If ever you could say a club are doing a ‘go unnoticed’ challenge at the moment, then it’s Arsenal. The Gunners have won nine successive games in all competitions, have the second-best attack so far, have won four straight away games for the first in almost two years, have racked up 60% of their away league goals of last season, and are just two points off the top of the table. Yet Unai Emery’s men have hardly graced the spotlight, operating in the shadows, unnoticed but effective.

Perhaps there is a fair amount of reasoning to that. The Gunners are still adapting to life under Emery and the sense of building up expectation this early is still very much ill-advised. But life under Emery is going well so far, and there’s a different feel to things as an Arsenal fan, no sense of dread at the expected fatalism that’s bound to come, rather than continuing to dive into the unknown with a sense of adventure and excitement.

There’s no building angst for home games, and away matches are not approached with a defeatist atmosphere even before kick-off, as it had been for some time in the past. Players have also spoke of the increased intensity in training, which has shown in matches, and there’ also being improvements in forms of players, the likes of Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi finding their feet after an almost regressive stagnation last term.

There’s always the check on Arsenal’s form, on the point that the defence still looks very much shaky, and has only kept two clean sheets so far. Plus, there’s the fact that for all of Arsenal’s improvements, they’ve hardly completely convincing, and the highest-placed side they’ve beaten in the league so far are ninth-placed Watford; the two games in which they’ve come up against teams whose levels they aim to get to, they’ve suffered defeat, played off the park on home soil by Manchester City on the opening day, before looking defensively haphazard at Chelsea a week after.

So, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The Gunners host Leicester on Monday night, and with the glass half-empty perspective of their form meaning that every win so far has come with at least an ounce of ‘yeah, but’, this is not the time to slack off. Because nobody expects the problems that have dogged Arsenal to be gone after just four months, wins will still be met with scepticism for now, and failures to attain victory will be followed up by derisive snorts of ‘see, there you go’.

But right now, the Gunners should continue to go about their business quietly and away from the limelight. Operating in the shadows hasn’t failed them so far, and the chance of a perfect ten looms very large.

Elsewhere:

  • It’s a return to Stamford Bridge for Jose Mourinho, as he takes his squad on another save-the-boss quest, this time in a trip to the capital. Whether their comeback win over Newcastle was a form of defeating defiance or a turning point will certainly get more evidence, as they face a Chelsea side with a number 10 in absurdly good form.
  • Sit back and ignore them and check the scores after, or see them on the goal rush, it’s the first six-pointers of the season. First off, bottom-placed Cardiff host fourth from bottom Fulham, with the Welsh side still seeking their first win of the season; a clash of lacklustre attack against leaky defence. Then the other is the clash between Newcastle, second from bottom, host Brighton, six points ahead of the Toon.

 

  • Sticking with the bottom-dwellers, Southampton are winless in five league games, losing four, their only win of the season coming in a game where they managed to be so poor yet won at Crystal Palace. The Saints visit sixth-placed Bournemouth (can’t believe that was mentioned so casually), and a defeat at the Vitality stadium will surely see the start building on Mark Hughes at the South Coast… or maybe not.

Fixtures

Arsenal v Leicester

Chelsea v Manchester United

Everton v Crystal Palace

Bournemouth v Southampton

Wolves v Watford

Huddersfield v Liverpool

Manchester City v Burnley

Cardiff v Fulham

Newcastle United v Brighton

West Ham v Tottenham

 

Published in International Watch

Man U plot January Ramsey move

Monday, 15 October 2018 00:58

Man United plot January Ramsey move

Manchester United are said to be interested in signing the Welsh midfielder this upcoming winter transfer window.

Aaron Ramsey will be out of contract at Arsenal at the end of the season.

Talks between Arsenal and Aaron Ramsey over a new contract for the 27-year-old last week hit a deadlock – as Arsenal are unwilling to meet the wage demands of the former Cardiff midfielder.

The Red Devils, who last winter transfer window, snapped Alexis Sanchez up from Arsenal are reported to be interested in signing another Arsenal player in this winter transfer window.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has identified Ante Rebic and Nikola Milenkovic as possible January midfield recruitment, but should the United hierarchy fail to release funds, Ramsey has been identified as a more affordable target.

