Broken Arsenal face Man City mauling as title race hots up
Premier League preview: Liverpool could go top this weekend, but only if Chelsea falter against Palace
THE title run-in has begun and, like long-distance runners approaching the bell, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City have started to up their speed, leaving pacemakers Arsenal floundering.
The Gunners were broken last weekend by Chelsea, pushed around by Swansea in midweek, and now it is the turn of Man City, who will be hoping to twist the knife at the Emirates.
League leaders Chelsea have, on paper, the easiest task. They make the short trip south of the Thames to Crystal Palace, while Liverpool welcome Tottenham to Anfield.
Last week's goal haul of 42 in ten games was almost a record, and with goal difference likely to play a part in the title race, the European places and relegation there will be plenty more attacking football to look forward to this weekend.
Here's the best of the weekend action:
Arsenal v Man City
A few weeks ago this game looked like a potential title decider, but now the outcome might not be as significant as it once appeared. Arsenal are only a few points off the pace but they are a spent force and are out of the title race after a disastrous week. On the other hand Man City will still be in the mix whatever the result at the Emirates. A win for Manuel Pellegrini's team would establish them as title favourites, but thanks to the two games they have in hand over Chelsea and Liverpool, a loss would not be fatal to their ambitions. That said, an Arsenal win would be a big surprise given the way things have been going for the two clubs. Arsenal's confidence was shattered by Chelsea last weekend and the Emirates injury crisis leaves them looking vulnerable. City, on the other hand, will be buzzing after a convincing derby win at Old Trafford. A look at the forward lines tells its own story. Arsenal will rely on top scorer Olivier Giroud for their goals, City, whose main striker Sergio Aguero is out injured, have Edin Dzeko, Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure to turn to. To make matters worse, the Gunners will be without defender Laurent Koscielny.
Liverpool v Tottenham
This is turning into a phenomenal season for Liverpool who have, unexpectedly, mounted a genuine title challenge based around possibly the two best strikers in the league. Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez have 47 league goals between them this season – ten more than Rooney, Van Persie and Giroud combined. The chances are they will add to that tally against Spurs on Sunday afternoon, and if other results go their way the Reds could even finish the weekend on top of the pile. Liverpool have won their last seven league games and their last home defeat was against Southampton in September. Since then they have won 11, drawn one and scored 42 goals in the process. On that form Spurs' chances look slim. Tim Sherwood has got his players working hard, but that won't be enough against the Red machine.
Crystal Palace v Chelsea
Chelsea will be huge favourites against relegation-threatened Palace, but with a Champions League quarter final on the horizon will Jose Mourinho's side be fully focused? Sadly for Palace the answer is likely to be yes. The Blues slipped up against Villa a couple of weeks ago and the walls at Chelsea's training ground will still be scorched from the aftermath of that result. Mourinho does not do complacent and he comes into his own in the final weeks of the season as the pressure mounts. He also has a big enough squad to put out a side that can dismantle Palace even if he does rest some key players. Tony Pulis will have a plan and his team will give Chelsea a decent game, but their chances of getting any change out of the Blues look slim at best. Their best hope may come from the fact that Chelsea need goals and will have to attack, something that does not always fit Mourinho's game plan.
Fulham v Everton
This could be a big weekend for both teams, for different reasons. If Arsenal lose, the Toffees could establish themselves as unexpected favourites for a top four finish with victory over the Cottagers. It would also turn next week's clash with the Gunners into a huge clash. As for Fulham, another home defeat would surely end their hopes of Premier League survival. The momentum is definitely with Everton and with no new injury concerns they will be disappointed not to leave with the spoils.
Man United v Aston Villa
The weekend opens with a big game for David Moyes at Old Trafford, and one that he cannot afford to lose. But the United boss is in something of a cleft stick. Does he rest players for the Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich next week and risk an Old Trafford mutiny if the second string lose? Or does he play his best side in the hope of appeasing the fans and risk annihilation against the Germans next week? In reality he has no choice: he must play the best team he has and they must beat Aston Villa. If that does not happen it will surely be farewell to the 'Chosen One' banner and open revolt in the stands. The pressure is on as the season reaches a climax, but perhaps not in the way Moyes would have expected.
The weekend's other matches:
Southampton v Newcastle
Stoke v Hull
Swansea v Norwich
West Brom v Cardiff
Sunderland v West Ham