Arsenal need Ramsey magic to beat Everton in fight for fourth
The title race is fascinating, but so is the battle for the final Champions League spot
THIS season's title race is one of the most exciting for years, but the crunch fixture this weekend involves the teams in fourth and fifth.
While Man City and Chelsea have home games on Saturday, and Liverpool visit lowly West Ham on Sunday afternoon, the main attraction takes place on Sunday lunchtime, when Arsenal and Everton face off in what can be seen as, effectively, a Champions League play-off.
Not too long ago the Gunners were involved in the title race, but a string of bad results, including a 6-0 mauling by Chelsea have cut them adrift from the leading pack and now in-form Everton have designs on their place in the top four.
While the top three should all win this weekend, the result of the game at Goodison Park could have huge ramifications.
Here's the best of the weekend's action:
Everton v Arsenal Arsenal, title challengers until a few weeks ago, have never failed to qualify for the Champions League under Arsene Wenger, but that record is now in danger and Everton are the team who could take their place. A win for the Toffees at Goodison Park would put them one point behind the Gunners with a game to spare. Form also favours the visitors, who have won five in a row while Arsenal have just two points from their last three league games. But the Gunners do have a secret weapon, with Aaron Ramsey returning to the squad for this match after three months out with a thigh problem. Arsene Wenger will be praying that the Welshman, who inspired Arsenal to great things early in the season, can provide the spark that his side have been missing. Also in the Gunners favour is that a draw will leave their fate in their own hands, as Everton are four points behind them. Everton will go hell-for-leather but Arsenal should be able to hold out for a point.
Man City v Southampton
The first game of the weekend gives Man City the chance to put the wind up title rivals Liverpool, as a win would propel Manuel Pellegrini's side into second place in the table, one point behind the Reds and with a game in hand. The game against Southampton will not be straightforward as the Saints are enjoying a stellar season, and they thrashed Newcastle 4-0 last weekend. But against top four teams this season, Mauricio Pochettino's side have one win, two draws and four defeats in seven games. Another defeat looks on the cards here, Man City's home record is formidible, with defeat to Chelsea the only blot in the copybook. Manuel Pellegrini could also welcome back striker Sergio Aguero. A home win looks inevitable.
Chelsea v Stoke The evening kick-off on Saturday sees Chelsea take on Stoke at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho's first season back in charge at Stamford Bridge is in danger of finishing trophyless, after defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League quarter final and back-to-back away defeats in the Premier League. However, despite Mourinho's mutterings about having no strikers, a win against Stoke would put Chelsea top of the table, for one night at least. Chelsea will be favourites to beat Stoke, now managed by former Stamford Bridge favourite Mark Hughes, but it will be interesting to see who plays up front for the Blues. Mourinho has run out of patience with Fernando Torres, obviously thinks very little of Demba Ba and has a love/hate relationship with Samuel Eto'o. Orthodoxy states that he has to pick one of them... but the Special One is nothing if not unorthodox.
West Ham v Liverpool This game will be all about Liverpool strikers old and new. Would the Reds be challenging for the title if Brendan Rodgers had kept faith in Andy Carroll? It seems unlikely, given that the man brought in to replace the big centre forward, Daniel Sturridge, has been such a key figure this season. Sturridge and his strike partner Luis Suarez are the most fearsome partnership in the top flight with 49 goals between them this campaign. With Raheem Sterling coming into his own behind them it's not so much the SAS as the SASAS that is terrorising defences. West Ham on the other hand have found goals hard to come by this term, and they have only managed 36 of them all season. Carroll, who joined the Hammers from Liverpool last summer after a season on loan at Upton Park, will have a point to prove. But he is unlikely to make it, and Liverpool should leave east London with all three points and return to the top of the table.
Newcastle v Man Utd It has been a dismal season for Man United, but you can prove anything with statistics, so here goes: on Tuesday night David Moyes's side held the best team in Europe to a draw and they also have the best away record in the Premier League. With those two points in mind a visit to St James' Park does not appear quite so daunting as it might do. Also in United's favour is the fact that Newcastle are in abysmal form, and were walloped 4-0 by Southampton last week. The absence of Alan Pardew from the dugout, thanks to his seven-game ban for headbutting a Hull player, is not helping, although at least he will allowed into the stadium for this one. The Magpies are also in the grip of a dire injury crisis with Loic Remy, Tim Krul, Moussa Sissoko and Mathieu Debuchy all missing. A win for Man United here and people might start to think that Moyes has turned a corner.
The weekend's other games:
Aston Villa v Fulham
Cardiff v Crystal Palace
Hull v Swansea
Norwich v West Brom
Tottenham v Sunderland