 

Ramsey is also a target for Italian sides Juventus and AC Milan, as the former will move for the Welsh international should attempt to sign Adrien Rabiot from PSG fails.

Published in Transfer Rumors

The former Golden Eaglets captain has set his sight on being Nigeria's greatest

In 2015, Kelechi Nwakali led the Nigerian Golden Eaglets to win a record fifth FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.

The 20-year-old midfielder was rewarded with the overall best player at the tournament for his sterling performance at the tournament.

Nwakali who was snapped up immediately by Arsenal after the tournament in Chile has only represented the senior national team on one occasion but has set his sight on being the greatest player to ever represent the Super Eagles.

On loan at Porto from Arsenal, the midfielder told The Nation Sports and Style in an interview that with “with hard work and humility” he had all it takes to be Nigeria’s greatest ever footballer.

“… I’m just starting my career and it’s like I have not started at all,” he said.

“One of my dreams is to be Nigeria’s greatest ever footballer and it’s not just saying it but to work for it.

 

“I believe with hard work and humility, I will achieve my dreams.”

Published in Awa Football

Arsenal v Watford. September 29, 2018. Alexandre Lacazette gets into the box, goes past Christian Kabasele, is tackled by Kabasele, but opts to stay on his feet, and eventually plays a cross/shot over Ben Foster’s goal. Replays show Lacazette was clearly fouled by Kabasele, but, mostly as a result of his honesty and refusal to go down, he gets no penalty.

That seems to be a recurring theme in football, players not getting decisions until they end up on the ground, almost like it’s not a foul until the player lies on the turf. In Watford’s draw at Fulham last weekend, Troy Deeney was on the receiving end of a not-so-clean tackle from Fulham’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah and was praised by many for not going down and making a meal of it. The decision looked like one warranting a red card, and speaking on radio in midweek, Deeney posed the question as to why players necessarily have to go down before a clear and obvious decision is made.

Lacazette was on the receiving end against the Hornets, but his side got away with something similar almost exactly a year ago. In Arsenal’s win over West Brom in September 2017, Lacazette scoring both goals, Jay Rodriguez was fouled in the Arsenal box midway through the first half, but as a result of him getting up and firing a shot wide immediately, it was deemed as next to nothing.

Same goes for Raheem Sterling in Manchester City’s draw against Tottenham at the start of 2017, Sterling on the receiving end of an obvious push from then Spurs defender Kyle Walker, but due to the winger’s refusal to go down and rather being intent on getting his shot away, no decision was given, and almost immediately, Spurs go down the other end and score. Pep Guardiola was far from pleased at fulltime, while Walker himself admitted to pushing Sterling.

So what’s the reward for honesty? For all the clamour over the need for players to stop exaggeration and keep on their feet, players who show those traits shouldn’t be denied clear and obvious decisions because they show those traits. There’s always talk, as regards to fouls in the box especially, that the player goes down anticipating contact, or makes the most of very little contact. But, as condemnable as those acts are, the lack of ‘justice’ to the more honest ones wouldn’t help; if a player sees his honesty as getting nothing more than ‘proper football men’ applause, then surely it encourages him to be more cunning. If you play the ethics right, and it yields nothing, then why not skirt the rules a bit?

If the world can sit up and take attention when a player opts to con the referee, why can’t it do the same when players are fouled, but instead choose to be honest and stay on their feet, and as a result get nothing. Listen to commentators in replays of such scenarios and the word is usually ‘I’m not encouraging players to go down, but…’, which just about makes the point: your honesty will hardly get the justice it merits.

Make no mistake about it, diving and trying to con the referee will always be despicable. But when it seems like the officials are giving decisions looking less at the cause, and more at the consequence, then you can hardly begrudge a player trying to overplay and exaggerate contact. The reward for honesty on the pitch seems sparse, and until that changes, tilting the rules will always be seen by many as clever, rather than corrupt. Playing by the rules doesn’t seem as lucrative as playing the rules.

 

Published in International Watch

Carragher believes Cech is back to his best, and questions Emery' usage of the goalkeeper

Cech, who has started all Arsenal league games has come under some criticisms – following some underwhelming performances in the early games of the seasons.

But after the 36-year-old put up a sterling performance – that earned him the man-of-the-match award in Arsenal 2-0 win against Everton yesterday, Jamie Carragher heaped praise on the former Chelsea shot stopper.

