Friday, February 17, 2023

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 24

Arsenal begins weekend play in an unaccustomed position in the table. The Gunners were knocked from their perch atop the Premier League table by Manchester City on Wednesday. The Gunners now head off to Aston Villa this weekend hoping to regain their confidence after losing to Manchester City for an 11th consecutive time in the league. A loss to their former manager Unai Emery on Saturday would add salt to a wound created by dropping eight of their last nine points in league play as the Gunners fumbled away the first-place position they had held since August. Arsenal fell 3-1 to Manchester City as Pep Guardiola’s star-studded lineup proved too much for the young Gunners. Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish all scored versus Arsenal. Bukayo Saka’s penalty kick, meanwhile, accounted for the only Arsenal scoring as the Gunners were kept to a goal or less for a third consecutive match. Aston Villa might be just the right club to give the Gunners’ attack a boost as Emery’s men have conceded seven goals across two consecutive defeats.

Manchester City will defend their newly earned top of the table status when the Citizens head to Nottingham Forest. Forest has shown marked improvement in recent weeks to emerge from the relegation zone, Manager Steve Cooper’s side stumbled, however, at Fulham last weekend and now face a markedly greater challenge in facing the new table leaders.

Manchester United, coming off its Thursday draw in the Europa League versus Barcelona, could have a tricky time at Old Trafford on Sunday against Leicester. The Foxes are in their best form of the season after scoring eight goals in winning their last two league outings.

Liverpool will have the chance to prove it is still a top four contender when the Reds head to Newcastle Saturday to face the fourth place Magpies. Newcastle has remained in the Champions League qualification places despite having drawn five of its last six league matches. The Magpies seem to seldom win but almost never lose, their last league loss coming against Liverpool in August. If Liverpool can repeat its August success over the Magpies, it could mark a turning point in what has been a disappointing season for the Reds. A win would move Liverpool to within six points of Newcastle in the table.

Tottenham Hotspur would welcome a Liverpool result as Spurs are currently only two points behind Newcastle, though having played one additional match. Manager Antonio Conte will be absent when his club hosts West Ham Sunday as he takes time away to recover from recent surgery. The Hammers are now on a three-match unbeaten run after they had fallen into the relegation zone with a run of six losses in seven matches. West Ham’s recent improvement has included 1-1 draws with both Newcastle and Chelsea and a win over Everton which sealed the fate of Everton Manager Frank Lampard.

Brighton and Fulham are sixth and seventh in the table, respectively, both on 35 points and separated only by the Seagulls superior goal differential. The two clubs meet at Brighton’s American Express Community Stadium Saturday in a match which could be pivotal to the chase for European qualification.

Brentford, meanwhile, is just one point behind the Seagulls and Cottagers and hasn’t lost since October. The Bees host a Crystal Palace side this weekend that is still seeking a first win of the new year. The Bees’ Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbeumo both present scoring threats which Crystal Palace fans can only dream about. Toney trails only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane in the chase for the Premier League Golden Boot.

There are no Golden Boot contenders on Chelsea’s squad and the 10th place Blues have the lowest goal total of any club in the top half of the table. Manager Graham Potter experienced similar problems finding goals while managing Brighton and that should be a concern for Chelsea supporters. Stamford Bridge will get a visit from bottom of the table Southampton Saturday as Chelsea should have a golden opportunity to win for just the third time in its last 14 league matches played. Southampton is still without a manager after the sacking of Nathan Jones which followed last week’s embarrassing loss to Wolverhampton. A potential Jesse Marsch appointment collapsed during the week as the Saints will now look elsewhere.

Wolves, meanwhile, have won three of their last four matches under manager Julen Lopetegui which included the remarkable 10-man comeback at Southampton last week. Wolves host Bournemouth Saturday as the relegation bound Cherries’ look for their first win since the second week of November.    

European Results 

There was little surprise when both Premier League sides lost their Champions League matches this week. Neither Tottenham Hotspur nor Chelsea would qualify for next year’s Champions League based on their league standing if the season were to end today. Spurs fell 1-0 to defending Serie A champion AC Milan as former Manchester City player Brahim Diaz scored for the Italian side. Chelsea lost by the same 1-0 score to Borussia Dortmund. Disheartening for Chelsea fans was the sight of newly acquired Enzo Fernandez, the most expensive player in Premier League history, being burned for the Borussia Dortmund goal as he couldn’t match the pace of Dortmund goal scorer Karim Adeyemi. Manchester United had a better day on Thursday, taking a point in a 2-2 draw at Barcelona in the clubs’ Europa League match. Marcus Rashford continued his scintillating goal scoring spree, scoring his 22nd goal across all competitions this season and matching his full season personal best. 

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