Premier League fans’ half-term reports, part one: Arsenal to Leicester | Premier League


Going into Boxing Day in fourth is more than we could have hoped after our worst start ever. The recovery has definitely been helped by the inconsistency of others but, in the chaos of the pandemic, most of us are just grateful to be able to witness some genuinely scintillating football. There’s enough appetite, intensity and resolve on show to inspire even the most fickle among the Arsenal faithful. 7/10

Stars/flops Tomiyasu, Tavares, White and Lokonga have settled well, and Aaron Ramsdale’s exuberant personality has made him an instant favourite. But above all it’s the chemistry between Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe which has us full of optimism. As for negatives: Pépé is increasingly looking like a £72m write-off, and it’s sad to see Auba’s time here come to such an ignominious end.

Happy with the manager? He’s treading that gossamer fine line, only ever a couple of poor performances away from losing credibility. His uncompromising nature can be a positive but, with Auba joining the ranks of Torreira, Guendouzi and Saliba, it’s worrying that there’s no way back for players who fall foul of him, especially when resources aren’t as big as those of some rivals. 7/10

We will finish … Top six. Anything else would be a huge let-down.

Funniest moment in 2021? Hearing the year’s best song – “Tottenham getting battered everywhere they go” – really catch on.

Bernard Azulay @GoonerN5

Aaron Ramsdale
Aaron Ramsdale: exuberant. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images

Aston Villa

Given we’ve lost the best player in a generation and the best manager in 10 years, it’s surprising to be calling this a 7/10 start. Gerrard has just begun so well. We’re a work in progress – tactically we have to evolve and new blood is needed – but, with some players standing two inches taller under the new regime, there’s plenty of room for optimism. This was always a crucial season: keeping Konsa and Watkins is only likely if we carry on making progress – but I’m mildly confident that this first Gerrard month hasn’t just been a honeymoon.

Stars/flops Konsa is a rock and Cash is our best full-back since Mark Delaney. I’m gutted for Marvelous Nakamba, who was outstanding before getting crocked. Jacob Ramsey is on the sharpest upwards curve of all, though, a thrusting midfielder who could be really special. The new arrivals have all taken a while to settle in but Buendía has turned the corner. Less sure about Bailey and Ings.

Happy with the manager? It was sad Dean Smith was given such a short rope – he’ll never want for a pint in north Birmingham again. But Gerrard has wowed most Villa fans, both on and off the pitch. We’ve improved, won where we’d have lost earlier in the season, and he’s really impressed me with the way he shrugs off the tedious journalistic obsession with his Liverpool past. And when he talks, he seems to have watched the same game I’ve just watched, which can’t be said for all managers. 8/10

We will finish … 9th.

Funniest moment in 2021? Not sidesplitting, maybe, but bang on for fan sentiment against the Super League: the “we want our cold nights in Stoke” banner made by Chelsea fans.

Jonathan Pritchard

Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard: wow factor. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA


So far, I’m very pleased with how it’s gone, especially as we have no barometer to measure against. Exciting wins against Arsenal and West Ham and nail-biters against Liverpool and Chelsea have set the entertainment bar very high. Injuries have floored us but we’re still chiselling points out. If you told me a year ago that Brentford would be 12th going into our first Christmas in the Premier League with games in hand, I would have laughed in your face. 8/10

Stars/flops Ivan Toney is a machine. He puts in a shift every match all over the pitch. Nørgaard has been class and Janelt is incredible – he never gives up. Also a shout to Rico Henry, who has taken his game to another level recently. It’s been harder for sixth-in-line centre-back Charlie Goode and back-up keeper Fernández, who were parachuted in due to injuries. Both have had tricky starts to their Premier League careers, but are learning fast.

Happy with the manager? He’s done a fantastic job with a paper-thin squad and the league’s smallest budget. He’s comfortable going toe-to-toe with top coaches, switching it up if needed and isn’t afraid to take a risk. And he gets Brentford. Love him. 9/10.

We will finish … If we get our injured players back by March, I’d like to think we’ll finish the season as brightly as we started. Glass half full says 14th.

Funniest moment in 2021? I could be churlish and say Fulham being relegated a year after mocking us for losing in the play-off final. But I won’t. I still chuckle at the time we recorded a podcast at the Globe pub with our directors of football, Rasmus Ankersen and Phil Giles, in front of a live audience then surprised them as we put them on the spot about a future signing they thought was under wraps – Frank Onyeka. The pub roared with laughter as Rasmus was completely tongue-tied trying to talk his way out of that one.