The former Liverpool defender believes Cech is getting back to his best, but question Arsenal boss Unai Emery usage of the former Czech international.

Carragher said Emery asking Cech to play with his legs is like “manager putting me on the wing.”

“I think Petr Cech in this first five or six games looks like Petr Cech I remember at Chelsea in terms of the saves he makes,” Carra told Skysports. “His starting positions and coming out at people’s feet.

“The criticisms he’s got in terms of using his feet, and I’ve been critical of it. My criticism is not for the goalkeeper, it’s maybe more for the manager for asking him to do those types of things.

“It’s like manager putting me on the wing and asking me to beat the full-back, you can’t do it.

“He’s never going to be good with his feet and again, there were problems against Everton, playing out from the back and losing the ball in their own half with Everton pressing.

“You think at some stage they may come a cropper and it may hurt them, but they do seem to be getting through these games.”   

Published in International Watch

Arsenal, Man U interested in Pepe’s signature

Saturday, 22 September 2018 19:02

 English giants Manchester United and Arsenal have been reported by Telefoot to be interested in signing Ivory Coast and Lille’s winger Nicolas Pepe.

Telefoot claimed that the two sides might be bracing up for a January bid for the Ivorian who has scored four goals already in the Ligue 1 this season.

According to reports, Barcelona, Dortmund and Schalke 04 are also on the watch for the 23-year-old.

Pepe joined Lille from Armiens in 2017, in a deal worth around €9m, and he scored 13 league goals in 31 appearances in his maiden campaign with the French side.

Southampton reportedly failed with a €12.5m bid last summer – as Lille are said to be holding on to a bid in the region of €30m

Published in Transfer Rumors

The Spaniard has lost his first two competitive games as an Arsenal manager – the recent a 3-2 loss away from home to Chelsea.

While Unai Emery’s loses has not been much of a news, his style of wanting to play from the back has met so many scrutiny.

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher is the latest big name to criticise Emery for his style, and he said on Monday Night Football that the former PSG boss changed some of his approaches.

“I think the manager has to adapt,” Carragher said. “Not throw away all his principles, but defend a little bit deeper.

“Has he got the players to press from the front? He hasn't got the pace at the back. Has he got a goalkeeper who can play out? I just think that to get through to January he has to adapt.”

In defence of Emery’s approach, Gary Neville told Carragher that “it's ignorant to suggest he has to adapt.”

Neville, a former Valencia manager said Emery was a successful manager and that he must maintained his approach that had brought his so many accolades in the past years.

“I think it's ignorant to suggest he has to adapt,” The former United defender said.

“No. He has had six weeks to work. Unai Emery has been a coach for 10 years and has been successful. He has his idea and the players have to adapt to him.

“He has to find out over this first season which players can adapt to him and which players can't. Of course he will lose games. In the first season there will be some pain for Arsenal in this transition they are going through. I think it's dangerous to adapt.

“I know this from my biggest learning in Valencia. I set off on a path of what I was going to do and didn't get results. The minute I started to adapt and take people away from my idea and do things different, I threw away the previous three or four weeks of work I'd done.

“If he starts to work on one idea of playing out from the back, but then says knock it long, you start to get confusion in players' minds.”

After the 2-0 defeat Arsenal suffered to Man City, Sam Allardyce was one of the very first name that came out to criticise Emery.

Allardyce said only the best teams were allowed to play the way Emery was setting his team, and Neville has threw a jibe at the former England manager, saying Emery’s task is not to save a team from relegation battle – something Allardyce is known with.

“I saw Sam Allardyce's comments on the radio, but Unai Emery is not trying to get eight points from five games to avoid relegation.

“He's trying to build a team to win the title. The last thing he should do, in my experience, which was a bad one, is change and adapt because his players will walk all over him.” Neville said.

 

 

Published in International Watch

It’s quite apt to say Chelsea and Arsenal are still at the adaption stage of their different managers’ philosophies at the club, and ‘different’, in this case refers more to the identity of the managers in charge, and less to the philosophies both gaffers are trying to espouse in the English Capital. On evidence of the first weekend of the season, both managers seem attentive on a style of play that requires building from the back, getting comfortable on the ball, using the goalkeeper as an eleventh outfield player, a system which, despite yielding different results at the start, will take some getting used to.

