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Arsene Wenger's conspiracies, Hodgson's Palace flying, Long scores!

Over the last 12 days, all 20 Premier League clubs have played four times each. That's 40 games in under two weeks. It's exhausting, relentless and it places completely unnecessary and needless demands on those involved. And it must be pretty tiring for the players too.

But seriously: the strain on the footballers we're watching is obvious, and surely only the most parochial observer wedded to these annual traditions of the English game will refuse to accept that asking athletes to perform so much in so little time is ludicrous and counter-productive. But there is an element of fatigue from the sofa and the stands, too.

But still, some football is better than no football. Let us feel grateful for this beautiful bounty, and to these players, slogging their guts out for our entertainment.

Performance of festive period

Harry Kane scored his 54th, 55th and 56th goals of 2017; Swansea managed to win a game; Leicester were good in a low-key sort of way; Manchester City sashayed around most obstacles in their path.

But our overall performance of the festive period goes to the one side Pep Guardiola's side couldn't blow away. Crystal Palace's four fixtures looked tricky, home games against City and Arsenal sandwiched by potentially ticklish trips to Swansea and Southampton. But they came away with five points, which might not sound like much, but for a team who looked finished when Roy Hodgson arrived in September, that's quite a performance.

Their expert rearguard against City was the most high-profile showing, coming within a Luka Milivojevic penalty of becoming the first domestic side to beat them. The second half against Southampton was arguably better, recovering from the physical demands of the City game 48 hours earlier to come from behind and claim three crucial points

Best goal

It's difficult to recall a game with as big a disparity between the general standard of play and the quality of the goals scored in it as Tottenham vs. West Ham on Thursday.

Son Heung-Min's goal ran it close but perhaps because of the surprise factor, Pedro Obiang's rocket shot from way, way out is surely the finest strike of the festive period. Plenty of goals will be more important, some may even require greater technical skill, but there's nothing quite like the visceral thrill of pure power from way downtown.

Hugo Lloris had no answer as Pedro Obiang scored a stunner in West Ham's 1-1 draw against Tottenham.


When we reached the latter games of this festive period, everyone started to look pretty tired. Footballers can be paid any amount of money, they can get the most advanced fitness advice and nutrition available, but they will still be bound by the limits of the human body.

In many games it wasn't so much the physical toll which showed, rather mental. That's possibly why so many of the games were characterised by errors, and why some teams seemed to lack a degree of imagination in their forward play. The question then becomes, from a spectating point of view, what we prefer: games filled with fine football, or games filled with chaotic excitement? Sometimes, neither come. The decision-makers who put together the festive fixture list should think again next season.

Conspiracy theorist

Over the last 21 years we've seen almost every side of Arsene Wenger. Intellectual Arsene, Smug Arsene, Angry Arsene, Erudite Arsene. But one that hasn't popped up very often is Conspiracy Theorist Arsene. That seems to be his schtick at the moment though, not just complaining about some dodgy penalties given against Arsenal, but referring to the build-up of those decisions as a "concerning coincidence" and noting that Mike Dean "saw what he wanted to see" when making a decision against West Brom.

His news conference after the 2-2 draw with Chelsea was surreal, rounding on the written media for not focusing on refereeing decisions more, when such things are usually the first topic of conversation on TV, radio and social media. Then a short time later he complained that the press don't focus on the football enough.

Perhaps he's making a broader point about the general standard of refereeing, and the lack of accountability. But by using this language, Wenger just starts to look like people in the darker corners of the internet, convinced that everyone is after them. It will be a shame if this impression further affects his legacy.

It's safe to say referees won't be on Arsene Wenger's Christmas card list for next December.


He's always been a trier, Shane Long. A man who will run himself into the ground and be a pest to centre-backs everywhere. When he scores a few goals, sages will tap their nose and say he could play at a higher level. Trouble is, he hasn't done that for quite a long time now -- almost a year, in fact but against Crystal Palace, he did, burying a chance with surprising certainty into the bottom corner, his first strike in 325 days. Not that it did Southampton any good, as they lost 2-1 to Palace and slipped ever closer to the relegation zone.


Everyone gather round and say a small prayer of thanks for Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan. Shortly after Liverpool spent £75 million on Virgil van Dijk, the pair of soon-to-be-discarded centre-backs combined to score the winning goal against Burnley. It's fair to say neither will exactly be first choice one Van Dijk beds in, but let's allow them this one. Good luck Dejan, good luck Ragnar.

Falling stock

Remember when everyone loved Marco Silva? Well, Everton did, at least. The Toffees reportedly wanted the Watford manager to succeed Ronald Koeman, but since then Silva's Watford team have fallen through the floor, and their poor form continued over the holiday period. Three defeats in four, the exception a win over Leicester, but that was overshadowed by a frankly calamitous defeat to Swansea, and suddenly Silva isn't quite such hot property.

It's too easy to say Silva's head has been turned and that's responsible for the downturn, and it should also be noted that Watford are still 10th. But this is a worrying run, perhaps not necessarily for Watford's prospects this season, but perhaps for Silva's longer-term reputation.

Marco Silva
Marco Silva was a man in demand a while back but has since seen his Watford side slip into a run of bad form.

One to watch

And just like that, football starts again, barely 24 hours breather before the FA Cup gets underway. The once proud tournament is now something of an afterthought for Premier League teams, but defeat could still be damaging for clubs and managers under pressure.

Perhaps the most under scrutiny is Mauricio Pellegrino, whose Southampton side surrendered rather embarrassingly to Palace and who now haven't won in nine games. They could have their pants pulled down by Fulham, 10th in the Championship and in fine form. An upset in the Cup could spell upset in the Pellegrino household.

Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.


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