Premier League talking points: VAR fury, stopping hitman Haaland, Moyes pressure building

We pick out the big issues ahead of this weekend's English top-flight fixtures

Manchester City's Erling Haaland celebrates his second goal in the 3-0 Champions League win over Young Boys. PA
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Which manager will VAR upset this weekend?

After a season when outrage levels among managers over VAR decisions have hit new highs, this past week has once again seen the beleaguered officials at Stockley Park taking flak on multiple fronts.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has led the way calling the decision to award Anthony Gordon's winner for Newcastle against the Gunners “embarrassing” and “a disgrace”, before doubling down on his comments a few days later.

Over at Wolves, manager Gary O'Neil was left incandescent after Sheffield United were awarded a penalty by VAR deep into injury time – after Fabio Silva's challenge on George Baldock – that was dispatched by Oliver Norwood to earn the Blades their first victory of the season.

“The referee was so quick to want to give it, it's never a clear penalty,” said O'Neil. “He just needs to wait calmly and if he's made a big error then VAR will let him know.”

Even mild-mannered Tottenham Hotspur manager Ange Postecoglou chipped in after his team's epic loss to Chelsea. “It’s just diminishing the authority of the referee” the Australian said of VAR. “You can’t tell me referees are in control of games. They’re not.”

At some point we might enjoy a weekend without VAR dominating discussions, but don't bank on it happening any time soon.

How will Tottenham and Arsenal react to losing?

Those Spurs and Arsenal defeats meant the last remaining unbeaten records in the Premier League had been brought to an abrupt end after 11 matches. All eyes will now be on the North London rivals to see how they react to their setbacks.

Saturday sees Stockley Park cheerleaders O'Neil and Postecoglou go head-to-head when Wolves take on Tottenham at Molineux, which is followed by Arsenal's home game with Burnley.

Wolves have proven a tough nut to crack of late – last week's defeat at Bramall Lane was their first in four matches – while Spurs will be without the injured Micky van de Ven and suspended pair Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie. Playmaker James Maddison could also be missing with an ankle problem.

On paper, the Gunners should have a far easier day's work on their hands. Burnley are second bottom after losing nine of 11 games, having scored the fewest goals (eight) and conceded the second most (27) in the top-flight.

Who can stop hitman Haaland?

The biggest surprise of Manchester City's 6-1 rout of Bournemouth last week – a win that took the reigning champions back to the top of the table – was that Erling Haaland scored none of them, although the fact he had to come off the pitch with a twisted ankle at half time probably played a major part.

But the Norwegian was back among the goals midweek, hitting a double against Young Boys in the Champions League that takes his tally in the competition to 39 in 34 games. So keen was Mohamed Ali Camara to secure himself a memento of the occasion that the Young Boys captain asked for the striker's shirt as they walked off the pitch at half time, much to the bemusement of Haaland.

A worrying sign for defenders across Europe was the fact one of his goals came from outside the penalty area. “Yeah normally he scores from the six yard box and the penalty spot,” said manager Pep Guardiola. “He has this talent and it’s not the first time he’s done it.”

Last season's Golden Boot winner is currently top scorer in the Premier League once again with 11 in 11 matches. Attempting to keep up with City's ruthless hitman is Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and Tottenham's Son Heung-min who both have eight goals.

Can Chelsea build on smashing Spurs?

Attempting to halt the Haaland express this week are Chelsea with Maurcio Pochettino's men taking on City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

The Blues came out on top in one of the all-time great Premier League battles on Monday that saw five goals, a further five disallowed, two red cards and whole heap of VAR calls in the win over Spurs.

After a summer of frenzied transfer activity, Chelsea have yet to find any consistency on it having only managed to string two league wins together on one occasion.

The 4-1 win at table-topping Tottenham – Pochettino's former club – felt a significant one, though, especially for striker Nicolas Jackson, who grabbed a hat-trick, doubling his tally for the season.

“It is about building his confidence,” said Pochettino. “I hope this hat-trick can allow him to play more relaxed and find the confidence he needs.”

Is pressure building again on Moyes?

Last season was a historic one for West Ham United and David Moyes, with the Irons securing their first major trophy since winning the FA Cup in 1980 when they defeated Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final.

But their Premier League form was scratchy to say the least with West Ham finishing 14th, six points above the drop zone, having flirted with relegation right up until mid April.

Losing captain Declan Rice to Arsenal over the summer was a blow, but Moyes was able to bring in the likes of Edson Alvarez, James Ward-Prowse and Mohammed Kudus with the money brought in.

With talent such as Lucas Paqueta and Jarrod Bowen already in the squad, it is somewhat surprising that the Hammers again find themselves down in 14th place having collected four points from the last 21 available and losing three on the spin.

And they clearly have defensive issues with only Sheffield United, Luton Town and Bournemouth conceding more than their 20 goals. “I thought we were soft,” said Moyes after last week's 3-2 loss at Brentford. “We've not dealt with things which as a player I would have been disgusted with myself for not being able to deal with them much better.”

Updated: November 10, 2023, 2:51 AM