Friday, January 20, 2023

Matchweek 21 Preview

League leading Arsenal will look to avenge its only defeat of the season when the Gunners host Manchester United at the Emirates. The north London side has gone unbeaten in twelve matches, winning 10, since the September loss at Old Trafford. Manchester United has lost just twice since the clubs last met as the Red Devils have risen to third in the table behind Arsenal and defending league champion Manchester City. Perhaps looking ahead to the show down at the Emirates, United dropped points earlier in the week, allowing a stoppage time goal by the Eagles’ Michael Olise in a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace. Even more damaging for the Red Devils was the loss of defensive midfielder Casemiro to suspension ahead of the Emirates clash. The Brazilian registered his fifth yellow card of the season at Selhurst Park and will be sidelined Sunday’s critical match. Growing confidence from their five point advantage in the table over second place Manchester City and the desire to avenge their earlier loss should have the Gunners come out firing in front of the home supporters. 

Manchester City played Thursday and will have a quick turnaround when it hosts Wolverhampton on Sunday. Despite a 4-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur during the week, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was highly critical of his team’s performance. The Spanish manager is likely trying to avoid a letdown by his team against a Wolves side which has proved more dangerous since the appointment of new manager Julen Lopetegui and have climbed ever so slightly out of the relegation zone. Wolverhampton lost an FA replay 1-0 during the week to Liverpool. 

Manager Jurgen Klopp’s Reds return to action Saturday at Anfield in a match which in recent years would have had title implications. Instead, it is ninth place Liverpool which will be hosting a 10th place Chelsea side.

Both sides have been injury plagued this season but can’t attribute their dismal performance to that fact alone. Chelsea have been in seeming turmoil under new owners and a new manager in Graham Potter. The club’s confusing transfer policy has continued with the recent signing of Mykhailo Mudryk, a move for the Ukrainian winger who was more publicly linked with Arsenal and seems not to address Chelsea’s more critical needs at striker and in defense. Chelsea’s earlier January acquisition, Joao Feliz, is suspended after being red carded in is first appearance for the Blues. Liverpool has certainly been crippled by key injuries but also reflects an aging roster with key positions, such as in midfield, requiring refurbishment is the success of recent years is to be repeated. 

Newcastle has taken advantage of the downturn by clubs such as Liverpool and Chelsea to mount its own top four challenge under manager Eddie Howe. The fourth place Magpies have lost just one game all season as they head to Crystal Place on Monday. 

Tottenham Hotspur are on the outside, looking in at the top four as manager Antonio Conte’s side has lost three of its last four matches as it approaches a London derby with Fulham on Monday. The newly promoted Cottagers have impressed in their return to the league and are just two points behind fifth place Spurs. 

Brighton is also in contention for the European places as the seventh place Seagulls visit troubled Leicester on Saturday. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers appears on borrowed time as his Foxes bob just two points above the relegation zone after four straight defeats. Brighton, meanwhile, is riding high after a 3-0 pasting of Liverpool last weekend which was the Seagulls’ fifth win in their last seven league outings. 

Brentford is another club playing well. The Bees have won three straight and are unbeaten in seven matches to sit just a point back of Brighton. Striker Ivan Toney has 13 goals this season, good for third in the league. Brentford travels to Leeds on Sunday to face the high wire act of Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch. Leeds is balanced just wo points above the relegation zone as the jury remains out whether Marsch’s attacking philosophy that exposes a porous defense can prove successful enough to see the Whites survive another season. 

Two other managers on the hot seat will face off on Saturday when Everton Manager Frank Lampard brings his bedraggled club to London Stadium to face the equally disappointing Hammers of Manger David Moyes. Both clubs reside in the relegation zone to the angst of their supporters. Everton fans have been particularly strident to the unacceptable extent of posing a threat to board members. Everton owner Farhad Moshiri continues to back manager Frank Lampard despite the club’s on-field performance worsening from an already poor starting point over his tenure as manger. West Ham Manager Moyes, however, experienced success the last two seasons as the Hammers competed in Europe. This season has thus been a shocking fall from grace as the Hammers have struggled to put the ball in the net. West Ham and Everton have each scored 15 goals for the season, an output greater than only Wolves among Premier League clubs. 

Everton and West Ham currently share the relegation zone with Southampton, but the Saints have begun to make some noise, winning their last three matches across three different competitions. Southampton won at Everton in a league match last weekend and will look to make it two in a row when they host Aston Villa at St. Mary’s. That outcome could prove a tough ask as Villa has lost just once in its last six league matches under new manager Unai Emery. 

Nottingham Forest has been moving up the table, taking 10 points from their last five league matches, and should be well positioned to continue that trend by taking points at Bournemouth on Saturday. The Cherries have been increasingly uncompetitive against all opposition save for relegation bound Everton in recent weeks.

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