Arsenal began with a chastening defeat at home to champions Manchester City last Sunday, and were just about given a first-class lesson on the difference between pedestrian possession and purposeful penetration, the latter of which is the level Unai Emery aspires to get to. The Gunners were palpably uncomfortable in attempting to bring Emery’s gameplan to fruition, an initial awkwardness that nearly yielded a comical own goal from goalkeeper Petr Cech, was the source of ire to Sam Allardyce, and led to an online… for a lack of better word, spat, between Cech and new Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno’s former club Bayer Leverkusen.

Chelsea’s initial result was rather different, the Blues recording an ultimately comfortable win at Huddersfield on the opening Saturday of the season. But it didn’t fail to mask the unease that still lies with the side as they try to come to terms with Maurizio Sarri’s style of play. There were more than a few awkward moments, on and off the ball, not least at the back, despite the eventual scoreline, and you sense a more incisive side than the Terriers would cause the fallen champions more problems. But their immediate task is a home game against Arsenal, a side in a similar mode of adjustment.

So, this might be the perfect time for both London clubs to go head-to-head, which they’ll do on Saturday, a clash of the least-fancied of the top six teams this season, both sides who might possess similar traits of weakness, yet whose flaws probably won’t be capitalised on, as both have teething problems.

Whatever happens at Stamford Bridge probably wouldn’t set the tone for both their seasons, there will be sterner tests from much more settled sides; this is a game between two teams in need of time.

Elsewhere

  • The outlook on Manchester City might well have changed after this week’s developments, with Kevin de Bruyne now ruled out for up to three months with a knee injury. They coped well without the Belgian for most of last week’s win at Arsenal, and are unlikely to face problems at home to Huddersfield- even though the Terriers held them to a draw at the Etihad less than three months ago-, but how this setback affects their run-in will be interesting to watch.
  • The last time Manchester United went to Brighton, the Seagulls celebrated a win that ultimately sealed their place in this season’s top-flight, Jose Mourinho was grumpy and bemoaned how his squad deputies failed to perform on the night. Less than three months on, Mourinho is still grumpy, and the squad deputies haven’t been cut much slack. For Brighton, meanwhile, they seek to recover after that tame opening day loss at Watford.
  • Speaking of seeking a recovery, Cardiff and Newcastle meet in South Wales, after both sides suffered defeat in their first games. The last time Neil Warnock and Rafa Benitez had any semblance of Premier League ‘business’ that involved both parties, Benitez was accused of fielding a weakened side in Liverpool’s loss to Fulham, one of the relegation rivals of Sheffield United- managed then by Warnock, back in 2007.
  • Tottenham haven’t had the best start to the season. The lack of transfer activity, Mauricio Pochettino pointing a finger at Brexit for that, and then the delays with their new ground. A win on the opening day at Newcastle did well to mask the first one, another victory, as Fulham come to Wembley, to mask the second will do nicely.

Fixtures

Chelsea v Arsenal

Cardiff v Newcastle

Brighton v Manchester United

Crystal Palace v Liverpool

West Ham v Bournemouth

Tottenham v Fulham

Manchester City v Huddersfield

Everton v Southampton

Burnley v Watford

Leicester v Wolves

Published in International Watch

 

 The Roman Abramovich London series: Season 16 (Sarri-Ball), Episode Three (Sarri-ball welcomes Arsenal).

It’s been quite a ride, Chelsea and Abramovich; the ups and downs, the heartbreaks and the heart-warming moments, the Andriy Shevchenko and the Didier Drogba, and a lot of mails that say ‘you’re fired’ (we assume). The Russian’s ownership of the club has torn through 10 managers (yes, including Avram Grant), and Maurizio Sarri is the 11th at the helm. And this weekend, Sarri and his Sarri-ball, still at its infancy stage at Stamford Bridge, welcome Arsenal to SW6, his third game of the season (if you include the Community Shield).

So, because we here have nothing better to do, we take a look at the past 10 managers of the Blues and their first (league) games against the Gunners:

Note: This is the first game of Chelsea’s managers against Arsenal, not the first game of their managerial tenures at the Bridge, hence Jose Mourinho circa 2013 and Guus Hiddink circa 2016 won’t be included.

