EPL fixtures at a glance: Can high flying Villa dent Gunners title hopes?

THE traditionally congested festive fixture list is what makes the English Premier League (EPL) one of the toughest competitions in the world. With teams seemingly playing almost every other day, it makes for compelling viewing as each side juggles fatigue, injuries and severe weather to try to pick up as many points as possible.

Let the winter action commence.

Crystal Palace v Liverpool (Sat, 8.30pm)

Palace supporters were sufficiently unimpressed by the midweek defeat to Bournemouth to jeer their side at the end. Palace supporters are among the noisiest, most loyal and intense supporters in the UK as polls repeatedly put Selhurst Park at the top for atmosphere.

Roy Hodgson will need his team to start showing a bit more bottle if they want to get their fans back onside. Their long injury list is certainly having a massive impact but there is a sense that the Eagles are sleepwalking through the fixtures, hence the irritation of their hardcore fan base. A win against second-placed Liverpool will go a long way towards assuaging that dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp is again left to rue yet another lunchtime kickoff.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Burnley (Sat, 11pm)

Fresh from registering their first home win of the season, Burnley lost 1-0 to Wolves in midweek. Vincent Kompany benefits from the fact that he retains the support of the board and is under no threat of losing his job even if Burnley gets relegated.

This allows him to stick to his footballing principles and insist his team play a certain brand of football, which may in the long run produce the required results rather than the usual knee-jerk reaction of sacking the manager and trying to start afresh. Brighton are facing a mini-injury crisis but seemingly have an inexhaustible supply of young gems waiting in the wings.

The latest being 18-year-old Jack Hinshelwood who scored the winner against Brentford in midweek and will surely be given the chance to prove his worth at home against a side at the wrong end of the table.

Manchester United v Bournemouth (Sat, 11pm)

The home side recently banned certain media outlets from attending press conferences due to unsubstantiated reports of player unrest. There is usually no smoke without fire but the convincing midweek win against Chelsea will have doused that for now. Erik Ten Haag will be hoping his side will display the same fluidity against the Cherries as a win will take them level on points with their blue neighbours (who play Luton on Sunday).

That alone should be motivation enough for his players to show that despite a rocky start to the season, they are still in the upper echelons of the table. In Alejandor Ganacho, Erik Ten Haag has a young superstar in the making, ready to step up and fill the shoes of out-of-favour Jordan Sancho and a misfiring Marcus Rashford.

Sheffield United v Brentford (Sat, 11pm)

Sheffield United were humbled 5-0 in last week’s relegation six-pointer against Burnley. The board responded by giving Paul Heckingbottom the axe and reinstalling former gaffer Chris Wilder. Hugely popular with Blades supporters, Wilder will have his work cut out for him as the side currently props up the division and are odds-on favourites for the drop.

If former player Wilder can get his misfiring side to actually get something, even a point, from this game it will represent a massive step forward. Nevermind that the Bees are facing an injury crisis of sorts but Sheffield United have been in such woeful form that they are expected to lose almost everyone at the moment.

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Nottingham Forest (Sat, 11pm)

Forest manager Steve Cooper is feeling the heat as his side starts sliding down the table. The 5-0 mauling at Craven Cottage in midweek will have ramped up the temperature as Forest were spineless against Fulham. Too many Forest players seem to be taking Premiership status for granted and they need to know that no team ‘is too good to go down’ as evidenced by Leicester last season.

The Wolves will be hoping to eradicate their yo-yo form by following up their midweek victory against Burnley with another three points. They will definitely feel confident against a struggling Forest side, especially on home turf and aim for a top-ten finish. It is definitely a realistic target given they are only a point adrift of Chelsea in tenth.

Aston Villa v Arsenal (Sun, 1.30am)

Unai Emery (Photo credit: The Independent)


Despite beating the reigning champions in midweek, Unai Emery refuses to be drawn into any sort of title talk. That Villa are now third and have won their last 14 games on home soil is testament to the incredible job the Spaniard has done since taking over from Steven Gerrard.

This game is definitely the one to watch out for this weekend as Arsenal seek to strengthen their title credentials. Mikale Arteta’s side has shown greater mental fortitude in being able to go the distance with some last-minute winners, best exemplified by the 4-3 win over Luton in midweek.

Declan Rice is also showing why the Gunners broke the British transfer record to secure his services, beating Manchester City to his signature. Could he help Arsenal beat City to the title?

Everton v Chelsea (Sun, 10pm)

Mauricio Pochettino needs time. That much is obvious as Chelsea were comprehensively outplayed by Manchester United at Old Trafford in midweek. The incredibly bloated squad is proving difficult to hammer into the shape that he wants. Getting players on long contracts and huge wages to do the hard work may be easier said than done.

Everton, meanwhile, seething from the ten-point penalty handed out for financial wrongdoings took out their frustrations on a high-flying Newcastle with a thumping 3-0 win in midweek.

As a result, Sean Dyche’s men are out of the drop zone and they will want to continue their upward trajectory by piling more misery on the hapless London side whose lowly tenth position table belie their expensively assembled squad.

Fulham v West Ham United (Sun, 10pm)

A feisty London derby is in store with both teams coming off impressive midweek results. The home side will be buoyed by the thrashing handed out to an abject Nottingham Forest. The five they put past Steve Cooper’s men show an increasing understanding between Fulham’s forwards, with veteran Brazilian forward Willian adding panache to the guile of Raul Jimenez and the speed of Alex Iwobi.

West Ham United are also fresh off a victory in another London derby in midweek when they dispatched Spurs 2-1. Fulham are looking to emulate the Hammers’ successful forays in Europe by stringing together enough wins to secure at least a place in next season’s Conference Cup.

Luton Town v Manchester City (Sun, 10pm)

Whisper it, but are Manchester City facing a crisis? Winless in four, the reigning champions are facing a bit of a stutter and displaying a vulnerability not normally associated with Pep Guardiola’s team. The glaring stat is that every one of their defeats this campaign has come when midfield lynchpin Rodri has been unavailable. He is the defensive shield and chief recycler that initiates City’s devastating attacks.

The treble winners are also struggling to fill a Ilkay Gundogan-sized hole in the side. Luton may be wary of facing a wounded City and could be in for a thrashing. A drubbing would further sap morale as the Hatters try to avoid a swift return to the championship.

Tottenham Hotspurs v Newcastle United (Mon, 12.30am)

Both sides slipped to damaging defeats in midweek. Spurs lost a London derby to West Ham after leading and dominating large swathes of the proceedings. Newcastle, missing key players through injury and stretched by Champion’s League commitments, were comprehensively trounced by a resurgent Everton 3-0.

The games come thick and fast offering each the chance to quickly get those defeats out of their systems but little recovery time for those nursing knocks. Spurs who led the table not too long ago are now in danger of slipping out of the European places that they so desperately crave.

Similarly, Newcastle will not want their return to Europe’s elite to be a flash in the pan. – Dec 9, 2023


Main photo credit: goal.com

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