Friday, May 10, 2024

Premier League Preview: Match Week 37

The penultimate weekend of the Premier League season features Arsenal visiting Manchester United as the Gunners try to keep their title hopes alive. Arsenal leads the table by a point but unfortunately for Gunner fans, second place Manchester City has an additional match to play next Tuesday where, assuming the one-point margin remains after this weekend, the Citizens can more than make up that slim difference. Ironically that make-up match is against Arsenal’s north London neighbor Tottenham Hotspur which will enjoy the unique opportunity to potentially hand a title to its fiercest rival.

First, however, Arsenal must get past another Manchester side at Old Trafford on Sunday. The Red Devils are in a chaotic state, as last week’s loss to Crystal Palace knocked them out of the European places and established a new club mark for greatest number of losses in a Premier League season. Manager Eric ten Hag is being closely scrutinized by new leadership at the club following the ownership investment by Sir James Ratcliffe and his INEOS group. Ratcliffe is shaking up the front office and changes may well extend to his manager and players this offseason. Ten Hag certainly is not impressing anyone with his club’s disorganized and chaotic performances. Having already established the loss record, ten Hag and his merry men must capture five points in their remaining three matches to avoid finishing with Manchester United’s worst ever Premier League point total. A trip to Old Trafford, while still not to be taken lightly, is far less intimidating in the current circumstances.

Arsenal, of course, in its current form should fear no one save for that other Manchester club. Manchester City has its destiny in its own hands as the Citizens are champions if they win their next three matches. The first leg of that trifecta comes at Craven Cottage versus Fulham on Saturday. The Citizens are massive favorites to triumph over a Fulham side which has won only one of its last seven matches, scoring just five goals over that stretch. Manchester City has seemed to find an even higher gear as they close in on another championship. Erling Haaland has rediscovered his scoring touch, finding the net four times in his last outing.

Liverpool’s visit to Aston Villa on Monday seems anticlimactic. The Reds’ title race appears over with Liverpool trailing table leader Arsenal by five points after dropping eight points in their last five league matches. Manager Jurgen Klopp conceded as much in his pre-match press conference. Aston Villa has a seven-point cushion over Tottenham Hotspur for the final Champions League slot despite having been less than impressive as they approach the Premier League season finish line. Villa has won twice, lost twice and drawn twice in its last six league matches and has dropped five of its last six available league points. Aston Villa was also bounced from this season’s Europa Conference League on Thursday by Olympiacos. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, having scored his first non-penalty goal since March 31st last weekend, will be facing a club against which he has scored seven goals in 10 career appearances.

Tottenham Hotspur hosts Burnley having lost four consecutive league matches for the first time in 20 years. The Champions League is gone and now even Europa League qualification could slip away if Spurs are unable to right the ship these next two weeks. Burnley visits Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday with its Premier League survival on the line. Anything less than three points means Manager Vincent Company and the Clarets are relegated. Even if victorious, Burnley will still need a failed result by Nottingham Forest to stay alive for a final week matchup with the Tricky Trees.

Newcastle is four points back of Tottenham Hotspur as the Magpies host Brighton on Saturday. Unlike Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle is playing well as the season nears its conclusion, winning five of its last seven matches and losing only to surprisingly potent Crystal Palace during that run. Based on current standings, Newcastle would receive the second Europa League berth absent an unlikely FA Cup win by Manchester United over Manchester City.

The FA Cup winner gets an automatic berth unless otherwise qualifying for Europe via table position as would be the case with Manchester City. Both Manchester United and Chelsea are two points behind Newcastle in the fight for Europe with the Red Devils currently the odd man out based on a poorer goal differential than Chelsea. Last week’s humiliation at Crystal Palace leaves Manchester United with a negative goal differential for the season, an ugly blemish on the performance review of Manager Eric ten Hag. Manchester United fans might be forgiven for approaching Sunday’s match with Arsenal with just a bit of trepidation. Chelsea, meanwhile, has earned its way back into the European places with recent performances. The Blues have scored seven goals across their most recent back-to-back clean sheet victories and quickly closed the gap on fading Manchester United to land on an identical point total as the Red Devils. A superior goal differential would break a tie in favor of Chelsea. The Blues visit Nottingham Forest on Saturday where the Tricky Tree will be trying to clinch their spot in the Premier League for next year. Should Nottingham Forest defeat Chelsea and Luton Town fall short in their match at West Ham, the Trees are safe.

Everton has already removed itself from the relegation rabble while Sheffield United are already  condemned. The Blades’ visit to Goodison Park on Saturday is thus virtually meaningless but for giving Everton home supporters the chance to voice their appreciation for the late season surge that has lifted the Toffees. Everton enters its final home match of the season on a four-match unbeaten run which has assured its survival.

Crystal Palace is another club experiencing late season success. The Eagles have won four times during a current five match unbeaten run which has spotlighted the talents of young stars Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze and Jean-Philippe Mateta. Palace will be at Molineux Stadium on Saturday to face a Wolverhampton side which has lost three of four matches. A Crystal Palace victory this weekend would move the Eagles past the currently 12th place Wolves in the Premier League table.

Bournemouth is currently 10th, and a top half finish would be meaningful for the south coast club. Brentford visits Vitality Stadium and its 11,379 Cherries supporters on Saturday. 

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