Claudio Ranieri- Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea (January 2001)

Claudio Ranieri was appointed as Chelsea manager on the 18th of September 2000, 12 days after Chelsea’s first meeting with Arsenal that season, when the Blues conceded twice in the final 14 minutes to throw away a two-goal lead. Hence, the Tinkerman’s first game for the Blues against Arsenal was in January of the following year, when Robert Pires gave the Gunners the perfect start at Highbury, with a goal inside three minutes. But Chelsea roared back to leave with a point, thanks to an equaliser from John Terry just past the hour mark. One-all it finished, and Chelsea finished the season in sixth place, earning a then-commendable UEFA Cup spot.

Jose Mourinho- Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea (December 2004)

Ranieri didn’t last long under Emperor Roman, just one season and the Italian was binned. In came a young Jose Mourinho, fresh from running the length of the Old Trafford sidelines, as well as winning the Champions League with Porto. His first game against the Gunners also came at Highbury, in December of 2004, when the league leaders visited the champions. Arsenal wasted little time in flying out of the blocks, Thierry Henry with an immaculate control and finish, past a standing Petr Cech, to give the Gunners an early lead. Chelsea didn’t take long to respond, though, John Terry again, his header from Arjen Robben’s corner restoring parity, but Arsenal would go into the break ahead, Henry with a quick free-kick that caught Cech and Chelsea out. Again, the Blues would hit back, early in the second half, through Eidur Gudjohnsen. Chances and attempts weren’t non-existent afterwards, Robben struck the side-netting after a mazy run, while Henry skied a shot over, eight yards from a gaping goal, but it would finish level, Chelsea steamrollering their way to the league title with 95 points, 12 ahead of the Gunners in second place.

Avram Grant- Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (December 2007)

Mourinho too would be gone, by September of 2007, with Avram Grant quite inexplicably put in charge until the end of the season. Grant’s first game against the Gunners would come at the Emirates three months later, a game which was decided by a header from former Chelsea defender and then-Arsenal skipper William Gallas on the stroke of halftime, thanks in no small part to an error from Petr Cech. Arsenal spent most of the embers of the second period passing up chances to kill off the game, but held out for the win which kept them as pacesetters in the league then. Chelsea would eventually finish above them, but both had to settle for a spot below champions Manchester United.

Luis Felipe Scolari- Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal (December 2008)

Just about a year later, Chelsea’s newest manager, World Cup winner Luis Felipe Scolari, was to come face-to-face with Arsenal for the first time. Up until a month earlier, Chelsea had a record of been unbeaten at home in the league for four years, a run that spanned 86 games, and was ended by Liverpool. Chelsea made the breakthrough against the Gunners, Johan Djourou unfortunate enough to score an own goal, but a double from Robin van Persie ensured an Arsenal turnaround and Arsene Wenger’s side left with all three points. For Scolari, that was his only meeting with the Gunners as Chelsea boss, the Brazilian got his p45 in February of the following year.

Guus Hiddink- Arsenal 1-4 Chelsea (May 2009)

Dutchman Hiddink was Scolari’s replacement at the Bridge, juggling his responsibilities with the Russian national team alongside his temporary role at Chelsea. Hiddink had met, and beaten, Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final less than a month before their league meeting at the Emirates. In what was Arsenal’s last chance to have a shot at third place that season, Chelsea entered the break with a two-goal lead, a header from Alex and a pile-driver from Nicolas Anelka giving them a margin for error. Two became three in the second half, Kolo Toure turning Florent Malouda’s cross into his own net, while Malouda himself would add a fourth, either side of Nicklas Bendtner grabbing a goal back for the Gunners.

Carlo Ancelotti- Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea (November 2009)

It was the last day of November in 2009, and the first game against Arsenal as Chelsea boss for Carlo Ancelotti, who took his league leaders to the Emirates. In what had become archetypal of this fixture at that time, despite Arsenal having dominated proceedings and getting the lion’s share of possession, it was Chelsea who’d take the lead, Didier Drogba turning home Ashley Cole’s cross. Chelsea doubled that advantage soon after, another Cole cross, this time it was Thomas Vermaelen who diverted the ball into his own goal, before Drogba added the gloss on the scoreline with a superb free-kick after halftime, as the eventual champions of that season strolled to a comfortable victory.

