Premier League hits and misses: Arsenal’s young stars shine in absence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang | Football News

No Auba, no problem

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Arsenal’s victory over West Ham

Mikel Arteta’s decision to remove Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s captaincy and leave him out of his squad again dominated the pre-match discussion when Arsenal faced West Ham. The events on the pitch, however, have shown that the club’s future does not depend on him, but on his young players.

The 2-0 win was ensured thanks to goals from Gabriel Martinelli, 20, and Emile Smith Rowe, 21, and included a man-of-the-match from Bukayo Saka, 20. It allowed Arsenal to enter the top four and provided confirmation for Arteta’s audacity in the process.

“It was a statement,” said a smiling Arteta later. A statement, perhaps, that Aubameyang is no longer the crucial figure he once was. The 32-year-old has only scored four goals in 14 Premier League appearances this season and hasn’t missed.

Alexandre Lacazette skillfully filled in, both as a forward and as a captain, but it was the young newbies buzzing around him that really baffled West Ham. Saka was a constant source of danger and so was Martinelli, who is regaining his best form at just the right moment.

The Brazilian’s clinical advantage, coupled with Smith Rowe’s second on the run, means that 10 of Arsenal’s 23 Premier League goals this season have been scored by players aged 21 and under. It’s the ultimate anywhere in the division and emphasizes the liveliness and excitement within their ranks.

In fact, Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli aren’t the only ones to impress. Against West Ham, Arsenal maintained their eighth clean sheet of the season thanks to a five-man defensive unit with an average age of just 23. For context, only Manchester City and Liverpool held more in the Premier League.

It remains to be seen whether Aubameyang can be reinstated after his latest crime. But perhaps the most pertinent question is whether this electrifying young team really needs him.
Nick Wright

Everyone cheers for King Kevin!

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Manchester City’s victory over Leeds

If I had consulted the Premier League standings before this final round of matches, it would have been difficult to conclude that Manchester City had missed Kevin De Bruyne.

The reigning champions juggled the injuries and spells caused by Covid on the sidelines borne by their talisman and scored a point at the top of the table, playing crucially in front of their main challenger for the crown, Liverpool and Chelsea.

The visit from Leeds offered Pep Guardiola the chance to give De Bruyne his first Premier League game since the Manchester derby in November. The Spaniard said that Marcelo Bielsa’s team represented a real test to understand exactly where the Belgian’s fitness levels were and we were given a really emphatic answer.

After Phil Foden opened the scoring with Guardiola City’s reign 500th Premier League goal, and Jack Grealish nodded in his first Premier League header, De Bruyne stole the show, leading a glittering offensive show when the City scored seven.

De Bruyne was responsible for two of these, beating the hosts’ third at home with a foolproof shot at the near post, but it was the second that ensured everyone – City, Leeds and the Premier League as a whole – get up and take notice.

Seconds after Foden was denied a second from the offside flag, Ilkay Gundogan’s simple pass inside found De Bruyne. It is from there that the Belgian produced another vintage moment, unleashing a thunderous shot, of the kind that only he seems capable of producing, which almost ripped the net from Leeds’ goal.

Two exquisite goals stole the headlines, but it was his commanding man-of-the-match performance that wowed City, who, with “King Kevin” back at the helm, have a chance to kick off this congested title. Premier League racing.
Jack Wilkinson

Ramsey brings comfort and joy to Gerrard

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Aston Villa’s victory over Norwich

Just 38 days after being let go of Aston Villa, Dean Smith saw the gap in class between the team he inherited and his former employers when Villa won 2-0. It was the fourth time in six games that Norwich failed to score under new boss Smith, who has no illusions about the size of the task he faces.

When he disappeared into the Carrow Road tunnel, he may have allowed himself a wry smile for the small but not insignificant role he played in his team’s latest disappearance.

It was entirely fitting that it would be Jacob Ramsey – a player who developed at Villa – who would have the final say on this heavily one-sided East Anglia deal as his snapshot was shot down by Tim Krul in the final act.

The 20-year-old has played in 14 of Villa’s 16 Premier League games this season, and after trust was initially instilled in him by his former manager, Smith’s defeat is now Steven Gerrard’s gain.

Aston Villa's Jacob Ramsey (right) celebrates his first goal with Matty Cash
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Jacob Ramsey celebrates Villa’s first goal

Villa has reinvested the £ 100 million received for Jack Grealish on the likes of Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia, but it is Ramsey who appears to have benefited the most from last summer’s relocation activity.

Fittingly against Arsenal earlier this season, Ramsey became Villa’s youngest Premier League scorer since Grealish scored in September 2015.

Even though they are very different players and this was a poor performance at Norwich, early signs are that he will benefit enormously from working under Gerrard, with Smith’s bases firmly in place.

Ramsey later said: “I watched the clips of the manager and he was one of the best scorer midfielders and that’s what I want to be.”
Ben Grounds

Ward-Prowse must be considered among the greats of PL

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Crystal Palace draw for Southampton

If a young player reading this wants to improve their free kick technique, hit the game above and watch James Ward-Prowse’s superb attempt against Crystal Palace.

It was a factory hit by the Southampton captain. Whenever he lines up a ball in range, you expect him to come close and that was right on the money – sumptuously curled into the top corner and through Jack Butland’s fingertips.

He is one of Southampton’s best weapons – as manager Ralph Hasenhuttl described him – and is now among the Premier League’s best for direct free kicks.

Wednesday’s goal was his eleventh Premier League goal from an earlier free-kick, putting him behind Gianfranco Zola and Thierry Henry. The record is currently 18, held by David Beckham.

These names are among the best in the Premier League and it’s time to start recognizing Ward-Prowse among them for free kicks.

Hasenhuttl said of his skipper: “It is such a good weapon that we have to often be here in the situation where they have to commit a foul … When he always finds the best moments to score, he can always do it. Today was certainly a very good one.

“I am very happy to have him in my squad, I am very happy that he has this quality and we must, even more, take free kicks in this position.”

Obviously, eyes will also be on the next team in the World Cup. Ward-Prowse narrowly missed out on the Euro 2020 cohort, despite many saying he should only be included for his on-set delivery.

This will, of course, be another topic of discussion in the coming months, especially if he closes with that Beckham record, leaving Gareth Southgate with a tough decision to make.
Charlotte Marsh

Neves is becoming an all-out midfielder

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Wolves’ victory over Brighton

Ruben Neves is thriving for Bruno Lage at Wolves. It’s not just for long-range stunners anymore. After a season of stagnation in Nuno Espirito Santo’s regimented system, the Portuguese midfielder seems comfortable playing a more all-action style alongside Joao Moutinho.

In the 1-0 win over Brighton, the midfield duo were exceptional off the ball, bumping into tackles and stopping play when needed. Only Declan Rice and Rodri have regained ball possession for their team more than Neves this season as he seems to enjoy the bad part of the game.

But what Neves brings to the party, which sets him apart as a midfielder with the ability to make it to the top, is his vision. He provided the match-winning quality moment on a night he was missing in most areas of the pitch when he found Roman Saiss with a beautifully chipped pass that knocked out Brighton’s defense.

Full-time, the away trip, filled with Wolves fans, sang his name. In this type of form, he is their most important player.
Lewis Jones

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