Aston Villa v Arsenal
Live on BT Sport 1
There is a clarity and certainty with which Arsenal are playing at the moment that indicates all of Mikel Arteta’s detailed tactical instructions are paying off. They look more like a Pep Guardiola team with each passing week, and the secret to their recent spell of good form has been deploying Granit Xhaka in a higher midfield role as part of a 4-3-3 formation.
This does hand Aston Villa a slight chance in this game. Steven Gerrard’s recent use of a diamond 4-4-2 means they are dependent on finding space centrally; West Ham, via Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek, easily shut things down and left Villa looking flat and lifeless in possession. But just as Man City can be vulnerable in the transition around Rodri, Arsenal’s new formation leaves Thomas Partey with a lot to do at the base of midfield.
The visitors will dominate the ball and play expansively, looking to isolate Matty Cash against Gabriel Martinelli and take advantage of Villa’s weakness around Douglas Luiz. They should be quite successful in this regard, and yet Villa will appreciate the chance to counter through the middle: Philippe Coutinho’s battle with Partey should define an open contest.
Crystal Palace v Everton
Live on ITV
Everton continue to struggle under Frank Lampard. They are trying to play with a high defensive line, a high press, and short-passing football that builds through the thirds – but are unlikely to be receiving adequate coaching to do so, if Lampard’s stint as Chelsea manager is anything to go by. So far, Everton have just looked confused and passive; easy to counter-attack and blunt on the ball.
This makes them highly vulnerable to how Patrick Vieira likes his Crystal Palace team to play. They will ultimately concede possession and territory to Everton for long spells – simply because Everton will aimlessly pass it around at the back and Vieira only wants to snap into the press in the middle third – which should create a contest of attack versus defence.
From this position, Conor Gallagher’s capacity win tackles in the middle – pinching the ball off hesitant and error-prone Everton players – can set Palace’s forwards away on quick breaks. We have already seen on a number of occasions that Everton are exposed by good counter-attackers. It is bound to happen again at Selhurst Park.
Southampton v Man City
Live on BBC One
We already know how this match will go because we have seen it twice already this season. Southampton held Man City home and away by conceding the vast majority of the pitch – averaging 31% possession across the two games – and focusing, in their 4-4-2, on closing out the half-spaces. Ralph Hasenhuttl knows this is the only area within which Man City want to create chances.
Saints are very good at this, mainly because they spend so much time in training working on the exact positioning and distances between the lines, meaning they can shuffle across together to ensure no gaps appear. When facing Man City, they go even further by getting the two central midfielders and the wide men to double up in the half-spaces.
Pep Guardiola can be his own worst enemy in these games, stubbornly refusing to react – possibly because pride gets in the way and he cannot accept he might have made a mistake. How else to explain why he always praises his team so much when they don’t win? Or his failure to make any substitutions in the 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace on Monday? That attitude should allow Saints to hold out for at least the 90 minutes.
Tottenham v West Ham
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
The reason Tottenham’s results are forming a perfect win-lose sequence is that Antonio Conte’s core methodology – using a two-man midfield, starting in a deeper/non-pressing block, and relying on vertical breaks – isn’t very well suited to playing against more defensive opponents. The system only works when Spurs are pressed or the opposition holds a high line.
Otherwise, Spurs get stuck in their own half because their shape starts from such a low position, and they cannot build through the thirds because of a lack of midfielders to provide depth between the lines. Across this yo-yoing set of results, they have consistently beaten the open and expansive teams (Man City, Brighton, Everton, Leeds) and been beaten by the more conservative ones (Wolves, Burnley, Southampton, Middlesbrough).
West Ham stand firmly in the latter camp, pointing to another rough day for Spurs fans. Rice and Soucek should deny Harry Kane space as he attempts to drop off the front line, while West Ham’s compact shape should lull Spurs into more aimless possession. David Moyes can anticipate at least a point.