Andre Villas-Boas- Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal (October 2011)

Ancelotti also headed for the door marked ‘Do One’ soon enough, and like in 2004, an Italian was replaced by a young Portuguese coming off the back of European success. Andre Villas-Boas was the new man at the Bridge then, and less than three months into the new league season, the 33-year-old gaffer was playing host to Arsenal in the league. The Gunners had started to pick themselves up at that point after a rotten start, winning two league games in a row, after achieving that same number of wins in their previous seven games, the most notable of those an 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford. Chelsea, meanwhile, hit a reef of their own, coming into this game off the back a defeat to West London rivals Queens Park Rangers, but got on the front foot early on here, and took a deserved lead through the head of Frank Lampard. Arsenal responded soon after through Robin van Persie, but Chelsea would go into the break in front, John Terry bundling home a Lampard corner. Arsenal responded again, in the second half, via Andre Santos, before Theo Walcott put the Gunners in front, then Juan Mata dragged the scoreline to 3-3 with 10 minutes left. Chelsea sensed a win, but an over-hit pass from Florent Malouda and a slip by Terry let in Van Persie, who rounded Petr Cech and rolled the ball into an unguarded net. Van Persie would complete his hatrick in stoppage time, for a 5-3 win, that marked the beginning of the end at Chelsea for AVB, who would be sacked in March.

Roberto Di Matteo- Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (April 2012)

AVB’s assistant at the start of the season, Di Matteo took temporary charge after the Portuguese was binned, and the Italian’s highlights included that stunning second leg comeback in last 16 of the UEFA Champions League against Napoli, that famous 2-2 draw in the semi-final second leg against Barcelona, and of course the triumph in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in their opponents’ own stadium. But his first game as Chelsea boss against Arsenal is one that lives in the memory of few. In fact, the only thing Spotkick can recall from this game was that Robin van Persie was booked for a foul on Michael Essien. That’s enough about that.

Rafael Benitez- Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal (January 2013)

Di Matteo would be given the Chelsea job on a permanent basis after his triumph in Munich, and if that was a ploy for the manager to be sacked, it worked out perfectly, as the former Chelsea midfielder was gone by November. In came, much to ire of Blues fans, Rafa Benitez, until the end of the season. Less than two months in, on a pouring afternoon at Stamford Bridge, Benitez faced Arsenal. Goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard- from the spot- gave the Blues a 2-0 halftime lead, and despite Theo Walcott pulling one back for the Gunners after the interval, Chelsea held out for the win, on their way to finishing the season in third, one place and two points above Arsenal.

Antonio Conte- Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea (September 2016)

Two months into the new Premier League season, and it had begun to look uncomfortable for Antonio Conte at Chelsea, a draw at Swansea was followed up by a defeat at home to Liverpool. Next up, a trip to the Emirates. Conte’s first game against the Gunners had just about the worst first half you could think of, Gary Cahill’s error letting in Alexis Sanchez, who dinked one Thibaut Courtois and gave Arsenal the lead; then Walcott added a quick-fire second minutes after. Mesut Ozil added a third, just before halftime. In the second half, Conte reverted to a back-three, and Chelsea didn’t concede in the league again until late November, and went on a run of 13 straight wins, on their way to the title; so in hindsight, that first-half hammering was a good thing.

Published in International Watch

 

The theatrics and pyrotechnics were on show at the Molineux, Wolverhampton Wanderers were back in the Premier League for the first time in some six years; the last time they were here, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were still very much part of the top-flight furniture, Kylian Mbappe was 13 years old, Blackberry phones were on the in, Huddersfield were in the third tier, while things like Goal-line Technology and Video Assistant Referees were yet-to-be implemented theories. That’s how long it’s been.

Absence has made the heart grow fonder, and, add to that the fact that the Midlands-club have added well in the summer transfer window, and fancy themselves capable of more than mere survival, you could not just excuse the overwhelming sense of anticipation, but rather encourage it as well. The stadium was in full voice, as Everton came to town.

‘The fans must enjoy it’, said manager Nuno Esprito Santo, and the fans did, the boisterous atmosphere at the ground was palpable , as Wolves stepped out to begin a season in which they were the only side from the West Midlands in the top-flight. The kick-off came with roaring cheers, as did every Wolves kick of the ball early on.

But Premier League is never roses and rainbows, it took only 17 minutes for Wolves to be reminded of what they left behind back in 2012. The ruthless cruelty that is the top-flight, any lapse likely to be punished, such as failing to deal with a free-kick in your 18-yard box, what the hosts were guilty of in the 17th minute. When Gylfi Sigurdsson swung in a cross, Wolves’ defence hesitated in the area, their clearance uncertain, and Richarlison nipped in to put Everton in front.

Everton also have expectations of their own, looking to put things right after last season’s debacle. They also have a Portuguese manager, long sought-after Marco Silva finally appointed in the summer, and it was the manager’s new signings in Richarlison, a man who had raised eyebrows for being acquired for 40million pounds, who was off celebrating giving Everton the lead.

There it was, the size of the task that Wolves had to rise up to in this division; they’d talked the talk, now to walk it. But they did find a response, even if a helping hand came their way at first. Everton skipper Phil Jagielka took a heavy touch, then took his studs through Diogo Jota’s ankle, an act which saw receive his marching orders, in the 44th minute. Wolves had a numerical advantage, and from the resulting free-kick, Ruben Neves, near-impeccable in the Championship last season, arrowed one past Jordan Pickford.

Then the noise was back, the electricity in the ground resumed, not since Steven Fletcher in 2012 had this club had a goal-scorer in the big time, Wolves now had lift-off. ‘We thank the crowd, Molineux was incredible- buzzing’, said Santo, who was engulfed in celebration by his coaching staff after Neves’ leveller. ‘It was a good atmosphere’.

If the atmosphere was unquestionable, the performance wasn’t; for all the noise and bounce in the ground, Wolves didn’t create much after halftime, despite their numerical advantage, Jota guilty of taking a touch too many on a few occasions, while the passes weren’t quite coming off, and on 67 minutes, thanks once more to Richarlison, they fell behind again. ‘We over-played some moments…’, admitted Santo, ‘…but it’s natural when we’re growing’.

But the fans wouldn’t leave sullen, as with 10 minutes left, a delightful Neves cross was met by the head of Raul Jimenez, one of the summer signings, to rescue a point. ‘We have character.’ Santo again pointed out. ‘We came back with a result two times, it’s not easy’.

And he shouldn’t expect it to get any easier. There were a few causes for concern; the fluidity was lacking, the defence was suspect, and chance creation was next-to-non-existent. But as Santo said, the side is growing. There will be teething problems, but results like this will make them feel they should overcome that. The optimism can’t fade just yet, Wolves want to belong here.

Elsewhere

  • It was the ideal start for Chelsea at Huddersfield- three goals, three points, a clean sheet for the World’s most expensive goalkeeper. But that in no way means the Blues look ready, they were a few jittery moments at the John Smith’s stadium, but as Maurizio Sarri’s side are still at the getting-used-to-it stage, the win was more than welcome.
  • One side also getting used to it are Arsenal, who were shown a hint of the level they aspire to get to under Unai Emery as they lost to the champions Manchester City. No sense of deflation as of yet, this is another who are always going to face teething problems, even if one of those was almost the most inexplicable of own goals you could see. Almost.
  • It all began on Friday night, only 72 seconds were on the clock when Andre Marriner gave Manchester United a penalty against Leicester. A spotkick goal (yes, we had to) from World Cup winner Paul Pogba, a first career goal for Luke Shaw, suddenly Jose Mourinho’s pre-season grumpiness is forgotten… For now.
  • It’s the first weekend of the season, and Roberto Pereyra has probably already won the Goal of the Month award for August.
  • Mohammed Salah scored, Harry Kane didn’t score in an August game, Wilfred Zaha helped Crystal Palace to victory, Southampton didn’t score…nothing much is new these days.
  • From the probably-not-immortal words of Frank Underwood, ‘Welcome back’.

Results

Wolves 2-2 Everton

Fulham 0-2 Crystal Palace

Huddersfield 0-3 Chelsea

Liverpool 4-0 West Ham

Watford 2-0 Brighton

Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester

Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham

Bournemouth 2-0 Cardiff

Southampton 0-0 Burnley

Published in International Watch

Page 1 of 9