Premier League talking points: The race for the title, European qualification and top-flight survival heats up
The race for the crown: Will Man City catch Arsenal?
With an eight-point lead, Arsenal are in a fantastic position as the Premier League title run-in enters the final straight.
By the time they kick-off at home to Leeds on Saturday afternoon, it could be even better, with Man City returning from the international break to face Liverpool in the lunchtime kick-off. It is a brutal fixture for City to get back under way with.
Indeed, Jurgen Klopp’s side could be billed as kingmakers one way or the other, with Arsenal going to Anfield next Sunday. But April 26 is the date both Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola will have circled in their diaries. The day the top two meet at the Etihad.
Man City’s win at the Emirates in February seemed to have swung momentum in the defending champions’ favour but a subsequent slip-up at Nottingham Forest and an impressively perfect response from Arsenal in the Premier League gives the Gunners a healthy cushion with just 10 games remaining on their schedule – one more than City.
A first title since 2003/04 is on the cards – but nothing in the Premier League can be taken for granted. Just ask those City fans who went to Nottingham Forest expecting their side to kick on from the seemingly decisive win at Arsenal.
One thing we can be sure of is that Man City will push Arsenal all the way to the final whistle on May 28 and throw everything at their head-to-head next month. For an Arsenal side which wilted at crunch time last season, their resilience is going to be tested. It is going to be an absorbing, intriguing finale…
Don’t call it a comeback! Chelsea must back-up wins
After seemingly being on the brink of losing the Chelsea job after less than six months in charge, Graham Potter relieved the pressure by leading his side to some timely results before the international break.
It felt like the Blues had turned a corner, particularly when you consider they won as many Premier League games in their last three matches (two) as they had in their previous 15. But is the revival real?
Saturday 1st April 5:00pm
Kick off 5:30pm
As well as improving their points tally, Chelsea’s wins over Leeds and Leicester and draw with Everton this month have seen them score more consistently and record a higher expected goals totals per game compared with their previous performances after the the World Cup.
However, that improved attacking output has seemingly come at the cost of defensive solidity, with Potter’s side now conceding more goals per game and seeing their expected goals conceded total shoot upwards.
Observers should also be wary of throwing too many flowers at Chelsea’s feet for taking seven points from the last nine on offer, given the average league position – going into this weekend – of the opponents they faced during that run was 15th.
In short, the wins over Leeds and Leicester – plus the Champions League victory over Borussia Dortmund – came at a vital time for Potter, but he and his players now need to back up those results against better opponents, starting against Aston Villa on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
A gripping relegation battle heats up
Four points. That is all that separates Crystal Palace in 12th and Southampton in 20th. It is shaping up to be the greatest relegation battle in Premier League history and this weekend could be pivotal.
Crystal Palace will hope the return of former boss Roy Hodgson can inspire them to their first victory of 2023 when they host Leicester, who have slipped to 17th and are just one point above the drop zone following a poor run of results.
Thirteenth-placed Wolves – below Palace on goal difference – enjoyed a post-World Cup lift under Julen Lopetegui but have suffered back-to-back losses and another away at Nottingham Forest would see them leapfrogged by their opponents in the table.
With Leeds travelling to leaders Arsenal on Saturday and Everton hosting top-four contenders Tottenham on Monday Night Football, wins for both north London sides would be a welcome boost for the other seven teams looking to escape or move away from the bottom three.
Bournemouth will be hoping to replicate their 1-0 win over Liverpool in their last home game. The Cherries are 19th but just one point behind Leicester ahead of ninth-placed Fulham’s visit to the Vitality Stadium.
Sunday 2nd April 1:00pm
Kick off 2:00pm
Occupying the other two relegation spots are 18th-placed West Ham and rock-bottom Southampton, who go head-to-head in a mammoth battle at the London Stadium on Super Sunday.
As the season enters its final stretch, who will build the confidence and momentum they need to survive? For any of the nine clubs fighting to preserve their Premier League status, a win this weekend could begin their march towards safety.
Unexpected contenders vying for Europe
When the manager-of-the-season prize is discussed, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta will be most people’s pick. There is a strong case for Erik ten Hag’s work at Manchester United to be recognised too. But in Newcastle’s Eddie Howe, Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi and Brentford’s Thomas Frank there are three more head coaches far exceeding expectations for this season.
Howe was 90 minutes away from landing Newcastle a first major piece of silverware since 1955 in the Carabao Cup final. But victory over their Wembley conquerors Manchester United on Sunday would take the Magpies above Ten Hag’s side and into third place in the Premier League – and into a fantastic position to go on and grab Champions League qualification.
The Newcastle takeover has transformed ambitions at the club but Howe has the team well ahead of schedule this term.
Sunday 2nd April 4:00pm
Kick off 4:30pm
The dream of Europe, incredibly, is alive for Brighton and Brentford too. With the top seven in the Premier League likely to qualify for European football next season, that fanciful dream could be a reality for the supporters of those fantastically-coached clubs punching above their weight.
Their meeting on the south coast on Saturday is a fascinating one and a clash of styles. In the bigger picture, Brighton hold the advantage with two games in hand but Brentford – level on points – could strike an important blow this weekend.
Will Everton and Spurs overcome off-field issues to achieve on-field aims?
It has been a turbulent international break for Everton and Tottenham without a ball even being kicked.
Everton have been referred to an independent commission by the Premier League for an alleged breach of its profitability and sustainability rules. They could be fined or deducted points if they are found guilty.
In the immediate term, this does not impact Everton’s squad and Sean Dyche insists they are focused on winning the points they need to avoid Premier League relegation.
Monday 3rd April 7:00pm
Kick off 8:00pm
But it could impact them hugely in the future. It will do little to endear an already disillusioned fanbase with the Everton hierarchy. While protests have been an ongoing occurence, this is another black mark and moment of uncertainty that will only further fuel the fire.
Tottenham’s players, however, have returned from the international break to find their club transformed. Antonio Conte is out, Cristian Stellini is in the hotseat with another former caretaker manager in Ryan Mason as his assistant.
Conte departed following his post-match rant after the 3-3 draw at Southampton, making his position untenable. It took almost two weeks for the Italian to be given his marching orders, leaving Stellini to help secure Champions League football for Spurs next season.
As if that was not enough, Tottenham managing director of football Fabio Paratici had his FIFA ban on worldwide football activities extended earlier this week. It adds further uncertainty to Spurs’ transfer plans, as well as their search for a new manager – two key components of the Italian’s role at the club.
Neither side are in their most stable moment, but there is a job to do on the pitch and goals to achieve. When the pair meet on Monday Night Football, they will hoping it is the on-field football – not off-field dramatics – that dominate the headlines.