Another week, another two rounds of the Premier League in the book!
The managers and players might not be so keen on the jam-packed festive period, but for punters, it really is Christmas!
In this week’s Premier League Pulse, we take a look at Arsenal and wonder when Mikel Arteta might finally start feeling the heat that so many of his top-tier equivalents face, as well as the solid body of work from Liverpool, which has provided a solid foundation for a title charge.
If I were an Arsenal fan, I’d find the comparative lack of scrutiny on yet another failing title challenge under Arteta a little bit condescending by this point.
A hapless festive fixture run saw Arteta’s side pick up just one point from their last three games. And whilst that point was certainly credible – they picked it up at Anfield against a team I consider as good as title favourites at this point of the season – that they followed it up with two shocking performances and results in two London derbies is unforgivable.
Or at least, it should be.
Losses against West Ham (home) and Fulham (away) in the space of a week spells disaster for Arsenal’s title tilt and if the results are one thing, then the performance – specifically against Fulham – is another.
Even Arteta was forced to concede that the 2-1 loss to Fulham came after what he described as Arsenal’s “worst performance of the season”.
I often think about the pressure Arteta would be under if he was in charge of Manchester City, Liverpool or even Manchester United and achieving a similar result.
There’s a feeling that Arsenal – once a genuine heavyweight in the Premier League – is now simply punching up, and close enough is good enough.
Arteta has undoubtedly made Arsenal a much-improved side from the one he took over. Last season’s second-placed finish deservedly bought the Pep Guardiola disciple plenty of brownie points.
It wasn’t quite as close-a-run thing as many would have you believe – Arsenal still missed out on top-spot by five points and finished the season without a trophy -however, the expectation going into this season had to be that they would build on that position.
With Arsenal five points off the league leaders, Liverpool, and having played a game more than Manchester City – who are also on 40 points at this stage of the season – the reality is that improving on second will be a big uphill task for Arsenal and Arteta.
The question, therefore has to be asked: is Arteta the right man to return Arsenal to the summit?
I have my doubts.
Arteta could look at Jurgen Klopp for inspiration – should he get the opportunity to try again with Arsenal next season.
Klopp, who, unlike Arteta, has taken his side to the promised land, was given his biggest test as Liverpool manager since his Premier League win in 2020 during the off-season, as he sought to plot a path from a miserly sixth-place finish back to the title race.
The German manager hasn’t just got Liverpool back in the race, he’s built the foundations for a solid title charge in the back half of the season.
If anything, he’ll be frustrated not to have built more than the five-point lead Liverpool enjoys over City, who have played a game less.
Consecutive home draws against a terrible Manchester United and an eager but outplayed Arsenal side cost Liverpool the opportunity to pull away from City and second-placed Aston Villa. Despite that, having lost just one game in the opening 20 fixtures represents a remarkable improvement for Liverpool from last season.
Their renewed defensive confidence – the 18 goals they have conceded is the fewest in the Premier League – coupled with the revived brilliance of talisman Mo Salah, who has helped inspire the club’s tally of 43 goals at the other end, the second highest in the competition, has Liverpool looking the part as title contenders.
It would be rude to completely dismiss the challenge of Aston Villa, who sit just three points behind Liverpool, however, Klopp’s smart acquisitions in the transfer market over the last two windows have rewarded him with added depth to get through this hectic festive fixture.
With Liverpool competing in the lesser Europa League and not the Champions League in the back half of the season, Klopp has assembled a squad that realistically could still go deep in their European competition whilst allowing for ample rotation to ensure his strongest squads are available in the Premier League.
The juggernaut of Manchester City can never be discounted – even if they are competing on every front – but Liverpool deserve credit for bouncing back from a terrible year and putting in place a strong base for a title tilt this season.
Chelsea v Fulham
Chelsea’s unpredictable season continues, marked by sporadic wins and losses. Fulham, on the other hand, capitalised on Arsenal’s shortcomings to secure a memorable victory. As Fulham aims to replicate their recent success, Chelsea looks to regain their once-consistent form. This London derby could swing either way, with Fulham’s rising confidence potentially posing a significant challenge to Chelsea’s quest for stability.
Newcastle v Manchester City
Newcastle, in a slump, faces a rejuvenated Manchester City, who have regained their stride after earlier inconsistencies. City’s recent title as World Club champions and their undefeated streak in the last five matches, including three wins, underpin their favouritism. Newcastle, with only one win in their last six Premier League outings, faces a daunting task against City’s formidable form.
Everton v Aston Villa
Everton and Aston Villa clash at different ends of the table in a fascinating fixture. Everton’s initial resurgence has faded, marked by three consecutive losses. Contrastingly, Villa continues their unexpected title challenge with a robust recent record. Villa’s versatile attacking threat makes them favourites in a potential goal-heavy match.
Manchester United v Tottenham
Manchester United’s inconsistency, accentuated by a recent shock defeat to Nottingham Forest, contrasts starkly with Tottenham’s resilience despite a spate of injuries. TO be fair, it was probably naive to expect that United’s second-half brilliance against Aston Villa would become the norm. Tottenham’s improved form, with four wins in their last six games, suggests they are better positioned to secure a win against a struggling United side.
Burnley v Luton
Burnley, desperate to avoid relegation, eyes a win against Luton, who have impressed with recent victories. Despite Burnley’s sole win in their last six games, this match provides a tangible opportunity for them to boost their survival hopes.
Arsenal v Crystal Palace
Arsenal, under scrutiny after recent failures, faces Crystal Palace in a must-win game to maintain their title aspirations. Palace, fresh off a 3-1 victory over Brentford, looks to build on their newfound momentum. Arsenal’s response to their critics in this fixture will be crucial.
Brentford v Nottingham Forest
Brentford, struggling with a streak of losses, confronts Nottingham Forest, who showed promise against Manchester United. Forest, buoyed by their recent performance, will be keen to capitalise on Brentford’s vulnerable form.
Sheffield United v West Ham
West Ham United, in a rich vein of form, are expected to dominate against bottom-placed Sheffield United. With a series of recent victories, including notable wins over Arsenal and Manchester United, West Ham is well-positioned to add another win to their tally.
Bournemouth v Liverpool
Liverpool, in a strong position for the title race, faces Bournemouth, who have shown form improvement despite a recent loss. Bournemouth’s recent wins make them worthy opponents, but Liverpool, aiming to avoid a slip-up, will be determined to secure a win.
Brighton v Wolves
Brighton, coming off an emphatic victory over Tottenham and potentially another positive result against West Ham, faces Wolverhampton Wolves, who have secured three straight wins. This match could be a close contest, with both teams in good form and looking to climb higher in the standings.
Chelsea v Fulham – Chelsea to win
Newcastle v Manchester City – Manchester City to win
Everton v Aston Villa – Draw
Manchester United v Tottenham – Tottenham to win
Burnley v Luton – Draw
Arsenal v Crystal Palace – Draw
Brentford v Nottingham Forest
Sheffield United v West Ham
Bournemouth v Liverpool – Liverpool
Brighton v Wolves – Brighton to win