It’s officially World Cup month, but before league action pauses ahead of the tournament, there are several storylines to follow across Europe. Arsenal claimed bragging rights over Chelsea, a club icon took a bow at Barcelona, and storm clouds are gathering over Atletico Madrid.
ESPN correspondents Julien Laurens, Alex Kirkland, James Tyler, Mark Ogden and James Olley break down the big stuff you need to know about the weekend.
Make no mistake: Arsenal are for real
So when are we all going to start taking Arsenal seriously as a Premier League winner this season? After Sunday’s 1-0 victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, it’s time to accept that Mikel Arteta’s team is a genuine contender.
Paul Merson, who helped the Gunners to league titles in 1989 and 1991, poured cold water on his former club’s title hopes this weekend by saying that its “fixtures have been quite kind” and that finishing in the top four should still be the objective.
But Merson is wrong. Arsenal’s win at Chelsea added Graham Potter’s team to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in terms of big rivals to have lost to the Gunners this season. A narrow defeat at Manchester United in September remains the only league defeat on Arsenal’s record so far.
Arsenal have yet to play closest rivals and reigning champions Manchester City — their fixture last month was postponed in order to reschedule a Europa League tie against PSV Eindhoven — so we cannot yet measure Arteta’s side against the best.
But with 34 points from 13 games, Arsenal have made their best-ever start to a Premier League season — Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles managed only 33 points from their first 13 games — and a win against Wolves next week will confirm top spot going into the World Cup break.
Teams can beat only the opponents in front of them, and Arsenal have done that 11 times out of 13 games this season and nobody has a better record.
Yes, they have been inconsistent and unreliable ever since their last title in 2003-04, but Arsenal have momentum and confidence is growing with every result.
When that happens, as Leicester City showed in 2015-16, good teams can use the positivity in their favour, and Arsenal are now in a position where they can challenge for the title.
City are still the favourites, but Arsenal are definitely capable of winning the title this season. — Mark Ogden
Pique’s emotional Barcelona farewell
Barcelona‘s 2-0 win over Almeria saw them go top of LaLiga, with Real Madrid still to play on Monday, but that wasn’t what the 92,605 fans at Camp Nou on Saturday had come to see. They were there to say goodbye to Gerard Pique, who had announced his retirement two days earlier.
If the news wasn’t exactly a shock — Pique, 35, has been increasingly sidelined this season — the timing was a surprise. Still, Barca did a good job of throwing together a fitting, last-minute farewell to the most decorated defender in the club’s history. Pique started, wore the captain’s armband and put in one of his better performances this season before being subbed off in the 84th minute by former teammate, and now coach, Xavi Hernandez. There were hugs, smiles, tears, a standing ovation and a postmatch lap of the pitch before Pique addressed the crowd.
Gerard Pique comes off to standing ovation from the Camp Nou as he leaves the field for the final time as a Barcelona player.
“Sometimes in life, loving is letting go,” he said. “There’s so much love between Barca and I that it was time to give us both some space. I’m sure that in the future I’ll be back. This isn’t goodbye. I was born here and I’ll die here.”
Those words foreshadow what feels like an inevitable future Pique club presidency. For now, he leaves as one of the most important figures in Barca’s recent history, one of LaLiga’s best defenders in the modern era, and a man who always, until the very end, knew how to dominate the headlines. — Alex Kirkland
Is PSG experiencing the best Neymar ever?
The Lorient fans stood there, half angry at Neymar and the other half full of admiration for what they just witnessed — much like every other fan of Paris Saint-Germain‘s opponents this season. The Brazilian added a goal and an assist to his tally in the Parisians’ 2-1 win in Brittany. His numbers so far are unprecedented: 13 Ligue 1 matches (1,008 minutes played), 11 goals (off 17 shots on target) and nine assists, 41% successful dribbles, 36 chances created.
