Game of the weekend
Neither Arsenal nor Chelsea have been playing particularly well in recent weeks, but the latter’s ability to continue picking up points means they have stolen a march on their London rivals in the race for the Champions League places. Manchester United have now drawn level with Arsenal too, so it is not an exaggeration to say that defeat at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday could spell the end of their top-four hopes.
The Gunners, indeed, will fall nine points behind Chelsea if they lose this one, although they will draw inspiration from excellent home displays against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season. Unai Emery’s men played with great aggression and intensity in those two matches, and a similar type of performance could rattle a Chelsea side who have not looked entirely convincing despite collecting 10 points from the last 12 available.
All eyes on
The second London derby of the weekend pits Fulham against Tottenham on Sunday afternoon. Games against the big six are not typically the type which define a promoted team’s season, but the Cottagers are in desperate need of points after losing last weekend’s crunch clash with Burnley.
Luck was not on the side of Claudio Ranieri’s men last time out, with their opponents emerging victorious despite not having a single shot on target. Fulham have tightened up defensively since the appointment of Ranieri, but they are still conceding too many goals and the attack has also been stuttering of late – the west Londoners may have scored in each of their last four outings, but an overall rate of six goals in nine matches does not look so positive.
Upcoming meetings with Brighton and Hove Albion and Crystal Palace are more important than this one, but a surprise draw or win against Tottenham would do Fulham a world of good.
Man in form
David de Gea’s superb showing between the sticks meant he was Manchester United’s principal match-winner against Spurs last weekend, but it was Marcus Rashford who scored the only goal of the game at Wembley. It was a fine finish from the youngster, who collected Paul Pogba’s pass shortly before half-time and rifled a shot into the far corner.
Rashford is thriving as a centre-forward in United’s revamped attack, having scored four goals in his last six outings. The England international has caused problems for defences with his pace, trickery and movement, while his ability to pull out wide and go past opponents in one-versus-one situations has helped make United’s forward line much less predictable. Rashford will fancy his chances of adding to his tally against Brighton this weekend.
One to watch
Christian Benteke returned to action in Crystal Palace’s 2-1 defeat by Watford last Saturday, entering the fray as a 78th-minute substitute. It was yet another encounter in which the Eagles’ profligacy in front of goal cost them, with Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur both missing gilt-edged opportunities before two Watford efforts turned the game on its head.
Benteke has not exactly been prolific in the last 18 months, but he at least offers Palace more of a focal point at the top of the pitch than Jordan Ayew. The Belgian will be itching to start against former club Liverpool this weekend.
Manager under pressure
Newcastle United had some positive spells against Chelsea last weekend, but they did not do enough to avoid a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge. With Burnley and Southampton both in good form, that reverse in west London leaves the Magpies in the bottom three after 22 matches.
Rafael Benitez is a terrific manager and will not be sacked any time soon, while Newcastle fans are understandably directing their ire at owner Mike Ashley rather than the manager. Nevertheless, Benitez will be feeling the pressure if his side fail to beat Cardiff City at home on Saturday.
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