Ivan Toney says he was forced to bite his tongue in the wake of Gabriel Magalhaes' "cringey" social media taunt following Brentford's 3-0 defeat to Arsenal.

Toney was limited to just two shots – totalling 0.14 expected goals (xG) – as Arsenal maintained their fine start to the Premier League season on Sunday, cruising to victory courtesy of goals from William Saliba, Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira.

The win ensured revenge for the Gunners after they began the 2021-22 campaign with a demoralising defeat to the Bees, after which Toney tweeted: "Nice kick about with the boys."

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta used that same message to motivate his squad ahead of February's reverse fixture – a 2-1 win for the Gunners – and it was repeated by Gabriel on social media following Sunday's win.

Asked about the jibe, Toney – who is away on international duty with England for the first time – said: "I think once was funny, the second time was a bit cringey, but I bit my tongue. I wanted to reply, and I wanted to nibble but fair play to them, they played very well. 

"They're a much better side than what we played before and they are going very well, so fair play to them."

Having scored five league goals already this campaign, Toney earned a maiden England call-up last week.

Toney, who is yet to be capped by the Three Lions at any age level, believes performing for one of the Premier League's less-fancied sides gives that honour extra importance.

"It makes it much more special," he added. "Nobody was called up from Brentford for like 70-plus years and I think if you are good enough, and you are doing your job as a striker, scoring goals and playing well, then why shouldn't you be called up? 

"I think I have proved that. Everyone at the club is really proud for me and I can genuinely see that."

Only Erling Haaland (11), Harry Kane and Aleksandar Mitrovic (both six) have outscored Toney in the Premier League this season, but the striker is unsure whether he would replicate his exploits in a more established side. 

"It's easy to say that I would be scoring goals, but I think that teams like them dominate possession a lot more, so I think in theory you are more likely to score goals as there is a lot more opportunities coming your way," he added.

"But listen, you still have to put it in the back of the net, so until I am there, who knows? 

"Until then I am not sure, but they have quality players assisting them and hopefully one day I will be in their shoes and can be scoring goals like Haaland and Jesus."

Ivan Toney is ready to seize his England chance ahead of the World Cup, stating he has "been working for this moment" following his maiden call-up.

The Brentford forward was included in Gareth Southgate's final pre-World Cup squad for the upcoming Nations League clashes with Italy and Germany.

It represents the last chance for outsiders to press for inclusion – and as the only uncapped member of the squad, Toney looks as if he could be the proverbial bolter.

Struggles with either injury or form for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins and Patrick Bamford may have paved the striker's way, and speaking on Tuesday, he says he does not intend to let the moment pass.

"This is my opportunity now," he stated. "I've got to take it with both hands. I'm excited, I'm confident, I'm very hungry.

"I've been working for this moment and here it is now, so I'm not going to let it go by me, by any means."

It is not the first time Toney has flirted with international football, having previously been approached to represent Jamaica, though he explained priorities elsewhere ultimately shut down any switch in allegiance.

"I turned them down because at the time I was focusing on the play-offs," he added. "That was the main thing, and then it kind of fizzled out.

"I felt like my chances were getting bigger and bigger to play for the England squad."

Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka called on the club and his team-mates to "protect" Ethan Nwaneri after the teenager made Premier League history.

Nwaneri became the youngest player to ever appear in the Premier League on Sunday as was introduced late on in Arsenal's 3-0 win over Brentford.

Aged 15 years and 181 days, Nwaneri broke the record set by Harvey Elliott when he came on for Fulham at 16 years and 30 days old.

Nwaneri was included in Mikel Arteta's squad partly due to injuries and was introduced near the end with the Gunners in complete control.

An England youth international, Nwaneri had trained with Arsenal's first team "a couple of times", according to Arteta, whose decision to bring him on was a "gut feeling".

Nwaneri has understandably dominated headlines since his historic cameo, but the need to protect him and keep him on his current path was not lost on Xhaka, who had known of the player's talent having taken charge of Arsenal Under-16s training sessions.

"To have a guy who is 15, who is 15 years younger than me… he looks old when I see him but the club can be proud of a player like him," Xhaka told reporters.

"He has a big future. If I am honest, I am doing my coaching licence and I have trained the Under-16s: you can see a big difference with him and the other guys. He is very, very special.

"Of course, you have to protect him as he is very young but if he keeps going like this with his hard work, he has a big, big future.