In the Champions League, it’s two goals and two assists in five matches but 52% successful dribbles. He is unplayable, unstoppable and this is probably in his most complete club form ever. At 30, he has the maturity and the discipline to combine with the incredible talent he has always possessed. He is more efficient, more focused and more decisive. It looks perfect for him and for Brazil going into the World Cup. — Julien Laurens
Bayern Munich hang on in tricky conditions
Regardless of what Union Berlin accomplish on Sunday in their Bundesliga game, it’s fair to say (as we said last week) that Bayern Munich are quietly shifting through the gears and won’t need to wait much longer before the league lead is theirs again. Like a predator toying with its dinner, Bayern haven’t been in first for a couple of months despite taking 16 points from a possible 18 in the league — the only blemish: that 2-2 draw at Borussia Dortmund on Oct. 8 — and even winning all three Champions League games over that span and advancing in the DFB-Pokal.
That they’ve done it all with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting up front — the guy’s having an absolute renaissance season replacing Robert Lewandowski, scoring nine goals since Oct. 16 in all competitions, a remarkable run of seven straight games in which he’s found the net — merely speaks to how helpless the rest of the Bundesliga must be feeling.
And yet Saturday’s 3-2 win at Hertha was far from straightforward. The hosts were pluckier than their dismal league record (just two wins in 13) suggests, forcing some vintage saves from Manuel Neuer and scoring twice in quick succession before half-time after falling behind 3-0. Also, Bayern were kinda lucky? After a typically artful Jamal Musiala finish, rounding off Sadio Mane‘s fine approach play with a curling finish, Choupo-Moting showcased his scrappiness and nose for goal with two scrambled close-range finishes in the span of three minutes. First, a shot deflected into his path for a low shot between Oliver Christensen‘s legs, while the second was bundled in after five players couldn’t cut out Serge Gnabry‘s low cross, with the ball pinging off Choupo-Moting’s knee and trickling over the line.
Hertha responded with two quick goals — shoutout to Dodi Lukebakio‘s beautiful volley from Marco Richter‘s floated cross — and got a VAR assist to give Davie Selke a penalty, but Bayern showed that title-worthy resilience after the break, with a goal ruled out for offside in the 57th minute. Question marks undoubtedly remain for Bayern, especially with Alphonso Davies limping off in the second half (though the team are optimistic he’ll be fit in time for Canada‘s World Cup campaign), but if anyone can fine-tune things coming out of the World Cup, it’ll be Julian Nagelsmann. — James Tyler
Giroud’s wonder-goal worth the dismissal
When Olivier Giroud retires and we ask him to choose the best goals of his career, he might struggle to answer! On Saturday night, the 36-year-old AC Milan striker added an absolute worldie to his already-long list of bangers, and to make it even more special, his acrobatic aerial volley in added time against Spezia gave his team the win and three big points which keep the champions six points behind Serie A leaders Napoli.
THE FLYING FRENCHMAN OLIVIER GIROUD STRIKES AGAIN 💥
He receives a second yellow card for the celebration and is sent off… 😅 pic.twitter.com/nlkVoK3fif
— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) November 5, 2022
The Frenchman, who came on after 72 minutes, got so excited and euphoric that he took off his shirt in his wild celebrations, which meant he received a second yellow card — and thus was sent off. He will miss the trip to Cremonese on Tuesday, but he won’t care. His stunning goal, his ninth this season in all competitions (five in Serie A and four in the Champions League) was well worth it. — Laurens
Foxes’ Tielemans follows up for another golazo
Youri Tielemans is making a habit of this. Following on from a superb long-range effort against Wolverhampton Wanderers two weeks earlier, the 25-year-old scored arguably a better goal for Leicester City from almost precisely the same spot on the pitch at Everton
YOURI TIELEMANS DOES IT AGAIN!
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) November 5, 2022
That adjustment, plus the reliance on a pure technique rather than prioritising power, made this worthy of winning any game. Tielemans is out of contract at the end of the season with Arsenal and Liverpool among the clubs reportedly interested. This was another advert for his considerable talent. — James Olley
Magical Moukoko gives Dortmund another upfront hero
Borussia Dortmund have seen all their superstars leave at one time or another, but the beauty of such turnover is that there’s always someone new to root for. After Erling Haaland, we have Jude Bellingham and Giovanni Reyna … after them (presuming they eventually move on), might it already be Youssoufa Moukoko‘s turn as the hero of the Yellow Wall?
