Biggest month of the season… check. Biggest derby in years… check. Goal keeper injured… Cech.
The sight of Petr Cech charging up the field to save the day v Swansea, only to limp back moments later clutching his hamstring is as poignant and telling a sixty seconds as Arsenal will experience all season.
Cech – Arsenal’s only player with a PL winner’s medal and the one signing Wenger deemed necessary to make the ‘make the difference’ – will now miss the FA Cup 5th round replay with Hull, the Champions League second leg with Barcelona and the PL six-pointer with North London rivals Tottenham.
12.45pm Tottenham v Arsenal
It was already the most eagerly anticipated North London derby in a dog’s life, even before they both lost midweek. Spurs’ defeat is less damaging than Arsenal’s though – West Ham away is no gimme (and Arsenal have it come). The Gunners have got to get a result here, even if it is to stop their increasingly noisy neighbours getting away. They normally respond when their backs are against the wall.
Score Prediction: A draw will do for Arsenal. And suit Tottenham. 1-1
MVP: Dele Alli was held back in the week for this.
3pm Chelsea v Stoke
Chelsea reached the giddy heights of 8th (albeit briefly) midweek, but it will have put the scent of European qualification in their nostrils. There is not much to fear immediately above the PL form team, but for the first time Guus Hiddink has been shuffling his pack – perhaps with the FA Cup and CL games coming up. Stoke (currently 7th) might also be looking upwards after three wins on the bounce.
Score Prediction: Not ideal prep for PSG. 1-1
MVP: Cesc Fabgregas might only get an hour, but is a man in form.
3pm Everton v West Ham
Everton have posted five wins in six (all comps) but I’m not convinced by the scalps of Carlisle, Newcastle, an out of sorts Stoke, an understrength Bournemouth and condemned Villa. Such flattery to deceive won’t cut any ice with West Ham, fresh from beating high flying Spurs and with Man United in their sights – in the PL Top Five and the FA Cup.
Score Prediction: Stop. It’s Hammers time. 1-2
MVP: London player of the year (at least) Dmitri Payet.
3pm Man City v Aston Villa
City chucked the towel in on the FA Cup, but surely they won’t do the same in the PL will they? They are 10pts off the top (7pts if they win their game in hand) but they have five of the Bottom Six still to play anyone if any team has the tools to string together a run of four, five, six wins it is City. After signs of fight, Villa are starting to list badly. City, then Tottenham will only hasten the inevitable sinking.
Score Prediction: Should be 4, 5, 6-0. But knowing City I’ll go 2-0
MVP: Segio Aguero is due one. Or three.
3pm Newcastle v Bournemouth
On the face of it, this is a chance for 2nd bottom Newcastle to reel in 6th bottom Bournemouth. But the Bottom Four already look like they are scrapping for one survival spot. Bournemouth’s away form is tidy too - W3 D4 L1. Newcastle have taken 7pts from their last three at home and need to maintain that form. They go to Leicester next, then host Sunderland. And we know what happens there.
Score Prediction: A stay of execution for Toon. 2-2
MVP: It’s now or never Aleksanar Mitrovic.
3pm Southampton v Sunderland
After looking impenetrable for six matches (W5 D1) the Saints have wobbled in their last two, giving away a lead at home to Chelsea and very much second best midweek to south coast rivals Bournemouth. Sunderland are digging in and picking up points (six from six) but have managed just a single point from ten away matches v teams above 14th. There are easier tasks ahead but they could do with getting something.
Score Prediction: Fancy a scrappy point for Sunderland. 1-1
MVP: Fabio Borini will be pushing for a start, but I’ll stick with Jermaine Defoe.
3pm Swansea v Norwich
Like Newcastle v Bournemouth, could be seen as a six-pointer but the reality is a win for Swansea could well seal Norwich’s fate. Well, in truth, Norwich have sealed their own fate by winning just a single point from their last eight matches, but you know what I mean. Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin remains in hospital with a chest infection but it didn’t seem to affect the team at Arsenal. Get comfy Francesco.
Score Prediction: No mistakes. 3-1
MVP: Gylfi Gigurdsson changed the game on Wednesday.
3pm Watford v Leicester
It’s nitty gritty time for Leicester. In their last three they have been robbed in the last minute at Arsenal, did much the same to Norwich, then battered West Brom but only got a draw. But it is all about points now. The rest of the Top Five have won here, but all had to scrap for it. Odion Ighalo’s goals have dried up a bit, which is costing Watford – they have failed to score in four of their last five. But that’s all that’s missing from their game.
Score Prediction: Leicester by a nose. 0-1
MVP: Jamie Vardy is due one.
1.30pm Crystal Palace v Liverpool
Palace are the only PL team that haven’t won a league game this year. 11 without a win has seen the Eagles swoop from the rarefied air of the Top Six to the smog of 14th. The problem scoring goals has been sorted, but replaced with conceding too many (17 in seven matches). Liverpool will test this is they stick with the two up front formation that gave Man City so many problems (too late) in the Capital One Cup final and at Anfield in midweek. But it’s not a happy hunting ground – seven defeats in the last 13 at Selhurst Park (W4 D2).
Score Prediction: All change at Liverpool. 1-2
4pm West Brom v Man United
It was all smiles at Old Trafford after the dour 1-0 win over Watford, courtesy of only their second shot on target. They were booing that sort of thing a few weeks ago. But since then the latest – and worst named – crop of pups, Louis’ Lads, have stepped in. And up. United’s side was their fourth youngest fielded in the PL era. They won’t win anything with these kids, but could yet sneak a CL place. West Brom will have a say (they face Arsenal next) and have one or two that might have a message for Marcus Rashford and Co. namely old boys Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher.
Score Prediction: A share of the spoils. 1-1
MVP: David De Gea is still their biggest asset. By a country mile.
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