Billy Grant Beesotted podcast and blog; @Beesotted; @BillyTheBee99

Ivan Toney
Ivan Toney: a machine. Photograph: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock


We started so well – the talk even turned to Europa League qualification. But then we stopped scoring. If we don’t beat Brentford we’ll have gone 100 days without a victory: an unbelievable run given that we’re still playing incredibly entertaining football and fell out of the top half only this month. We just need one win to get ourselves back on track. 7/10

Stars/flops Leandro Trossard has been our standout player; he scored the winner at Brentford in September and hopefully he can do it again as we host them. It’s been wonderful to see Shane Duffy thriving on his return from Celtic, Joel Veltman works hard every week and big-hearted Solly March creates chances. But it’s hard to be super scary and fired up without the injured Lewis Dunk. And Aaron Connolly should be moved on: it really isn’t happening for him.

Happy with the manager? We’re privileged to have him. He’s instilled class and fight – and he comes across as a really decent guy in interviews. He’s smart, has the all-round welfare of the players at heart and stood his ground admirably after a few ridiculous boos following the draw with Leeds. It was heartening to see the applause he got at West Ham. 8/10

We will finish … 9th.

Funniest moment in 2021? Maupay’s stunning 89th-minute equaliser on 1 December against West Ham. Fan site We Are Brighton noted: “Nothing in this world is certain except death, taxes and West Ham not beating Brighton.” And on a personal level, realising I was about to get my first tattoo from a Palace fan. Eek.

Steph Fincham

Leandro Trossard
Leandro Trossard: key threat. Photograph: David Horton/CameraSport/Getty Images


It’s hard to be pleased with how it’s going. We’ve won just once and the bottom three at Christmas is never a good place to be. The results have been a continuation of the second half of last season, which brought us only 17 points. Performances have been better than the results – but it’s results that will determine whether we stay in the division. It’s not great off the field, either: there’s a lack of communication with the supporters’ organisations since the takeover. We need big improvements. 4/10

Stars/flops Undoubtedly the big star has been Maxwel Cornet, signed from Lyon in August: an exciting talent. Nathan Collins, another summer arrival, has really impressed and looks a real prospect in defence. Charlie Taylor has also been outstanding in so many games this season. A few have struggled, though: Chris Wood hasn’t looked the same player this season – representing New Zealand at the Olympics probably didn’t help. He’s still scored three goals, though: we need a return from the other strikers.

Happy with the manager? He’s having a tough spell but he’s done a great job over nine years here. He just needs backing during this difficult time. 7/10

We will finish … Hopefully, 17th or higher. But I doubt it’ll be much higher.

Funniest moment in 2021? It’s hard to laugh when you’ve lost but Newcastle’s reaction to beating us – a lap of honour and dressing-room celebratory photos – really was funny.

Tony Scholes, @utcdotcom

Maxwel Cornet
Maxwel Cornet: exciting talent. Photograph: Peter Powell/Reuters


It’s been a solid first half of the season. Recent form has been a disappointment – defeat at West Ham at the start of December, plus draws with Everton and Wolves – but overall we have to be happy to be in the top four at this stage. Until the recent stumble we were probably exceeding expectations, leading the table for a good couple of months above two excellent teams in City and Liverpool. 8/10

Stars/flops Reece James, Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and a resurgent Mason Mount are the pick so far: Mount has added some much-needed goals to his impressive work rate and, once again, Silva is just oozing class at the back. As for flops: Saúl, on loan from Atlético Madrid, has really found the Premier League a tough gig; Lukaku started well but has failed to impress lately; and Pulisic continues to struggle with form, fitness and limited minutes.

Happy with the manager?
Tuchel appears as frustrated as the rest of us with the way things have been going recently but he knows what he’s doing. If he can crack getting past the parked buses and get our forwards firing we’ll have a successful second half of the season. 8/10

We will finish … 3rd.

Funniest moment in 2021? Rüdiger charging down the pitch like Usain Bolt to join in the post-match melee with the Leeds players this month was hilarious. He loves a tear-up.

Paul Baker in memory of Trizia Fiorellino

Antonio Rüdiger
Antonio Rüdiger: loves a tear-up. Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP

Crystal Palace

With so many players off in the summer, and the search for a manager taking so long, plenty were tipping us to finish bottom this season. So in short, it’s gone far better than anyone expected. The style of football has been an utter transformation: dominating possession, playing out from the back – unimaginable in the grind of the last campaign. To a man all of the new signings have settled in wonderfully and this young, attacking team has filled even the most hardened Palace fans’ hearts with joy. 8/10

Stars/flops Conor Gallagher has been a revelation: goals, assists, boundless energy, all with a beaming smile on his face. Marc Guéhi’s partnership with Joachim Andersen can be a foundation stone at the back for years to come, Michael Olise has been very effective off the bench, and Odsonne Édouard looks very promising up front. And James McArthur has belied his years – we’ve badly missed him since his injury. Luka Milivojevic and Cheikhou Kouyaté haven’t always looked settled, though, and Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew still miss too many chances – though you can’t fault their work rate.

