Arsenal's German midfielder Mesut Ozil (C) battles with Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Willian (R) and Chelsea's French midfielder N'Golo Kante (L) during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Chelsea at The Emirates stadium in London, on September 24, 2016. PHOTO: Ian Kington / IKIMAGES / AFP
The biggest and fiercest London derby in the EPL takes place today at Stamford Bridge and the outcome will have huge ramifications on the title race. Chelsea will host Arsenal in this match-week’s first game with the aim of beating their city rivals and extending their lead over them. In the last round of games, Manchester City were the only team in the top half of the table to win their game and thus gained some hitherto lost ground on their rivals at the top.
Swansea got their second win on the bounce, while Burnley continued their impressive home form with their fifth consecutive home win in the league and Watford produced the shock of the round by snapping out of their seven game winless run with an impressive win over Arsenal at the Emirates. We hope this weekend will produce more excitements and talking points.
Any match between Chelsea and Arsenal will always draw the attention of the football world and today’s game will not be any different. The Blues are sitting pretty at the top of the table, nine points ahead of their third placed city rivals, with fifteen matches left to play in the league. If they beat Arsenal today, then the Gunners’ title ambition might just be all over. Chelsea drew with Liverpool during the week, while the Gunners lost at home to Watford that same night. The Blues will go into this game buoyed by the knowledge that they have won their last four home ties against Arsenal, while the Gunners will believe that the 3-0 drubbing they handed Chelsea the last time they met will give them a mental edge going into this game. David Luiz has been playing with a knee injury picked up earlier in the season but Antonio Conte cannot risk taking him out of the team just yet and especially not against Arsenal. The Italian has his team set in stone except for one position which will be fought for by Willian and Pedro. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should start at the base of Arsenal’s midfield with the loss of Aaron Ramsey in their last match and the absence of Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla. Arsenal will need to play three at the front and try to isolate Chelsea’s centre backs as the pace and trickery of the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Iwobi might open up spaces that their full backs can capitalize on. Chelsea will be patient and wait to exploit and capitalize on any mistake from the Gunners in this game. Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi will face each other and the Nigerian support will be divided across club lines.
Six games will kickoff at 4pm today and the first one I will be previewing will be the game between Watford and Burnley at Vicarage Road. The Hornets got a surprise away win over Arsenal in the last round and will want to consolidate on that result with another win when the Clarets come visiting today. Burnley have lost on all but once on their travels this season and only the heroics of Tom Heaton against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which earned them a point, ensured that they haven’t lost all their away games this season. Watford’s new signing Mauro Zarate will be free to make his debut after serving his suspension, while Jose Holebas is also back and available for selection. For Burnley, club record signing, Robbie Brady could make his debut today alongside fellow deadline day signing Ashley Westwood. Odion Ighalo has left Watford, but another Nigerian in the person of Isaac Success is still in the team and we hope he gradually fights his way into the starting lineup and start banging in the goals for the Hornets.
Bottom placed Sunderland will travel to the capital to face Crystal Palace in a relegation six pointer. The Black Cats were able to hold a high flying Tottenham side to a goalless draw in their last match, while Crystal Palace defeated Bournemouth away from home. Sam Allardyce will be coming up against the side he helped escape relegation last season with the intention of helping his new side beat the drop this season to maintain his record of never being relegated from the Premiership. David Moyes will have his deadline day signings Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo available after they were not cleared on time to feature against Tottenham in midweek, but the Scot might stick with the team that battled to a goalless draw against Tottenham, which would mean sticking with the 3-5-2 formation he used in that game. Victor Anichebe will not be a part of today’s game as the big Nigerian is currently sidelined with injury.
Liverpool will be hoping that February favours them better than the previous month as they were unable to win a league game in January and are yet to win a league game this year. They will be desperately looking for a victory when they face Hull City today at the KCOM Stadium. The Reds avoided losing their fourth consecutive game at Anfield in midweek when they were able to force the league leaders Chelsea to a draw, while Hull City travelled to Old Trafford and came back with a point after holding Manchester United to a goalless draw. The Tigers need to start winning if they hope to avoid relegation this season and a win over Liverpool will be great for them as it will give them four points from two games against Liverpool and Manchester United and a boost for their next game which will be against Arsenal.
The remaining 4pm fixtures will see Everton host Bournemouth at Goodison Park, while West Ham will hope to banish the memories of Manchester City when they travel St Mary’s to face Southampton and West Brom will host Stoke at the Hawthorns. Today’s final game will take place at the capital when Tottenham host Middlesbrough at White Hart Lane. Spurs have drawn two consecutive league games and won’t want to make it three against Boro, so expect them to come out firing from the first whistle. Boro are winless in six games and it will take a herculean task to buck that trend this weekend. Spurs won the reverse fixture this season and will want to complete the double over Boro. Hugo Lloris should be back in goal after missing the game against Sunderland with illness.
Manchester City will host an in-form Swansea at the Etihad in tomorrow’s first game with the aim of stopping the Welsh team’s momentum. They hammered the Hammers 4-0 in their last league match and will want to do the same to Swansea tomorrow. Pep Guardiola has a full squad to pick from other than long-term absentee Ilkay Gundogan. Willy Caballero should retain his spot between the sticks this weekend after he was picked ahead of Bravo in midweek, while Vincent Kompany might be part of the team if he’s certified fit.
The final game of the weekend will take place tomorrow when champions Leicester City welcome Manchester United at the Kingpower stadium. Claudio Ranieri’s men are on a three game losing streak and the visit of Manchester United is not exactly what they need right now. The defending champions are flirting with relegation and will be desperate to get their season back on track. The last time a big team from Manchester visited the King Power stadium, the Foxes produced their best game of the season yet and defeated Man City 4-2, a repeat performance will do them a whole lot of good tomorrow.
Islam Slimani is still nursing a groin injury he returned with from the AFCON, while Leonardo Ulloa is still carrying a thigh injury and may also not feature. Manchester United remain unbeaten in the Premier League since October although they could lose that record tomorrow if they continue to fluff their lines in front of goal. The Red Devils haven’t lost any of their last five games against the Foxes and they would like to maintain that streak tomorrow. Phil Jones came off in the second half against Hull on Wednesday as a precaution and is expected to recover in time for Sunday’s trip to Leicester, while Eric Bailly might make his first appearance of the year.
Two things will definitely not change at the end of this round of fixtures, Chelsea will still be on top and Manchester United will remain sixth. For these constants to change we will have to wait a little longer and expect some very interesting results in the nearest future.