Dec 27 (BBC) – Premier League football resumed with a feast of Boxing Day fixtures, 40 days after the top-flight broke up for the World Cup in Qatar.
Monday’s seven fixtures produced a bumper 25 goals, with table-toppers Arsenal showing no signs of letting up by securing a 3-1 win over West Ham.
Southampton now find themselves bottom of the league following a home defeat and Everton were left in despair after conceding late on at Goodison Park.
Any suggestions the World Cup break might stall Arsenal’s momentum were quashed in Monday’s final game.
Mikel Arteta’s men extended their lead to seven points after coming from behind to defeat the Hammers courtesy of goals from Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah.
“Once we got one, we could all feel the atmosphere in the stadium,” said Nketiah. “There is that real unity and connection with the fans.”
Arsenal lie seventh points clear of second-placed Newcastle, but Pep Guardiola’s City, who are in third, can claw the deficit back to five points with victory at Leeds on Wednesday (kick-off 20:00 GMT).
“We are here to stay,” said Gunners legend Thierry Henry on Amazon Prime.
Newcastle remain the real deal
With City not playing until Wednesday, Newcastle moved a point above the Premier League champions into second place with an impressive win at Leicester.
The Magpies dominated and went 3-0 up with only 32 minutes on the clock. A Chris Wood penalty, plus goals from Miguel Almiron and Joelinton, made it a Boxing Day to savour for the travelling fans.
The Newcastle supporters were heard chanting “we’re gonna win the league” but does manager Eddie Howe think the same?
“We can do anything,” said Howe. “The season is still young enough for all possibilities to exist for us.”
Mixed start for new bosses
There are managers still trying to find their feet with their new clubs in the Premier League and the Boxing Day fixtures brought up differing results for Julen Lopetegui, Nathan Jones and Unai Emery.
Lopetegui got off to a dream start after Rayan Ait-Nouri scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Wolves came from behind to beat Everton 2-1 at Goodison Park.
The victory for the Spanish boss lifted his side off the bottom of the table and into 18th place, one point behind Frank Lampard’s Toffees.
While Lopetegui soaked up the adulation from the away fans, Southampton boss Nathan Jones – taking charge at St Mary’s Stadium for the first time in the Premier League – had to suffer boos from the home supporters after his Saints were comfortably beaten 3-1 by Brighton.
The relegation scrap has become even harder for Jones as his side now prop up the league table following Wolves’ victory.
Aston Villa failed to bring Christmas cheer to Villa Park as Emery experienced his first league defeat as Villa manager after Liverpool picked up a 3-1 away victory.
Pressure grows on Lampard
Lampard said Everton “deserved” to win against Wolves but the fact remains the Toffees are firmly in the relegation fight once again following their disappointing defeat.
Former West Ham striker Carton Cole said on Final Score: “I kind of feel sorry for [Lampard] because he knows what he wants from his team.
“But he needs to brush up and get a bit more stability in midfield – then they can start scoring more goals. Once they do create – which is once in a blue moon – they don’t put it in the goal. That’s where you need a ruthless striker.”
Meanwhile, ex-England striker Dion Dublin told BBC Radio 5 Live that while he is not worried for Lampard yet, “another couple of defeats” and his time at Everton could be up.
A cracker to kick things off
Brentford and Tottenham had set the tone for the day with a four-goal thriller in the early kick-off.
Vitaly Janelt and Ivan Toney put the Bees on course for a first win over Spurs since 1948 before Harry Kane launched the fightback in his first match since missing a penalty in England’s 2-1 defeat by France in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg made it 2-2 with a curling finish – and neither side was able to find a winner, with Kane heading a chance against the crossbar.
“What a game to reopen the Premier League with,” said Brentford boss Thomas Frank, while Spurs boss Antonio Conte added: “It was an exciting game.”
How did VAR fare?
New Premier League referees chief Howard Webb told BBC Sport last week he wants to demystify the refereeing process and to improve the current VAR system.
So how did the use of the technology go on Monday?
In the late evening game between leaders Arsenal and strugglers West Ham, referee Michael Oliver awarded a penalty for William Saliba’s foul on Jarrod Bowen, with Said Benrahma converting from the spot.
Late in the first half, Oliver awarded another penalty for a ‘handball’ by Aaron Cresswell but after consultation with the VAR and watching a replay on the pitch-side monitor, he rightly overturned the original decision as the ball had clearly hit the West Ham full-back in the face.