Happy with the manager? Everyone knows Vieira wasn’t first, second or even third choice but he has settled in brilliantly. He commands incredible respect from the players, and he gets what the club stands for. He is very clear in his football philosophy, which has the total backing of his fans. If he can just get the team to manage leads late in the game better, then we will have the complete package. 9/10

We will finish … 11th.

Funniest moment in 2021? Winning 2-1 at Brighton with the last kick, having had just two touches in their box for the entire match. Wonderful.

Chris Waters @Clapham_Grand

Conor Gallagher
Conor Gallagher: fans’ favourite. Photograph: Jacques Feeney/Offside/Getty Images


A decent start, then a terrible run in the last 10 games: one win, two draws, seven defeats. We’ve a terrible injury list with questions over the club’s rehab programmes – but that doesn’t disguise Rafa Benítez’s poor selection, tactics and game management, or the less than stellar performances from experienced players. So it’s 3/10 – and it would have been 2/10 save for the performances against Arsenal at home and Chelsea away.

Stars/flops Pickford has been in superb shot-stopping form. Anthony Gordon is growing into his role, while Gray is the signing of the season: pace and goals, all for £1.7m. Flops? Rondón, unsurprisingly not fit and too slow; sadly Iwobi, technically superbly talented in training but not in matches; and Digne, disappointing and seemingly out of the door in January.

Happy with the manager? Always a contentious hire, he made a good start and communicated well. But the downturn revived all the concerns about him; dour, cautious football, no cohesion, an inability to get the best out of players and so on … 2/10

We will finish … DCL’s return will be a lift but it’s still a threadbare squad. No better than 12th, no worse than 16th.

Funniest moment in 2021? If any young pro wants lessons on how to engage and endear yourself to fans, look at Richarlison. Not his greatest season on the pitch but fabulous off it. A recent video of him managing a team on a local park was hilarious.

The Esk; @TheEsk

Rafa Benitez
Tough crowd for Rafa. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters


It’s a cruel twist of football that, if last season hadn’t been so good, this one wouldn’t be rating so low. Maybe we got carried away but, far from building on ninth, Leeds have been dragged into a relegation scrap we thought we’d dodged. We’re still on target for the big-picture aim of establishing the club in the Premier League over two seasons but it’s not nearly as much fun. 1/10

Stars/flops Illan Meslier, the young keeper with Serge Gainsbourg’s voice, veers heroically between winning points and keeping scores down. Up front, Joffy Gelhardt is worth his hype. A shout, too, for Adam Forshaw, 771 days out injured, never playing better. The rest? Staying fit would be a start.

Happy with the manager? Marcelo Bielsa is getting full support in spite of everything that’s happened lately, and it’s fun how it really annoys people who don’t understand Leeds United Football Club. 10/10

We will finish … 15th. Just like being back in the Championship.

Funniest moment in 2021? For a few weeks Bielsa was spotted wearing wonky glasses. Eventually Pat Bamford confessed to belting him in the face with a shot in training, and the boss was too busy to get them fixed. It’s a sort of charming chaos at Leeds sometimes.

Daniel Chapman; @MoscowhiteTSB

Illan Meslier
Illan Meslier: heroic. Photograph: Liz Finlayson/TPI/Shutterstock


Am I pleased with how it’s gone? In a word, no. Leicester have been well short of their best – arguably turning in only two good 90-minute performances all season. The dominant wins over Manchester United and Newcastle showed our finest form isn’t unreachable but ultimately our performances this season have more often resembled our yellow-bellied humbling by Chelsea. Thankfully, though, the results have been better than our displays. 5/10

Stars/flops It’s pleasing to see Vardy and Patson Daka scoring so regularly, and to see Maddison finally rediscovering his form. Youri Tielemans continues to show flashes of genius – fans voted him our player of 2021. Less positively, signing half the backline of the team you beat 9-0 in Vestergaard and Bertrand has gone down exactly as you’d expect …

Happy with the manager? To borrow an over-used cliche, Rodgers has credit in the bank but he has a lot of work to do to iron out Leicester’s defensive chaos and general malaise. Most fans are willing to give him a chance to rediscover our best football – but they won’t wait forever. 5/10

We will finish … With injuries and our defensive record, anything above 10th would be a minor miracle.

Funniest moment in 2021? It’s hard to look past Kelechi Iheanacho wearing the FA Cup as a crown and offering to sell it to two Wembley stewards.

Chris Whiting; @ChrisRWhiting

Youri Tielemans
Youri Tielemans: flashes of genius. Photograph: Peter Powell/Reuters

Part two: Liverpool to Wolves

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