28/02/2024

Alexander Isak coverts the eighth and final goal for Newcastle against Sheffield United (Image: Premier League on X)

The North London Derby headlined the action across a weekend that saw pressure-relieving wins for some, disappointing results for others, and a record breaking scoreline at Bramall Lane.

New look Spurs pass their first big test in North London Derby

The spoils were shared in another breathless and enthralling North London Derby, as Arsenal drew 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

It was the first taste of arguably the fiercest rivalry in English football for new Tottenham manager, Ange Postecoglou, and the biggest test of his side’s credentials so far in his brief tenure.

While they only came away with a point, this result at the Emirates against one of the strongest Arsenal teams in the last decade is a positive sign for the Spurs.

There were nervous moments early, as the Gunners’ press disrupted Tottenham’s ability to play out from the back and took the lead after nearly half an hour.

Tottenham’s unwavering nerve to stick to their guns eventually paid dividends though, as their persistence with Postecoglou’s game plan saw them equalise shortly before half time.

The Lilywhites showed great resolve to respond instantly to falling behind in the second half, drawing level again less than a minute after conceding.

After comprehensive home and away defeats last season to their arch rivals, the result and performance is a welcomed step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side have not started the campaign with the same vigour as they did at the beginning of last season.

After failing to capitalise on chances in their opening half an hour of dominance on Sunday, the Gunners struggled to maintain a hold on the contest for the majority of the second half.

While Spurs fans will hope more of the same next week against Liverpool, the Arsenal faithful will hope for a significantly improved product when they face Bournemouth.

A huge statement from Newcastle

Over the opening five weeks of the Premier League season, Newcastle United have faced the toughest fixture of any side in the competition by some distance.

After a brilliant 5-1 victory over Aston Villa on opening day, the Magpies endured a three game slide as they lost to Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton. They steadied the ship with a scrappy 1-0 home win over a struggling Brentford side, but fans and pundits were already doubting their new credentials as a top-four calibre side.

The black and white faithful needed a proper response from their team and that is exactly what they got, and then some. A ruthless 8-0 demolition of Sheffield United broke the record for Newcastle’s biggest away win in the Premier League era. Their scoring prowess was on full display as the team from Tyneside had eight different scorers.

It was a welcome sign for Eddie Howe, whose side had not been able to register more than a single goal in a match since the opening day. The Newcastle boss will hope it’s evidence that his team has turned a corner as they look to climb back up the table.

As for Sheffield, it’s an experience that plenty of newly-promoted sides have endured in over the years. Paul Heckingbottom’s Blades had given the likes of Tottenham and Manchester City a run for their money in recent weeks, but it all went wrong on Sunday.

It was a sobering reminder of just how unforgiving the top flight can be for newly promoted teams.

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Finally a reprieve for Everton

After a torrid start to the 2023/24 season for Everton both on and off the pitch, there were finally signs of life over the weekend.

The Toffees earned their first win of the season with an impressive away performance at Brentford, downing the Bees 3-1. Goals to Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Tarkowski and a first of the season for striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin capped off a brilliant Saturday afternoon for the travelling support.

After back-to-back relegation battles, there was hope that the last season at Goodison Park would be a positive one. Unfortunately, that hasn’t looked to be the case to start the campaign with struggles in front of goal, on the pitch and uncertainty about finances and ownership off it.

However, the tide can turn quickly in the Premier League and with a number of teams struggling around them, Sean Dyche will hope the result is a sign of it turning his side’s favour.  

Following their first taste of victory, the Toffees now face two teams below them in the table over the next fortnight.

Should they pick up six points against Luton Town and Bournemouth, then the picture will look a lot less bleak heading into the next international break.

Handball rule still unclear

Since the introduction of VAR technology to the Premier League, one of the biggest points of contention has been around the implementation of the handball rule in the penalty area.

The controversy around the rule has seemingly been tinkered with each off-season for the past few years in an effort to appease the masses. However, as we enter the fifth season of VAR, people are still as unclear as to what constitutes a handball.

Two more penalties were awarded to Luton Town and Arsenal over the weekend for handball, while another potential handball wasn’t penalised in the build-up to Newcastle’s first goal.

Penalising Wolves defender Toti Gomes for a handball also created confusion, after the ball was redirected off his leg first.

Ange Postecoglou shared a similar confusion about Christian Romero’s handball for Tottenham.

“I don’t understand the rule. Any clarity would be good because I have got no idea,” he said.

While there wasn’t much outcry over that particular decision in the North London Derby, the confusion lies in the inconsistency of the decisions.

“It is what it is. You kind of hope these things even themselves out over the course of a year.”

Rough start for promoted clubs

Out of the three teams promoted each year, usually at least one has a breakout first season and shocks plenty of teams on the way to a mid-table finish.

In the past three seasons, Fulham, Brentford and Leeds have each taken the mantel of the exciting new kid on the block, finishing 10th, 13th and ninth respectively in each of their debut seasons.

Six games into the current campaign, however, there is no sign that any of the newly promoted sides will be making any sort of waves in the top flight.

Burnley, Luton Town and Sheffield United are all currently in the relegation zone after six rounds, with all three level on one solitary point each.

After such an impressive promotion campaign, many predicted Burnley to impress in it’s return to the top flight, but Vincent Kompany’s side have struggled to find the back of the net.

The squad talent of Sheffield United and Luton Town was questioned prior to the start of the season, and both sides have yet to prove the doubters wrong.

There had been initial positive signs from the opening five rounds for Paul Heckingbottom, but the wheels completely fell off for the Blades in their 8-0 thrashing at the hands of Newcastle.

Luton meanwhile, squandered its best chance at three points on the weekend, as the Hatters had to come from behind to salvage a draw against 10-man Wolves at Kenilworth Road.

The performances have far from set the world alight, and the results have not been forthcoming either. All three teams are in for a long slog of a season as it stands.

Team of the Week

Plenty of candidates on a weekend which saw 30 goals scored in total, but here is the Team of the Week for Matchday Six. Selected by Inner Sanctum writers Jasper Woodcock and Liam McMahon.

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