The top two duke it out, while Arsenal go to the seaside…
No-one will be panicking at Arsenal just because they have gone four without a win, dropping from top to fourth spot in the last couple of weeks. But that’s the trouble with Arsenal.
It’s this quality of not panicking that has probably allowed them to sneak into the Champions League so many times on the final day of the season, just as the shutters are coming down. But it could also be the same lack of impetus that has stopped them actually winning the thing, this last decade or so.
They will face Man United and Leicester this month, either side of a potentially derailing encounter with Barcelona (shudder!). You suspect an ounce or two of panic wouldn’t do them any harm.
Of course, Leicester could be away and clear by then…
12.45pm Man City v Leicester
This is the game where we see whether Leicester have got the cojones to actually win the title. A win would take them sic points clear at the top and convince everyone – inside and out of the club – they are the real deal. Man City are shifting gears – they are five from six at home – and will turned on by the chance to leapfrog their fellow pretenders. Martin Demichelis will already be having nightmares about Jamie Vardy though.
Score Prediction: Don’t miss a second. 2-2
MVP: Home status tips it to Sergio Aguero.
3pm Aston Villa v Norwich
If I could back both these teams to lose, I would. Villa’s pulse has flickered recently, but their (slight) improvement could be put down to playing with the freedom of knowing their cause is lost. Norwich’s case is looking increasingly terminal. Four straight defeats, with 11 conceded has them skating on the thin ice just above the relegation zone. Once they dip in to that icy water, there’ll be no coming out.
Score Prediction: A horrible, nervy 1-1
MVP: This is a job for Wes Hoolahan.
3pm Liverpool v Sunderland
Sunderland will smell blood here. They left the pitch gutted to be edged out by the odd goal to Man City. Big Sam chucked all the January signings into the mix and it seemed to work. Liverpool could’ve done with adding a new trio or two. They’ve already tucked ten matches under their 2016 belts, with a clear First Team and Reserves scenario emerging. Neither have managed a goal since hitting five at Norwich though.
Score Prediction: That smile is redrusing every week. 1-1
MVP: Lamine Kone might be the most important, but how many managers have bought him for the run-in!? So let’s go Jermain Defoe.
3pm Newcastle v West Brom
There’s always goals in this fixture. Both teams have scored in the last seven meetings, knocking up 26 between them. Newcastle will be looking to summon the spirit that beat West Ham and drew with Man United in their last two at home. West Brom will be looking for more of their form v Bottom Four teams so far – they have won four of their five matches. All 1-0.
Score Prediction: Fourth draw in a row for The Baggies. 1-1
MVP: Saido Berahino might want to show home fans what they are missing.
3pm Stoke v Everton
A bad couple of weeks for Stoke. Dumped out of two cup competitions and a twice hit for three by resurgent Leicester and Man United teams. Injured Ryan Shawcross becomes a better player with every match he misses. Just one goal in five too. Everton have only beaten Newcastle (twice) in their last 11 and love a draw on the road.
Score Prediction: Four of Everton’s last five have been level. Stoke will take it. 1-1
MVP: Ross Barkley is fast outgrowing the current Everton team.
3pm Swansea v Crystal Palace
At one time the story of the season, Palace have hit a skiddy patch. Five PL defeats in the spin has made Emmanuel Adebayor look worth a punt. Still, they have got this far without a decent striker, another 14 matches won’t hurt. Swansea are on the up. Seven points from three matches has lifted them out of the drop zone and whoever is actually in charge, they seem to be playing again.
Score Prediction: No longer ugly ducklings. 2-1
MVP: Gylfi Sigurdsson was always too good to go down.
3pm Tottenham v Watford
Watford’s draw with Chelsea demonstrated that they are still a force to be reckoned with, after a little winter wobble. They are still punching their weight. Unfortunately, Tottenham have bulked up from long-time cruiserweight into the top division this season. Five straight wins (all comps) including the last four on the road has taken them past Arsenal to sit on the shoulder of the Top Two in the PL. They couldn’t could they?
Score Prediction: Banker home win. 2-0
MVP: Harry Kane doesn’t get dizzy at half-time.
5.30pm Southampton v West Ham
Southampton’s ten-match blip is well and truly over. Four unbeaten without a goal conceded has them looking back up the table, to the edge of the European places where they belong. But West Ham have knocked bigger teams off bigger perches this season. Their minds might well be drifting to Tuesday night’s FA Cup replay, but they are capable of getting something here.
Score Prediction: But no more than a draw. 1-1
MVP: Sadio Mane has stopped sulking about not going Man United.
1.30pm Bournemouth v Arsenal
Arsenal face a monster five-match, three competition month – with Leicester and Man United to come in the PL, plus FA Cup and Champions League business to attend to. No wins in four and no goals in three is not ideal preparation. Nor is a trip to Bournemouth right now. Only the Top Two can boast better form over the last ten matches than the Cherries.
Score Prediction: Tough gig for Arsenal. 2-2
MVP: Bekin Afobe bears no grudges against the team that released him. Yeah, right.
4pm Chelsea v Man United
Five wins in seven matches (all comps) will have LVG sleeping a little easier these days – at least he doesn’t have to worry about Pep Guardiola nicking his job now. The most recent two three-goal wins v Derby and Stoke might even have them thinking they can win here. You might think Chelsea are a tougher nut to crack, but you’d be wrong. No defeats post-Jose, but they’ve shipped ten in their last four at home.
Score Prediction: United on the up. 2-2
MVP: Anthony Martial might prove value for money, yet.
That’s how it looks from here…
Until next time.
Matt Nesbitt’s short, unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much longer, more successful but immeasurably more rubbish one writing about football and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt