Unai Emery (Arsenal)
Is it too early to ask Father Christmas for a season review on DVD? Because having seen his Arsenal charges lose two games in four days, Emery should remind them what happened after they opened this campaign with back-to-back defeats: namely, a 22-match unbeaten run. Those are the only four games they’ve lost under him.
The best thing Arsenal can do is keep their chins up this Christmas. As the carol urges, in its original grammatical context with ‘rest’ meaning ‘keep’: God rest ye merry, gentlemen – let nothing you dismay.
Eddie Howe (Bournemouth)
He’s far too nice to do such a thing, but Howe should ask Saint Nick for Tottenham’s players to be served an undercooked Christmas turkey (assuming lasagne is deemed unseasonal). Bournemouth need some Boxing Day help one way or another, because they’re bottom of the form table and their record against Spurs is… not great.
Since their promotion in 2015, the Cherries have beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. However, their travails against Manchester City are well-known (played seven, lost seven, conceded 24) and Howe hasn’t fared much better against Mauricio Pochettino: so far it’s P6 W0 D1 L5 F2 A17. It’s not as if a fast start helps them, either: Bournemouth scored after 49 seconds of their first Premier League meeting with Spurs, and again in the opening 10 minutes at Dean Court last season, only to lose those two home games 5-1 and 4-1 respectively.
Hungover Bournemouth fans would rather that trend didn’t continue on December 26, although they can at least look forward to experiencing Transport for London’s famous Bank Holiday service.
Chris Hughton (Brighton)
Unless Hughton has already arranged some through Wowcher, a few anger management classes for Glenn Murray wouldn’t go amiss. The 35-year-old striker may have scored 40% of Brighton’s goals but he is also the only Premier League player this season to make more than 30 fouls. Because he’s made 50.
That’s right: 50, or a foul every 22 minutes. Kevin Davies is reborn.
Sean Dyche (Burnley)
Dyche would desperately like a time machine, or, failing that, a triumphant first-team return for Nick Pope, who has just featured for the under-23s after five months out with a dislocated shoulder. Burnley’s defence is nothing like what it was in 2017/18, and with Tom Heaton sitting forgotten at the back of the toy cupboard, Joe Hart – given a two-year contract in August despite the Clarets owning four senior goalkeepers already – must take some of the blame.
In Hart’s defence, Burnley don’t have one. Nobody in the league this season has had to make more saves than the 31-year-old (who is somehow the second-youngest of Burnley’s five keepers, after Pope). Dyche’s unusual method of allowing opponents plenty of shots from good positions, only to throw endlessly regenerating defenders in the way of them, worked last season and broke statistical models in the process – the xG points table put them down in 14th rather than 7th. Pope also had a hand or two in that.
Now, though, Dyche’s magic isn’t working. Where’s the TARDIS when you need it?
Neil Warnock (Cardiff)
Manchester United appointing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of their trip to Cardiff is an early Christmas present for Warnock if the Norwegian’s previous managerial exploits in the UK are anything to go by. Solskjaer says he’s less naive than he was five years ago; coming up against a sly old dog such as Warnock will test that claim.
Cardiff’s abysmal away form means their Premier League status is based largely on continuing a good record at home, where they’ve won 13 of their 14 points in 2018/19. That policy could well work: 30 points would surely seal survival this season, so winning four or five of their 10 remaining home games would even allow them to go winless on the road.
This free hit against United could provide a bonus point or three before they host some more beatable teams in 2019.
Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea)
“Dear Santa. I know you’re very busy and that the government has a lot going on right now, but I was wondering if you could have a word with Theresa May & Co. about getting rid of the smoking ban…”
Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)
In short, Hodgson needs a striker, gift-wrapped in clingfilm. Crystal Palace have one of the worst conversion rates in the league; makeshift centre-forwards Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend are at their best when cutting inside from the wings; and the club’s only ‘proper’ strikers are either injury-stricken (Christian Benteke, Connor Wickham) or just not good enough (Alexander Sorloth, Jordan Ayew, Connor Wickham).
Palace are as close to Fulham in 20th as they are to the hated Brighton in 13th. This wasn’t meant to happen.
Marco Silva (Everton)
Silva can’t ask for much in the January transfer window, as Everton are rumoured to be operating a tricky one-in-one-out policy while they get a sizeable squad under control.
It numbers nearly 30 when you include their most talented and senior youth products, while first-teamers currently out on loan include Yannick Bolasie, Nikola Vlasic, Sandro Ramirez, Ashley Williams, Cuco Martina, Matthew Pennington and two forgotten men in Muhamed Besic and Kevin Mirallas. Everton could be used to promote the new Deadwood movie.
What’s on the wish list, then? Perhaps simply that Barcelona are amenable to the idea of Andre Gomes joining Everton on a permanent deal. The loanee has brought a spark to the Toffees’ midfield and, at 25, still has his prime ahead of him.
Claudio Ranieri (Fulham)
A 200ft ruler would be most welcome, seeing as Ranieri’s players are caught offside more than anyone else in the division, but first they need some lovely clean sheets from Dunelm, as Fulham are the only Premier League side without any. Even Manchester United managed two under Jose Mourinho.
The Cottagers have used all three of their first-team goalkeepers and seem undecided about who is the least worst, while every defender in the Putney area has been given a start and Calum Chambers has been pushed into central midfield, even though Fulham just invested £55m in upgrading the trio that worked so well last season. Ranieri is starting to work out his personnel, but, with some winnable fixtures in the offing, keeping at least one clean sheet over the Christmas and New Year period is a must.
Fulham are averaging 0.53 points per game in 2018/19. You have to delve all the way down into the Northern Premier League to find a worse record.
David Wagner (Huddersfield)
Although a penalty-box presence is the obvious request – just 2% of Huddersfield’s shots have been taken from inside the six-yard box, for goodness’ sake – Wagner would trade a lot for just a little luck.
It’s true that the Terriers have scored a league-low 10 goals from 17 games but they’ve also hit the woodwork nine times. Wagner said in November, “If you hit the bar and post as often as we have, you think: ‘Come on, what is going on here?’” Only Liverpool and Manchester City have rattled the goal frame more times than that, and they take rather more shots than Huddersfield.
Wagner would find a sympathetic ear in Roy Hodgson. The team with the fewest goals after Huddersfield is Crystal Palace; the team who need a new striker almost as much as Huddersfield do is Crystal Palace; and the only team outside the top four with as many woodwork hits as Huddersfield is… Crystal Palace.