"I spoke with one Brentford guy and I told him this guy was 15 and he looked at me and said: 'F*** me, we are looking old!'

"So yes, of course, when you have 15 years difference you think: 'Okay the time is not gone but it is on the way'. But we are enjoying him, he is enjoying us as he has the quality.

"If I am honest, he is not with us a lot in training. I have maybe seen him twice or three times now. He is very shy, of course, but the time will come when he will be more with us, but you have to protect him and help him.

"Football is not everything for him and for us but yes, the club will help him and the experienced players have to help him."

Fabio Vieira marked his first Premier League start with a fine goal in Arsenal's 3-0 win over Brentford on Sunday but boss Mikel Arteta was more impressed with how he did the "ugly" things in the game.

William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus put the Gunners into a 2-0 half-time lead, before Vieira, who joined from Porto in June, rifled home from 25 yards to put the seal on a comprehensive victory that lifted the Gunners back to the top of the Premier League table.  

Arteta believes the attacking midfielder role that Vieira played is where he is best suited, yet hopes the 22-year-old will continue to undertake the dirty work that is often required to win games. 

"I think he's having a good progression," Arteta said. "Obviously he missed the whole of pre-season due to injury, which was really unlucky. But we know his talent, the reasons why we signed him and what he can bring to the team.

"To do it against Brentford, at this ground, on his debut, is a different story. He showed again his character and his qualities."

Asked what the 22-year-old's best position is, Arteta responded: "That's something that still needs to be decided. In those two attacking midfield positions, for sure. He's played off the side as well, so it's more about the relations he has in the unit and on his side, and where he is more comfortable. But the position he played today fits him really well.

"He's a creative player. He needs to play with his gut feeling and his instinct. That's what he needs to do and we need to create as many scenarios for him as possible to put his talent to the service of the team.

"What I like as well is the way he competes, and the way he went about the ugly part of the game really impressed me."

Arsenal have won more Premier League games than any other team so far this season (six). It is just the third time they have won as many as six of their first seven games of a Premier League campaign – previously doing so in 2004-05 and 2007-08 under Arsene Wenger (both six).

Central to that success has been captain Granit Xhaka, who made the joint-highest number of key passes against Brentford from a deep-lying midfield position (three, alongside Bukayo Saka).

Arteta was fulsome in his praise of the Switzerland international, saying: "His consistency, and how he goes about that every day is impressive.

"He has a willingness always to stay humble, to look forward and try to get better and when you do that, normally good things happen.

"I think he feels now that love and respect both ways [with the fans]. You see our supporters, the way they were singing to him as well, emotionally that makes him try to give even more.

"I'm really pleased for him because in my opinion he really deserves it."

Gabriel Magalhaes took aim at Ivan Toney on social media after Arsenal eased to a 3-0 win at Brentford to move back into top spot in the Premier League.

Brazilian centre-back Gabriel played a full part in Sunday's routine victory in west London as Arsenal made is six wins from seven league matches this term.

William Saliba, Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira, making his first start in the competition, were all on target as Brentford suffered their heaviest home top-flight loss since 1947.

Arsenal's performance was a far cry from 13 months ago on their last trip to Brentford when losing 2-0 on the opening day of the 2021-22 campaign.

Shortly after that match finished, Brentford striker Toney – called up by England for the first time this week – tweeted: "Nice kick about with the boys".

That was a message Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta showed his players last season in an attempt to motivate them.

And Gabriel, who was not part of the Arsenal squad for that defeat last year, used those exact words following his side's latest victory on Sunday.

Arsenal have won as many as six of their opening seven Premier League games for just the third time, having also previously done so in the 2004-05 and 2007-08 campaigns.

After a disappointing beginning and end to last season, Granit Xhaka – who captained Arsenal in Martin Odegaard's absence – hailed his side's new-found mindset.

"You see the new and different mentality we have this season," he told Sky Sports.

"We had a great chance after maybe one minute with [Gabriel] Martinelli; if he scores we start the game well. But we keep going, working each other. 

"We are training like we play as well. We have the class of individual players – they can make the difference, and today you saw that."

Mikel Arteta's decision to include Ethan Nwaneri was a "pure gut feeling" after the 15-year-old made Premier League history at Brentford.

Arsenal were cruising towards a 3-0 victory over Thomas Frank's side on Sunday after goals from William Saliba, Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira before Arteta sent on Nwaneri in stoppage time.

Aged just 15 years and 181 days, Nwaneri became the youngest player in Premier League history, breaking Harvey Elliott's record of 16 years and 30 days for Fulham.

Fellow youngster Lino Sousa was an unused substitute and Arteta suggested the injury to Martin Odegaard, alongside impressive performances for Arsenal's youth side, offered Nwaneri the chance.

"It was a pure gut feeling. I met the boy and really liked what I saw," the Gunners manager said.

"Per Mertesacker and the academy staff are giving me really good information, Edu as well. I met Ethan, he's trained a couple of times with us.

"[Saturday] he had to come because we have injuries, especially the injury of Martin and then I had that feeling that if the opportunity could come that I was going to do it."

While Arsenal were in complete control as Nwaneri was introduced with four minutes of added time indicated, Arteta said he sent on the youngster with little instruction.

"Those things it is better not to tell them," the Spaniard responded when asked if he had sent Nwaneri on with a message. "Just throw him [on] there and see what happens."

Arsenal leapfrogged Manchester City at the Premier League summit with victory and will have the international break to prepare for tough tests in their next two league clashes with Tottenham and Liverpool.

Thomas Frank labelled Arsenal as "title contenders" after the Gunners' convincing 3-0 victory at Brentford, where Mikel Arteta saw a "very different" team to the one defeated by the Bees last season.

Captain Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko were absent through injury on Sunday, but Arsenal rarely looked troubled as they condemned Brentford to their heaviest top-flight defeat at home since May 1947.

William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus scored first-half headers before Fabio Vieira's brilliant strike on his full league debut sealed the victory.

Tougher tests may come against Tottenham and Liverpool after the international break for Arsenal, who moved back above Manchester City at the Premier League summit, and Frank expects them to be challenging at the top this season.

"We lost 3-0, to the number one in the Premier League," Frank told Sky Sports. "I said before they are a top side.

"I think we performed quite well, not 10 [out of] 10 but if you want to win or get something out of the team flying, you cannot concede the first from a set-piece and then the second one.

"In general, unless it is something unbelievable brilliance from a set-piece, I want us to avoid every set-piece goal. There are a few bits we could have done better for the second.

"They didn't create that many chances but had quality in moments. We lost the game, I hate losing.

"They are top of the table so you cannot argue with that, they have done brilliantly. Looking at their quality, they must be title contenders."

It was a markedly different display to the one Arsenal turned in against Brentford in the corresponding fixture last season, which finished 2-0 to the hosts.

"A lot of people described what happened last year as a really bad day, the team had to evolve and journey together to react," Arteta said. 

"You can give up, question everybody, blame them or learn a lesson and look in the mirror. Today, there was obviously a very different team.

"It was very difficult in a rollercoaster of actions where you are constantly under pressure. They are very good at what they do but we managed to take the game how we wanted so credit to the boys.

"We wanted to get back to the top, yesterday [City] took it away from us, but we showed that desire from the first minute and we have done it."

Gabriel Jesus dedicated his celebration for Arsenal against Brentford to Vinicius Junior after the Real Madrid winger was subject to a comment with apparent racist undertones from a Spanish football agent.

Pedro Bravo has drawn much criticism after comments on El Chiringuito with apparent racist connotations, telling Vinicius to stop dancing "to respect your mates and stop playing the monkey".

Numerous Brazil stars defended the Madrid attacker, with Pele, Neymar, Bruno Guimaraes and Jesus leaping to Vinicius' defence – the Newcastle United midfielder saying Bravo should be "jailed".

Jesus paid his own tribute to Vinicius after scoring in the 3-0 win over Brentford on Sunday, running to the corner flag and opting to dance instead of his usual 'phone rings' celebration.

The Brazil forward confirmed to Sky Sports after victory at the Brentford Community Stadium that his celebration was for his international team-mate.

"The celebration was for my guy Vinicius Junior, it needs to stop and it was for him," he said.

Jesus has now been involved in seven Premier League goals this season (4G, 3A), with only Manchester City's Erling Haaland (12) boasting more in the competition.

Indeed, no Arsenal player has ever had more combined goals and assists through their first seven Premier League appearances (level with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Jesus hailed the performance.

"From the start we showed what we want to do in the game, create chances and score. That is what I believe we did," he added.

"[Granit Xhaka] found me for the goal and I am so happy to play with him, he is an intelligent and quality player."

Arsenal returned to the Premier League summit with the triumph over their London rivals, one point clear of Manchester City and Tottenham, and Xhaka believes his side are a different team this season.

"We have a different mentality this season. We kept going and are training like we play and have class with the players that can make a difference," Xhaka said.

"You have the class in the front and they make the difference. I am more than happy we are in a good way but we have a long way to go."

Ethan Nwaneri made history for Arsenal at Brentford as he became the youngest player to appear in the Premier League after his second-half introduction on Sunday.

Mikel Arteta's side were without Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko for the trip to Brentford Community Stadium, with youngsters Nwaneri and Lino Sousa named on the bench.

William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus headed in first-half to put Arsenal in control, before Fabio Vieira marked his first Premier League start with a superb strike after the interval.

With four minutes of injury time added, Arteta sent on Nwaneri to replace Vieira as the 15-year-old etched his name into Premier League history.

The midfielder, aged just 15 years and 181 days, became the youngest player to feature in a Premier League match, breaking Harvey Elliott's record of 16 years and 30 days for Fulham.

Arsenal returned to the Premier League summit with a dominant 3-0 victory at Brentford, where Fabio Vieira scored on his first league start on Sunday.

Mikel Arteta's side saw their winning start ended by defeat at Manchester United in their previous league match, but they responded in emphatic fashion to move a point clear of Manchester City and Tottenham.

First-half goals from William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus put Arsenal in control, before Vieira – in for the injured Martin Odegaard – added a brilliant third after the interval.

With the points safe, Ethan Nwaneri, aged just 15 years and 181 days, became the youngest player in Premier League history as he appeared from the Arsenal bench for the closing stages.

Gabriel Martinelli slipped to spurn a glorious chance inside two minutes, but Arsenal soon punished Brentford for a timid start with two goals in quick succession.

Saliba met Bukayo Saka's corner with a near-post glance, which bounced off David Raya's right post and over the line before the goalkeeper could react, and then Jesus nodded in from Granit Xhaka's left-wing cross.

Saka and Kieran Tierney both fired off target from presentable opportunities, while Bryan Mbuemo flicked wide at the other end as Arsenal dominated the first half.

Vieira marked his full debut by whipping past Raya and in off the post from outside the area four minutes after the break.

Ivan Toney volleyed just over from an inventive free-kick routine, before Raya expertly denied a fizzing Jesus drive and a curling Saka effort as Brentford rarely threatened an unlikely comeback.

What does it mean? Arsenal banish Brentford demons

Arsenal were off the pace in their Premier League opener last season, losing 2-0 to newly promoted Brentford, but they banished those demons on Sunday.

The Bees had lost just one of their previous 17 top-flight London derbies at home yet proved no match for an in-form Arsenal, who picked up their sixth win in seven league games.

While Tottenham and Liverpool may prove tougher tasks in their next two league matches, Arsenal laid down another marker despite injury problems for the absent Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

Super Saka

Saka continued his fine form for Arsenal as he laid on two assists to move to 37 goal involvements in the Premier League for the Gunners (18 goals, 19 assists).

That moved him clear of Nicolas Anelka (35) for the most Arsenal goal contributions in the competition while aged 21 or under, with Cesc Fabregas (63) the only player to tally more.

Timid Toney

Toney was handed a maiden England call-up this week after scoring five and assisting two more in just six league games – only Erling Haaland (12) has managed more goal involvements in the Premier League.

But the Brentford striker failed to leave his mark in this seventh match, not registering a single shot on target and completing only eight passes in a quiet showing against Saliba and Gabriel.

What's next?

Arsenal have the upcoming international break to prepare for the visit of Tottenham on October 1, when Brentford visit Bournemouth.

Arsenal named 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri on the bench for their clash with Brentford, where Fabio Vieira will make his first Premier League start due to Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko's absences.

Nwaneri could become the youngest player in Premier League history – surpassing Harvey Elliot's top-flight debut for Fulham, aged just 16 years and 30 days – should he be brought on by Mikel Arteta.

The Gunners were without captain Odegaard after he sustained an injury in training, with Vieira taking his place behind Gabriel Jesus to make his first league start since arriving from Porto in June.

Zinchenko was another absentee with Kieran Tierney in the starting XI at left-back, while Thomas Partey returned from a thigh injury to replace Albert Sambi Lokonga at the base of midfield.

"They are both injured and not available for the game. I don't know [the timescale]," Arteta told Sky Sports before kick-off when asked about Zinchenko and Odegaard. 

