PL Stories - Ep 34Mar 22
Premier League Fallout: The big storylines from the first half of the season as focus shifts to 2022 World Cup
The key talking points so far from the first half of the Premier League season as the World Cup gets under way in Qatar
The Premier League is taking an unprecedented six-week break in the middle of the season as attention turns to the 2022 World Cup.
The World Cup starts on 20 November with the final on 18 December, meaning the Premier League will not return until Boxing Day, when the race to be crowned kings of English football resumes.
On the eve of the tournament's curtain raiser in Qatar, we consider the big winners and losers from the first three months of top-flight action.
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Arsenal top of the tree at Christmas
Are Arsenal the real deal?
The Gunners ensured they will be top of the table at Christmas for the first time since 2007 with their 12th Premier League win of the season so far.
Their 37 points from 14 games marks their best-ever start, while all seven teams to win 12 of their first 14 games have won the Premier League title.
Indeed, the team that topped the table on Christmas Day have been champions in 10 of the last 13 seasons but question marks remain over whether Mikel Arteta's men can maintain their remarkable title tilt.
The bad omen for Arteta's side is the last five times they have been top on Christmas Day they have failed to go on to lift the trophy.
What's indisputable is the remarkable progress Arsenal have made in the last 18 months.
Having narrowly missed out on qualification for the Champions League last season many people tipped Arsenal to slip back into a battle for top six.
Premier League top six
1. Arsenal (37 pts)
2. Man City (32)
3, Newcastle (30)
4. Spurs (29)
5. Man Utd (26)
6. Liverpool (22)
But Arteta has built a hungry young squad with the quality and togetherness to help restore Arsenal's place at the top table of English football.
With Manchester City slipping up against Brentford earlier in the day, Arsenal knew they could ram home their advantage at the top of the table with victory over Wolves.
And they did exactly that, with a second-half brace from captain Martin Odegaard sealing a 2-0 success at Molineux.
A superb bit of play from substitute Fabio Vieira, who had replaced an ill Granit Xhaka in the first half, set up the first for Odegaard on 55 minutes, before the Norway international slammed home a second 15 minutes from time after some fine work from Gabriel Martinelli.
It's worth remembering that teams will have played fewer games on Christmas Day than usual, so Man City will still fancy their chances of making up the deficit on the Gunners in the remaining 24 games.
It all makes for a mouth-watering title race when they Premier League resumes on Boxing Day.
Magpies flying high in quest for Europe
Not since the days of Alan Shearer and Sir Bobby Robson has the mood been so good on Tyneside.
The Saudi takeover of the Newcastle United has yielded results faster than anyone expected given the club's dire position at the halfway mark last season.
This time last year, they were stuck in the bottom three with manager Eddie Howe admitting they were in a relegation battle. Now he is being asked about challenging for the title.
It represents an extraordinary turnaround for a club that was rotting from the inside out under Mike Ashley's ownership.
Now Howe admits it would be "foolish not to be excited" by the second half of the season after a statement win over Chelsea kept the Magpies in the race for European football.
Having slipped to fourth following Tottenham's 4-3 win over Leeds, Joe Willock's second goal in as many games moved the Magpies back to third, just two points adrift of defending champions Man City.
The result extends Newcastle's unbeaten record at St James' Park and ensures they hold a Champions League spot at Christmas for the first time since 2001.
The victory also means Newcastle have won five consecutive Premier League games for the first time since 2014, while they are unbeaten in 10 in a row for the first time for 11 years.
It's not all been about money, either.
New signings Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman, Bruno Guimares and Nick Pope have all made immediate impacts since arriving on Tyneside, but Howe's revolution has been built on improving old stock.
Striker Callum Wilson's goalscoring prowess has earned him a first England call-up since 2019 while Miguel Almiron's up-turn in form is one of the stories of the season so far.
Moyes in the hot seat as Hammers flounder
David Moyes faces a battle to avoid becoming the sixth Premier League manager to lose their job this season after West Ham lost 2-0 at home to Leicester on Saturday.
The result leaves the Hammers 16th in the Premier League, just a point above the relegation zone.
West Ham have now collected just four points from their past six games, a meagre return after a £150m summer outlay on the likes of Brazilian playmaker Lucas Paqueta and Italy striker Gianluca Scamacca.
It should not be forgotten that West Ham were on the brink of relegation when Moyes returned for his second stint at the club in December 2019.
Moyes pulled the Hammers away from trouble and then secured European football through their league position in successive seasons for the first time in their history, finishing sixth and then seventh.
West Ham reached the semi-final of the Europa League last term, where they were beaten by eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt, but patience will be wearing thin after nine defeats in their last 15 league games.
They have already qualified for the last 16 of this season's Europa Conference League by winning all six group matches but their domestic form is a real cause for concern.
Moyes has credit in the bank with the West Ham hierarchy but with achievement comes fresh expectations and the Scot knows he will need to deliver or risk paying the ultimate price.
Ronaldo holding up Man Utd reset
Any hope Erik ten Hag had of putting the Cristiano Ronaldo saga behind him has evaporated with the latest development in the ongoing soap opera.
Dressing room unrest aside, it's been a mixed start to Ten Hag's tenure on the pitch.
The Red Devils hit rock bottom earlier this season with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Brentford.
United bounced back from the ignimony of that defeat with victories over Liverpool and league leaders Arsenal before a rampant Man City brought them crashing back down to earth.
Most recently, back-to-back league victories mean United head into the mid-season break in decent fettle, but off the pitch Ronaldo's situation remains unresolved.
Hours after Alejandro Garnacho gave a glimpse of the club's future, its past reared its head as Ronaldo quotes from an explosive interview with TV journalist Piers Morgan surfaced online.
Ronaldo has not played because of an unspecified illness since he captained United in their 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa. He was dropped for the Premier League game at Chelsea last month by Ten Hag after refusing to come on as a substitute against Tottenham three days earlier.
On Ten Hag, Ronaldo said: "I don't have respect for him because he doesn't show respect for me.
"If you don't have respect for me, I'm never gonna have respect for you."
Asked by Morgan if United's hierarchy were trying to force him out, Ronaldo said: "Yes, not only the coach, but another two or three guys around the club. I felt betrayed and I felt like some people don't want me here, not only this year but last year too."
United and Ten Hag know they cannot properly kickstart a new era at Old Trafford unless they deal with the Ronaldo-shaped elephant in the room.