From star showings to poor performances, here are our Heroes and Villains from the weekend’s Premier League action.
Granit Xhaka – Hero
The summer changes at Arsenal have led to a brilliant start to the season for the Gunners, who will top the table heading into October after six wins from seven games.
Potential banana skins at Crystal Palace and Brentford – two venues the north Londoners were well beaten at last season – have been navigated with ease, with summer signings Fabio Vieira and Gabriel Jesus, alongside returning loanee William Saliba, all on the scoresheet in a signal of the change.
Granit Xhaka’s Premier League assists by season:
16/17: 2 in 32 games 17/18: 7 in 38 games 18/19: 2 in 29 games 19/20: 2 in 31 games 20/21: 2 in 31 games 21/22 2 in 27 games 22/23: 3 in 7 games
One internal tweak from Mikel Arteta that has paid dividends is a new role for Granit Xhaka. The improved solidity provided by a fit-again Thomas Partey and Saliba has allowed the Switzerland international greater freedom to move forward from midfield, a tactic the Gunners are reaping the rewards from. His assist for Jesus was a wonderful delivery and his third of the Premier League campaign already, one fewer than across the past two seasons combined.
Xhaka is averaging two chances created per game this season and is revelling in a role where he can occupy the inside-left channel and pick passes.
Nathan Collins – Villain
Nathan Collins left Wolves with an impossible task to turn around their game with Manchester City, receiving his marching orders in the first half with Bruno Lage’s side already two goals down to the champions.
His challenge on Jack Grealish was high, reckless and rash, with his attempt to plead his innocence falling on deaf ears after a waist-high studs-up challenge on the England winger.
Nathan Collins was trying to do his best Erling Haaland impression, unfortunately it was on Jack Grealish… pic.twitter.com/WXUzBPSMBc
It was a senseless piece of defending from a centre-back with huge potential and Lage will hope the summer signing learns his lesson after a somewhat brutal brain-fart at Molineux.
To his credit, Collins reportedly waited around 25 minutes to apologise to Grealish at full-time, after a challenge more bungling than malicious.
James Tarkowski – Hero
Everton have wasted some extraordinary sums of money in recent transfer windows, but the additions of James Tarkowski and Conor Coady look shrewd signings this summer.
Tarkowski was courted across the Premier League after leaving Burnley on a free transfer and has brought presence to the backline, while the pick up of Coady on loan from Wolves has added another vocal leader to the Toffees’ defence.
Coady has impressed in a back four despite being allowed to leave Wolves over reservations over his suitability to the same role, while Tarkowski was excellent as Everton picked up a first win of the season against West Ham this weekend.
The later was a dominant presence with nine clearances and was always willing to place his body on the line with five blocked shots. Goals remain a problem for Everton, but back-to-back clean sheets point to progress and their cost-efficient centre-back duo have been behind that success.
Leicester – Villain
Things are looking bleak at Leicester, with the Foxes bottom of the Premier League after a sixth straight loss at Spurs. Their second-half capitulation undid an encouraging first-half performance, as Brendan Rodgers’ side lost 6-2 in north London.
It’s now 11 goals conceded in their last two games and 22 for the season already, the highest total any team has conceded at this stage of a Premier League season and highest in the top-flight since West Ham shipped the same number in 1965/66.
22 – Leicester’s 22 goals conceded is the most any side has shipped after seven games of a Premier League season, and the most in the top-flight since 1965-66 (West Ham, also 22). Trouble. #TOTLEIpic.twitter.com/Vbvp6NaKlq
Set-pieces remain an ongoing issue. Eric Dier was the latest to capitalise on the Foxes’ woeful marking at a corner kick and despite changes in personnel and a new set-piece coach their ability to defend such situations is laughable.
Time is running out for Brendan Rodgers to prove he can turn around the faltering Foxes, a team who, on paper, boast talent that should be nowhere near the bottom three and a potential relegation battle.
Tyrone Mings – Hero
Aston Villa secured a much-needed win to ease the pressure on Steven Gerrard, securing a 1-0 victory over Southampton on Friday evening.
It was a player who Gerrard has questioned who was central to their success, with Tyrone Mings a dominant presence at centre-back for the home side.
The 29-year-old was removed as captain during the summer and dropped for the opening weekend defeat at Bournemouth, but has since returned and found form closer to his best level. Diego Carlos’ long-term injury handed Mings a lifeline and he was the stand-out performer against the Saints, as he won each of his duels to help Villa to a clean sheet.
@TyroneMings completed 100% of his aerial duels (4/4) and 100% of his tackles (2/2) tonight.
Gerrard was full of praise for Mings – who was dropped from the latest England squad – and hailed the ‘character’ and ‘guts’ of the centre-back.
“I’m extremely pleased. He’s showed a lot of character and a lot of guts,” Gerrard told Sky Sports.
“I put that noise on Tyrone so that was my situation. The reason I did that is because when I came into this job I inherited the boys I did there was a lot of noise around him and I felt that affected his performances and consistency.
“The idea was to take that away from him so he could focus on him more and not worry about other players in the team or other roles, just solely focus on you and bring your attributes to the table consistently. He has got them, I still think he can do better but Tyrone needs to focus on Tyrone.”
Jarrod Bowen – Villain
Jarrod Bowen can count himself fortunate to have been included in the latest England squad, with the West Ham winger having struggled to replicate last season’s fine form.
Bowen has failed to register a goal or assist for West Ham in seven league appearances this season, having been one of just three Premier League players to reach double figures on both metrics in 2021/22.
He fluffed his lines with a chance in the 1-0 defeat at Everton this weekend, a result which leaves the Hammers in the bottom three. David Moyes has failed to find the balance in his attack with Michail Antonio and Bowen out of sorts, while Gianluca Scamacca continues to be restricted to just cameo roles.
Bowen’s form will be a major concern. The 25-year-old’s numbers for chance creation and dribbles are down, while he has taken 15 shots this season with just one testing an opposition goalkeeper.
Manuel Akanji – Hero
Erling Haaland’s customary goal, Kevin De Bruyne’s creative genius and Jack Grealish showing signs of life were all talking points from Manchester City’s 3-0 win at Wolves.
Manuel Akanji’s performance should be another source of praise however, with the centre-back having made a strong start at the Etihad.
The Switzerland international was deemed a surprise signing in the final stages of the window, but with fitness problems in City’s defence he arrived from Borussia Dortmund on deadline day.
The 27-year-old has wasted no time settling in and was impressive on his Premier League bow at Molineux, providing an assured presence alongside Ruben Dias. In a summer where top-flight clubs set a new record spend, his £15m arrival looks a snip.
Newcastle – Villain
Just how good are Newcastle?
Eddie Howe’s side have proven tough to beat during the season’s opening weeks, with a last-gasp loss at Liverpool the club’s sole reverse.
However, it’s now six games without a win for the Magpies who have not won since beating newly-promoted Nottingham Forest on the opening weekend. Draws with Brighton and Manchester City can be regarded as good points, but stalemates at St James’ Park with Crystal Palace and Bournemouth must be classed as poor results.
Newcastle 1-1 Bournemouth FT:
Eddie Howe’s side only have one Premier League win this season…
In the absence of Allan Saint-Maximin the Magpies lacked a creative spark against Bournemouth this weekend, with Ryan Fraser unable to fill the void against his former team. Saint-Maximin’s x-factor is difficult to replace, but Newcastle must find alternative ways to threaten teams when the Frenchman is absent.
One win in seven is not the start most envisaged amid the increased expectations in the North East.