"We have the international break right now, so that's going to give us a break. It's two different things, but we don't know yet."

Ben White retained his starting position at right-back despite reports of injury concerns, with Takehiro Tomiyasu on the bench.

Lino Sousa and Reuell Walters were also included in Arteta's youthful matchday squad, and the Arsenal coach acknowledged injury problems have allowed the youngsters a chance to feature.

"We have the opportunity now to bring young players. We had some injuries in the last few weeks, and we are pretty short," the Spaniard added. "But opportunities come when other issues arise."

Arsenal named 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri on the bench for their clash with Brentford, where Fabio Vieira will make his first Premier League start due to Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko's absences.

Nwaneri could become the youngest player in Premier League history – surpassing Harvey Elliot's top-flight debut for Fulham, aged just 16 years and 30 days – should he be brought on by Mikel Arteta.

The Gunners were without captain Odegaard after he sustained an injury in training, with Vieira taking his place behind Gabriel Jesus to make his first league start since arriving from Porto in June.

Zinchenko was another absentee with Kieran Tierney in the starting XI at left-back, while Thomas Partey returned from a thigh injury to replace Albert Sambi Lokonga at the base of midfield.

"They are both injured and not available for the game. I don't know [the timescale]," Arteta told Sky Sports before kick-off when asked about Zinchenko and Odegaard. 

"We have the international break right now, so that's going to give us a break. It's two different things, but we don't know yet."

Ben White retained his starting position at right-back despite reports of injury concerns, with Takehiro Tomiyasu on the bench.

Lino Sousa and Reuell Walters were also included in Arteta's youthful matchday squad, and the Arsenal coach acknowledged injury problems have allowed the youngsters a chance to feature.

"We have the opportunity now to bring young players. We had some injuries in the last few weeks, and we are pretty short," the Spaniard added. "But opportunities come when other issues arise."

Mikel Arteta would have liked the chance to take advice from his former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, but has praised the legacy left behind by the Frenchman in north London.

Wenger, who joined the Gunners from Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996, led the club over a two-decade-plus period that saw them emerge as one of the leading sides in European football.

Since his exit in 2018, however, he has seldom held a presence around the club, unlike former rival Alex Ferguson who has remained closely involved with Manchester United.

Speaking ahead of his side's Premier League clash with Brentford, Arteta - a two-time FA Cup winner under Wenger during five seasons as a player at Arsenal - acknowledged he wished he could have taken his expertise.

"I would have loved to have had him closer to have the opportunity to open up and in certain periods just listen and learn from him and everything he has been through," he told the Mirror.

"But he did it in a way to make sure that whoever comes after him had the respect and space he believed was important, and he honoured that."

With five wins and just one loss from their first six top-flight games this term, victory against Brentford could catapult Arsenal back to the summit, ahead of Manchester City and Tottenham.

Much of their success has come from the imposing presence of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, who is anticipated to be in line to start England's Nations League games with Italy and Germany later this month.

With usual Three Lions keeper Jordan Pickford out injured, there is a chance for Ramsdale to stake a claim for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and Arteta says it would be a fitting prize for his performances.

"I hope [Ramsdale] is the [England] number one, it will be great for us and it will be great for Aaron," he added. "He has shown in the last year or so what he is capable of doing.

"We will be watching and waiting for that decision. Aaron is pretty confident. It would be a good reward for him and what he has done."

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe said the media should "never write off" Callum Wilson making a late run for England's World Cup squad.

Wilson scored twice in three Premier League appearances at the start of the season, only to suffer a thigh injury in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Manchester City on August 21.

The 30-year-old has been plagued by persistent injury issues since he joined Newcastle from Howe's former club Bournemouth in 2020, with the Magpies spending a club-record fee on Alexander Isak late in the transfer window to bolster their attacking options.

Wilson is nearing a return, but Newcastle's meeting with Bournemouth on Saturday is likely to come too soon, while the injury also dashed any chances of him making Gareth Southgate's final England squad before the World Cup.

The last of Wilson's three caps came in November 2019, but Howe believes the striker could still be an option for Southgate heading to Qatar.

"I feel for Callum because he's not in the England squad," Howe said in a press conference on Friday.

"But it will just fuel his motivation, it will fire him even more, so when Callum returns to our team he will show how good he is.

"I think there's time for Callum to make the World Cup squad, and I know Gareth feels the same.

