Is Jermain Defoe really the difference at Tottenham or are his goals merely a symptom of their creativity? Who are the players making things happen at Arsenal and Everton? And why is there still hope for pointless Southampton?
After the impressive season Emmanuel Adebayor enjoyed for Tottenham in 2011-12 it was perhaps a little surprising that Jermain Defoe retained his manager's backing for the trip to Reading on Sunday. Defoe has been in good form for England with goals against Italy and Moldova as well as finding the target for Spurs against Newcastle. But he had been unable to score in the home matches against Norwich and West Brom and Adebayor would appear more suited to the lone striker role. As it was, Andre Villas-Boas was completely vindicated as Defoe scored two fine goals.
"Jermain is showing his abilities, the amount of shots he has on target is amazing," said Villas-Boas after the game. Defoe is certainly far from shot-shy but the statistics make for interesting reading - the diminutive forward had more shots off target than any other player in the Premier League at the weekend. His performance prompted a more circumspect evaluation from Sky Sports pundit Glenn Hoddle. "Defoe will score goals," said the former Spurs boss. "Whether he can score goals against top-quality international teams, we have still got to see."
That may seem a harsh assessment and one that sparks memories of Hoddle famously claiming that Andrew Cole "needs six or seven chances to score one". But it does offer a different slant on the simple explanation that Defoe is suddenly in form. His movement has been first-rate and he appears confident - but much of his success at the weekend owed to the creativity and ambition of a midfield eager to support and provide at every opportunity.
|Shots Off Target - PL Sep 15-16|
|Player Name||Team||Shots Off Target|
|Danny Welbeck||Manchester United||4|
Creative Cazorla and brilliant Baines
Two of those Tottenham midfielders - Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon - are among the top chance creators in the Premier League so far this season. But sitting above them in the list is Arsenal's Santi Cazorla. The Spain international has been hugely influential for the Gunners in their first four games and, after two goalless games to start their campaign, his team-mates are finally finishing off some of the attacks he is launching.
With Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott all on the scoresheet in the 6-1 thrashing of Southampton, it's clear Arsenal have pace in abundance. But speed of thought is important too and the success on Saturday owed as much to their ability to get the ball moving as it did to their legs. "We moved the ball at a very high pace and we have many players who can do that," said Arsene Wenger. "We had a good combination of running pace and passing pace and that maybe gave problems to the Southampton team."
While not managing a direct assist at the weekend, Cazorla still created more chances - five - than any other player on the pitch. That takes his tally to 18 for the season and as Arsenal's pacey forwards continue to build an understanding with their playmaker it is unlikely we will see too many repeats of the Gunners failing to fire as long as Cazorla is in the line-up.
But the Spaniard was overtaken as the chief chance creator in the Premier League on Monday evening when Leighton Baines producing a typically dominant display for Everton from left-back against Newcastle. Sky Sports' Gary Neville had identified Baines as the key figure before the game and Magpies boss Alan Pardew appeared to agree - opting for Sylvain Marveaux ahead of Demba Ba in a conservative team selection. "Baines will fly," said Neville. "Marveaux is going to have a job to do tonight. It costs a lot of teams at Goodison Park."
Neville's words were of no help to Newcastle as Marveaux was withdrawn at the interval after being given the run around. It seems that knowing the likes of Baines and Cazorla are the men who make their sides tick and actually doing something about it can be two different things.
|Chances Created - PL 2012/13|
|Player Name||Team||Chances Created|
|Samir Nasri||Manchester City||13|
|Yaya Toure||Manchester City||11|
Saints keep passing
Southampton find themselves at the foot of the Premier League table after their chastening experience at the Emirates Stadium at the weekend. But it wasn't your typical drubbing. Southampton attempted more passes than their hosts - 573 to 567 - and completed just seven fewer... but still saw the ball nestling in their net on six separate occasions.
Nigel Adkins admitted that his team had consciously tried to play football and acknowledged that Saints' problems came when they didn't have the ball. "We put ourselves in a situation where we want to get the ball, we want to pass the ball, and when we haven't got it we want to go and close the ball down and press it," said the Southampton boss. "If you give quality players enough time, they're going to hurt you, and that's certainly what happened today."
Possession is no good when basic defensive errors are coming thick and fast - Jose Fonte and Kelvin Davis have looked shaky while Jos Hooiveld and Nathaniel Clyne scored own goals against the Gunners. But passing the ball does give encouragement for the future and if Adkins can focus on the good habits his team are showing then there's every reason to think there'll be better times ahead now games against Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal are out of the way.