (Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Will they push City again? The season so far, and this weekend specifically, has suggested what we already knew: City are the heavy favourites to win the league again, but if anyone is going to push them then it won’t just be Arsenal this time.
Take Liverpool: their defeat of West Ham was their fifth league win in a row, the only points they have dropped this season coming in that slightly odd game against Chelsea on the opening weekend. They have managed to replace their entire midfield more effectively and efficiently than most could realistically have hoped. Their strikers are scoring. The defence remains a bit of a concern, but it is worth pointing out that only City have conceded fewer goals.
And then there’s Brighton and Aston Villa. Nobody legitimately expects either to seriously trouble City, but their victories this weekend showed, in different ways, why they are at least genuine contenders for the top four.