"What does he have to do? He has to return and score and be consistent in his availability. Maybe he has to have a bit of luck somewhere else to make that plane."

One of Wilson's potential rivals for a spot is Brentford forward Ivan Toney, who received a maiden international call-up on Thursday.

Toney excelled in Brentford's first Premier League campaign last season, scoring 12 goals as the Bees comfortably stayed up.

Only Manchester City star Erling Haaland (11) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than Toney this season (seven), with the Brentford striker averaging a goal or assist every 77 minutes, compared to one every 171 minutes last term.

Toney played for Newcastle between 2015 and 2018, but made only two league appearances for the club, having six loan spells at four separate clubs before leaving permanently for Peterborough United.

Howe thinks Newcastle, under sporting director Dan Ashworth, are now well set to avoid repeating such mistakes.

He said: "I'd love to think that wouldn't happen now. That's not a criticism of anyone here at that time; why Ivan left, I don't know.

"But when you watch him play now and see his attributes and what he can bring to his team, he's an outstanding player.

"His England call-up is a great thing for people that drop into the lower leagues. It gives them hope that it's not the end of their dreams."

Todd Boehly's suggestion for the creation of a Premier League 'All-Star' game attracted plenty of ridicule, but he certainly can't be accused of a lack of vision or creativity.

The new Chelsea co-owner – and chairman and interim sporting director – was speaking at a conference on Tuesday when he proposed the Premier League 'Americanised' (or should that be 'Americanized'?) itself a bit.

A relegation play-off tournament between the bottom four teams was one idea; but the other, which attracted most of the headlines, was for a North v South 'All-Star' game, pointing out Major League Baseball (MLB) in his native United States made $200million from such an event this year.

A potential Premier League 'All-Stars' game was the talk of football media on Tuesday, so at Stats Perform we decided to have a look at who might line up for the North and South.

It was decided the north-south cut-off point would see Nottingham Forest qualify for the North, ensuring each All-Stars team had 10 clubs to select from.

First up, we have unrestricted squads, so essentially the very best teams possible; then, we have squads that are limited to three players from each club and every single Premier League must have at least a single player selected. So, without any further ado, let's see who made the cut…

NORTH ALL-STARS (unrestricted)

4-3-3: Ederson (Manchester City); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool); Rodri (Manchester City), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Phil Foden (Manchester City); Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Erling Haaland (Manchester City), Luis Diaz (Liverpool).

SUBS: Alisson (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Raphael Varane (Manchester United), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Fabinho (Liverpool), Casemiro (Manchester United), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United).

You knew the starting XI was going to look like that even before reading, didn't you? Manchester City and Liverpool obviously dominated the first team here, but it feels difficult to argue with almost any selection here.

The goalkeeper choice was probably the toughest, but only because Ederson and Alisson are both so strong and simultaneously significantly better than any other eligible shot stoppers in terms of their all-round game – Ederson ultimately got the nod owing to 13 more clean sheets over the past three-and-a-bit years, but either could've got the gig.

Similarly in defence, many of the North's options pick themselves. The centre-backs, Van Dijk and Dias, have each won the Premier League Player of the Season award in the past four years, while Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have at least 12 most assists than any other defender since the start of the 2019-20 season.

While the defence had a distinctively Liverpool look to it, City dominate the midfield because… well, they tend to dominate the midfield. Rodri provides the control and defensive protection, while Foden and De Bruyne can wreak havoc going forward and towards the flanks.

Salah and Haaland were obvious picks in attack. The Egyptian has been involved in 96 goals (66 scored, 30 assisted) since the start of the 2019-20 season, more than anyone else, while Haaland is arguably the most in-form striker in world football, having already netted 12 times in seven games for City.

Luis Diaz was perhaps the most uncertain one, but he's quickly become a key figure at Liverpool. His ability to cut inside or head for the byline makes him an unpredictable asset, and he's something of a double threat in terms of goals and creativity.

Cristiano Ronaldo's appearance on the bench owes much to his solid goal-scoring form last season.

SOUTHERN ALL-STARS (unrestricted)

4-2-3-1: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham); Reece James (Chelsea), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal); Declan Rice (West Ham), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea); Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Son Heung-min (Tottenham); Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal).

SUBS: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Marc Cucurella (Chelsea), Jorginho (Chelsea), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Martin Odegaard (Arsenal), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Ivan Toney (Brentford).

