Scotland midfielder Scott McTominay is Man Utd's hero as David Moyes' West Ham hit for six by Arsenal
Scott McTominay was Manchester United’s hero once again as the Scotland internationalist came off the bench to give the Red Devils a 2-1 win away at Aston Villa.
This felt like a match that the sixth-placed United could ill afford to lose given Unai Emery’s men were a place higher in the standings and able to extend an eight-point cushion to an eye-watering 11.
In-form Rasmus Hojlund broke Villa hearts on Boxing Day and got United off to a dream start when scoring in a fifth straight Premier League match, but the hosts responded brilliantly and deserved Douglas Luiz’s second-half leveller. The match was on a knife-edge from that point and McTominay made another key contribution, scoring his fourth goal off the bench four minutes from time to seal the points at Villa Park.
Emery may well be wondering how his side ended Sunday’s match without so much as a point as Erik ten Hag celebrates his first Premier League away win in charge against a side in the top nine. Furthermore, this was the first time this season that United have managed to win four straight matches in all competitions.
Earlier in the day, Arsenal thrashed West Ham 6-0 at the London Stadium, with their manager Mikel Arteta believing his Gunners are gaining momentum in the title race. They backed up last week’s big triumph over Liverpool with another statement victory, their biggest away win in the Premier League.
Their title bid hit the buffers in this fixture last season when they blew a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 but there was no chance of a repeat after William Saliba headed them in front and West Ham promptly collapsed. Declan Rice grabbed a pair of assists against his former club while Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Magalhaes and Leandro Trossard were also on target, all before half-time. Saka scored his second midway through the second half and Rice rubbed salt in the wounds with a long-range sixth.
“We are maintaining and building some momentum now,” Gunners boss Arteta said. “After the Liverpool game we had to show that we had that capacity to repeat that level or be better. Performances have been strong as well as results in recent weeks. We need to maintain that because other teams are doing that as well. We are not the only ones.”
It was a chastening afternoon for West Ham and manager David Moyes pulled no punches after his heaviest defeat in charge. “It was a really poor day for us,” he said. “Arsenal played extremely well, give them credit, but it’s difficult to explain how we played so poorly.
“We’re normally a lot stronger, we didn’t show that today. I’m disappointed with the way we fell apart when the game hadn’t looked as if it was going to be as big as that. I don’t think since I’ve come back to the club my team’s defended that way, ever. We were weak today, we didn’t do our jobs well enough, we didn’t fight to contain it harder. I’ve had teams here which maybe haven’t had the same quality that we have now but we would have made sure we didn’t put in a performance like that, that’s for sure.”
The EPL card concludes on Monday night when Chelsea travel to Crystal Palace, with Mauricio Pochettino expressing frustration that the Blues’ injury problems are being unfairly ignored in assessments of his team’s poor performances this season. The Argentinian has rarely had fewer than seven players unavailable to him during what has been at best a patchy campaign.
Results have fluctuated drastically and the last week has been a stark example, with Wednesday’s 3-1 win at Aston Villa in the FA Cup coming directly off the back of a 4-2 loss to Wolves at Stamford Bridge. That defeat, the 10th of Pochettino’s 23 Premier League games in charge, left the team 11th in the table, and the manager is unhappy that the impact of absences on his team’s form is not being acknowledged by critics.
“The perception is one thing, but if you don’t have your best players, it’s difficult,” said Pochettino. “You’re judged on results, (but) circumstances are there. Always we play with different circumstances. When you only see the result, people criticise because you lose the game. But never you go into the analysis of why. Before, I was focusing on giving good information to (the media) to put it all in context, to provide the argument what is going on. But now, after seven months, I don’t say ‘I give up (with the media)’ but if people want to understand OK, if not (then) focus, move on and try to win games.
“After seven months, I need to still explain and explain and explain. Unless people want to listen, that’s it. I’m not going to spend too much energy in keeping going, explaining and explaining. If you want to understand, perfect. If you want to help Chelsea, perfect. I’m not saying you are helping me. It’s helping Chelsea.”