Youssoufa Moukoko scores two fantastic goals as Borussia Dortmund canter to an easy 3-0 win over VfL Bochum.
Saturday’s 3-0 romp over relegation-bound Bochum, their third win on the bounce in the Bundesliga, didn’t require much of a sweat — Dortmund had only three shots on target over the 90 minutes, dispatching all of them before half-time — and given their opponent’s myriad issues, the game was effectively over inside 12 minutes as Moukoko and Reyna got on the scoresheet. Moukoko’s opener was a work of art, too: having shown surprising muscle to shrug off the burly Ivan Ordets‘ attempted challenge, he cut infield towards the top of the box before ripping a lofted shot beyond Manuel Riemann from 20 yards out.
Moukoko already has six goals and three assists in 12 Bundesliga appearances this season, and if he continues at this pace, BVB should have little trouble securing a Champions League berth for next season. — Tyler
Teams in trouble
Atletico Madrid’s season looking dour
It had already been a dreadful week for Atletico Madrid, conceding in the 99th minute to lose at Cadiz and then beaten at FC Porto to finish bottom of their Champions League group. Sunday’s 1-1 home draw with an Espanyol team that played with 10 men for over an hour only increased the pressure on Diego Simeone and his team, and it could have been worse. Atletico were behind until substitute Joao Felix leveled in the 78th minute. Yes, Atletico dominated — they had 27 shots, seven of them on target, with an xG of 2.12 — but once again a lack of composure and clinical finishing cost them.
Goalkeeper Jan Oblak admitted afterward that Atletico “aren’t right psychologically,” a startling admission for a team that for so long based its success on an unquestioning belief in Simeone’s methods and a win-at-all-costs mentality. Simeone himself called for calm, in a message that was aimed as much at club executives as the players or fans. With no European football to look forward to, and Real Betis, Real Sociedad, Athletic Club and Osasuna all looking like pushing Atletico for a top four spot, it’s going to be a long season. — Kirkland
Lopetegui has work to do as Wolves slide
Wolves lost by only a single goal to Brighton, but the 3-2 scoreline masks another afternoon in which they were comprehensively outplayed. New boss Julien Lopetegui, who does not start work until after the Premier League pauses on Nov. 14, really has it all to do. This was the Midlands side’s sixth defeat in eight games and they are only off the bottom of the table as a result of Nottingham Forest‘s inferior goal difference.
Interim coach Steve Davis was frank about the situation on Saturday: “If I was in his shoes, I would be looking to increase the numbers with some quality because it needs a little bit more.”
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss Wolves’ decision to appoint Julen Lopetegui as manager.
Although the final squads are yet to be announced, Wolves could have as many as 15 or even 20 players away at the World Cup, meaning Lopetegui will barely have a few days to work with his full group before the season resumes. Their final league game comes against high-flying Arsenal — it threatens to get worse before it gets better. — Olley
Almiron key to Newcastle’s Champions League hopes
Miguel Almiron took his recent haul to seven goals in as many games for Newcastle United, opening the scoring in a 4-1 win at Southampton which kept Eddie Howe’s team in the top four and continuing his transformation from a joke figure to one of the most impressive performers in the Premier League.
At the end of last season, Manchester City’s Jack Grealish mocked teammate Riyad Mahrez by saying he had been substituted against Aston Villa for “playing like Almiron” — a clear dig at the Newcastle forward’s erratic performances. A statement that hasn’t aged well.
Almiron has finally discovered his best form in a Newcastle shirt, four years after arriving at St James’ Park in a £21.6m move from Atlanta United FC — a figure that remains the biggest transfer fee ever paid for a Major League Soccer player.
Until this season, the Paraguay international had scored just 14 goals in 3½ campaigns at Newcastle, but despite his lack of goals, he had become a fan favourite due to his effort and commitment.
Almiron is still showing those qualities, but he has now added goals to his game and is a big factor in Newcastle’s flying start to the season. — Ogden