This team has it all. A World Cup-winning goalkeeper, a defence with an ideal blend of youth and experience, a combative midfield and four world-class attackers.

Lloris gets the nod in net. He's been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the league since his arrival from Lyon 10 years ago, and based on Opta's expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded metric, Lloris has prevented 3.8 goals since the start of the 2020-21 season, significantly better than his South All-Stars back-up, Chelsea's Edouard Mendy (-3.8).

Chelsea star James is the right-back, with his 16 goal contributions (six goals, 10 assists) since the start of last season topping the charts for a defender. Koulibaly and Romero are a formidable centre-back pairing, while Zinchenko has four Premier League titles to his name from his time at Manchester City.

James and Zinchenko are brilliant attacking full-backs, but the defence will need screening, and that is where Kante and Rice come into their own. Both super ball-winners, Kante's relentless energy will be complemented by Rice's ability on the ball, as he has demonstrated at West Ham.

That midfield protection will be needed, with a four-pronged attack ready to lay waste to the North's defence.

Sterling might not have made a flying start at Chelsea but is the best pick on the right wing, with Son – who shared the league's golden boot award last season – on the opposite wing. Kane will play a slightly deeper role, behind Jesus, who has had more touches in the opposition box (66), attempted more dribbles (34), more dribbles in the box (8) and won more fouls (21) than any other player in the Premier League this season.

NORTHERN ALL-STARS (restricted)

4-2-3-1: Jordan Pickford (Jordan Pickford); Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Vigil van Dijk (Liverpool), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool); Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle United), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City); Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Pedro Neto (Wolves); Erling Haaland (Manchester City).

SUBS: Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Diego Carlos (Aston Villa), Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United), Renan Lodi (Nottingham Forest), James Maddison (Leicester City), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Jack Harrison (Leeds United), Antony Gordon (Everton), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United).

Our self-imposed restrictions of no more than three players from a given team gives the North All-Stars a distinctly different feel – nevertheless, Van Dijk, Dias, Robertson, De Bruyne, Salah and Haaland retain their places, for obvious reasons.

Probably the biggest casualty is Alexander-Arnold, but the North benefits from having another excellent forward-thinking option at right-back in Trippier, while Jordan Pickford starts between the posts – David de Gea was another option here, but the England international is better with his feet.

Bruno Guimaraes comes into the midfield, offering a valuable combination of bite and craft, while Fernandes will take up the number 10 position with De Bruyne dropping a little deeper – this shouldn't stifle the team's creativity too much given the Belgian is the only player with more chances created (239) than Fernandes (224) since the latter's Premier League debut.

The other new face in attack is Pedro Neto. Perhaps a wildcard choice, but the Portugal international is an exciting winger with lots of pace and trickery. While Salah will cut in off the opposite flank, Neto looks to get crosses into the box, and that could be an effective route to goal knowing the predatory instincts Haaland has.

Again, Ronaldo is held back in reserve.

SOUTHERN ALL-STARS (restricted)

4-3-3: Robert Sanchez (Brighton and Hove Albion); Reece James (Chelsea), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Joachim Andersen (Crystal Palace), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal); James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Declan Rice (West Ham), Mason Mount (Chelsea); Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Son Heung-min (Tottenham).

SUBS: Neto (Bournemouth), Ben Mee (Brentford), Tariq Lamptey (Brighton and Hove Albion), Joao Palhinha (Fulham), Lucas Paqueta (West Ham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal), Ivan Toney (Brentford).

Robert Sanchez has been a standout performer for Brighton under the now Chelsea boss Graham Potter, and he replaces Lloris now the restrictions have come into play. He has kept 24 league clean sheets since making his debut in November 2020, which trails only four other goalkeepers.

James, Romero and Zinchenko all keep their places in defence, though Koulibaly does not. He makes way for Joachim Andersen, who has been excellent since signing for Crystal Palace in 2021.

We have switched to a midfield three for this side, with Rice staying in the team but playing a deeper, anchoring role. Alongside him are two new faces in the form of England team-mates Ward-Prowse and Mount. Both provide energy and creativity in abundance.

Ward-Prowse's set-piece quality – no midfielder has scored more goals or created more chances from set plays since the start of last season as the Southampton captain – is a huge threat, while Mount has contributed to 21 league goals since the beginning of 2021-22.

Jesus is the unlucky striker to drop out of the starting XI, though he is on the bench, with Sterling, Kane and Son leading the line.

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