Pepe the key for Arsenal? Chelsea fall; Spurs let off – talking points


here was plenty of drama again this weekend as Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Man City all dropped points to allow Leicester and Southampton to take advantage and head into the festive fixture schedule in the top four.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are in real trouble as a 1-0 home defeat to Burnley has piled the pressure on Mikel Arteta – and leaves the Gunners just five points clear of the relegation zone.

Here are the key talking points from another big weekend of footall…

1. Pepe return a rare glimmer of hope for Arsenal amid the doom

Arsenal fans need something – anything – to cheer about right now. After the defeat to Burnley, the Gunners have now made their worst start to a season since 1974. Confidence in the squad, and among fans, is low but the return of Nicolas Pepe is a boost. Arsenal desperately need someone to try and ignite their season and the Ivorian has the ability to do that. He has blown hot and cold this term, but Arsenal need him to run hot now. Their next four games are crucial, starting with Southampton on Wednesday. After that it is the small matter of a trip to Everton, before home matches with Manchester City and Chelsea. Simon Collings

2. Lampard strikes the wrong note

At what point does managing expectations overstep the mark? Frank Lampard may have done just that when hitting back at growing talk of Chelsea’s title credentials. As if defeat at Everton hadn’t delivered enough of a reality check, he then railed against suggestions he’s presiding over the strongest squad in the Premier League. “I don’t understand it,” he said – before reeling off the numerous areas where his side trail the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. It’s all good and well trying to keep a lid on expectations – but at what point does it become counter-productive and players actually start believing what their manager is saying? James Robson

3. Decordova-Reid sums up Fulham’s resurgence  

( POOL/AFP via Getty Images )

If any player typifies Fulham’s new spirit and belief, it is Bobby Decordova-Reid. The 27-year-old has been given a new role under Scott Parker this season and he is flourishing. In defence, he is helping Fulham keep sides out by becoming part of a back-five – but going forward the Jamaica international is still a threat by joining the front line. He is covering huge amounts of ground to get forward and his goal against Liverpool in the 1-1 draw on Sunday showed that. Decordova-Reid bombed forward to join the attack and finished with aplomb. Parker will hope it is the first of many. Simon Collings

4. Hodgson takes the handbrake off

Few would have expected Crystal Palace to take the game to Tottenham quite as they did on Sunday. The Eagles took on twice as many shots (16) as the Premier League leaders and were on the front foot as soon as they won the ball back. Eberechi Eze and Wilfried Zaha again linked well, racing forward at any opportunity. This attacking zest was the hope when players like Eze were signed of the summer, but few believed Hodgson would ever put up with such creative freedom. West Ham and Liverpool are up next and both will be stern tests, but with such confidence after bagging five at West Brom and cutting Spurs open time and again, Palace will fancy their chances on the front foot. Jack Rosser

5. Tottenham let off after Liverpool slip-up

Jose Mourinho hails Hugo Lloris as Premier League’s best keeper

Having watched Spurs drop two points as they warmed up at Craven Cottage on Sunday afternoon, Liverpool would have seen this as a week to lay down a marker in the title race. Fulham may have had an upturn in form in recent weeks but Jurgen Klopp’s side would have fancied winning before they face Spurs at Anfield on Wendesday. In the end, Liverpool also faltered on an unpredictable weekend in the Premier League. Wednesday’s clash between the top two at Anfield looks a tantalising clash. Jack Rosser

( Lee Bowyer / Getty Images )

Charlton returned to winning ways when they came from behind to beat AFC Wimbledon 5-2 on Saturday. The Addicks were trailing 2-1 when Jonny Williams and Chuks Aneke were brought on in the 53rd minute at the Valley and the double substitution from Lee Bowyer changed the game. Aneke was involved as Jake Forster-Caskey equalised, Williams put Charlton 3-2 a minute later, Aneke then got on the scoresheet himself and Ben Purrington added the fifth after a Williams shot hit the post. It means Charlton are back on track after a couple of disappointing displays, and up to fifth in League One. Simon Collings

7. Brentford extend unbeaten run in the Championship

Thomas Frank recorded his 50th victory in charge of Brentford as they extended their unbeaten run to 11 with a 3-1 win away at Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Ivan Toney scored his 15th goal of the season and the win means the Bees have moved back into the Championship top six. Frank was delighted with the attitude and desire his side showed at the City Ground and they now go into a big week when they face promotion rivals Watford on Tuesday and then Reading on Saturday. Asked about his 50th win, Frank said: “That is nice but I want more.” Jack Rosser

8. An opportunity missed for the Manchester pair  

Just imagine if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Pep Guardiola had been brave enough to actually go for it in the Manchester derby. With Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea all failing to win, it was a chance for United or City to really make their move at the top. Instead the snore draw was indicative of two managers and two teams that were so afraid of losing they simply didn’t gamble on winning. On the night a draw felt like it did neither side any favours. Yet defeat for either would have sparked latest talk of crises on the red or blue halves of Manchester. As it was, they lost no ground on the leading pair and actually moved a point closer to Chelsea. In that sense, perhaps the cautious approach was right – even if it still feels like an opportunity missed. James Robson

9. Brilliant Benrahma shows virtue of patience

( Getty Images )

Every week for the last month or so it has taken just minutes from the West Ham team being named to see Said Benrahma‘s name trending on Twitter as fans have fumed that their £30million was again on the bench. Manager David Moyes was building up the Algerian, who joined from Brentford on a rushed loan deal after deadline day complications. As was the case with Jarrod Bowen in January, it was a slow and steady introduction to Premier League life and, like with Bowen, it has proved a roaring success. Benrahma may not have got on the scoresheet against Leeds on Friday night but, on his first Premier League start, he was an unrelenting positive presence. Well worth the wait. Jack Rosser

10. Rowett furious after Millwall collapse

It is now 10 games without a win for Millwall, who conceded three goal in seven first-half minutes to lose 3-0 at Middlesbrough. The game was over by the 20th minute and the Lions are now on their worst run in seven years. “It wasn’t anywhere near good enough,” said Millwall manager Gary Rowett, who was furious with his side and made a change after just 24 minutes when Alex Pearce was replaced by Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. “It is clear to see the team have lost a bit of confidence,” said Rowett. “But you can’t feel sorry for yourselves.” Jack Rosser

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