Friday, February 23, 2024

Premier League Preview Matchweek 26: Arsenal Looks For Response After Champions League Loss; Villa Looks To Solidify Top Four Position; Manchester United Seeks Fifth Straight; Derby of the Dire At London Stadium; Glasner Debuts At Selhurst Park

Liverpool kicked off Matchweek 26 with a 4-1 win over Luton Town in a match pulled forward from the weekend when Liverpool will face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Sunday. The league schedule thus features only eight matches this weekend and Monday.

Manchester City will try to close its present four-point gap to league leading Liverpool when the Citizens visit Bournemouth on Saturday. City defeated Brentford on Tuesday to extend its league unbeaten run to ten matches. The defending champs have not been at their best, however, scoring just a single goal on Tuesday and in their 1-1 home draw with Chelsea last weekend. Bournemouth, meanwhile, remains in search of its first 2024 victory after drawing three of its last four matches.

Arsenal is back home at the Emirates to face Newcastle after an unpleasant midweek visit to Portugal. The Gunners, a point back of Manchester City in the Premier League table, were stunned by a stoppage time goal in a 1-0 loss at Porto in Champions League during the week. Porto’s Galeno scored the winner in a match where the Gunners failed to even get a shot on target. Expect Arsenal to be fired up after the midweek European loss as they return to Premier League play where they have won their first five matches of the calendar year for the first time in club history. Bukayo Saka, unusually quiet versus Porto, has been tearing up the Premier League with six goals in his last four appearances. Newcastle is unbeaten in its last four matches, recovering from a disastrous run of form which saw the Magpies lose six of seven Premier League matches. Manager Eddie Howe’s side are back in the European qualification discussion with a current eighth place position in the table.

Fourth place Aston Villa can increase its edge over an idle Tottenham Hotspur this weekend when Nottingham Forest visits Villa Park. The form of Manager Unai Emery’s side has been rocky of late, and Saturday’s match will see the Villans try to snap a three-match losing run across all competitions at their home ground. Forest scored a key home victory at the City Ground last week to move the Tricky Trees four points clear of the relegation line. The Trees are vulnerable, however, when uprooted from their home ground with only Sheffield United and Burnley having won fewer league away matches this season.

Manchester United is only five points south of Aston Villa after stringing together four consecutive Premier League wins. The Red Devils will look to make it five straight when they welcome Fulham to Old Trafford this weekend. Unfortunately, Manchester United will need to do it without striker Rasmus Hojlund who has been ruled out with a muscle injury after having scored in six consecutive matches for the Red Devils. Fulham, losers at home to Aston Villa last week, are having a terrible time this season away from the normally friendly confines of Craven Cottage. The Cottagers have won just once away from their home ground, a record of road futility shared only with cellar dweller Sheffield United.

Two clubs on a miserable run of form clash in a derby of the dire at London Stadium when Brentford visits West Ham. West Ham have lost three matches on the trot and have not won in their six matches this calendar year. The Bees have lost 11 of their last 14 league matches to find themselves just five points clear of the relegation zone. The recent schedule has been a killer for the Bees. The last five matches have seen Manager Thomas Frank’s squad matched up with Manchester City twice as well as facing Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspsur during that stretch. The one Brentford victory in those last five matches was over a formidable Wolverhampton side.

Wolves have lost just twice since mid-December and are coming off an impressive win at Tottenham Hotspur as the club returns to Molineux Stadium to host Sheffield United on Sunday. The Blades have earned their bottom of the table standing by shipping 65 goals already this season. Wolverhampton supporters, meanwhile, are dreaming of Europe as Manager Gary O’Neil has his side currently just three points behind seventh place Brighton in his first season in charge of Wolves.

Brighton, having humiliated Sheffield United 5-0 last week, is home to Everton on Saturday. The visiting Toffees are barely safe, holding a goal differential advantage on 18th place Luton Town, as the Toffees await a decision on their appeal of the 10-point deduction levied earlier in the season. That pending decision has obvious and massive implications for the relegation race.

Crystal Palace is five points north of Everton in the table as the Oliver Glasner era begins with a home match at Selhurst Park against Burnley. The Europa League winning manager takes over from Roy Hodgson who was suffering from health issues as well as poor results and supporter disaffection. Glasner comes in with a reputation for turnarounds, rousing moribund Bundesliga sides Eintracht Frankfurt and Wolfsburg to European qualification and, in the case of Frankfurt, silverware. The new manager will be immediately under the microscope with upcoming winnable matches in front of the home fans against current relegation sides. Following the match versus Burnley this weekend, the Eagles will host Luton Town in two weeks’ time after an away derby at Tottenham Hotspur next week. 

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