Lewis Ambrose·5 December 2023
Lewis Ambrose·5 December 2023
A huge midweek of Premier League action is upon us and we cannot wait to tuck in.
Here are five burning questions before the games begin.
You don’t usually associate Manchester City with a reel of negative stat, yet here we are. It’s just one win in their last four Premier League away games, they’ve drawn three Premier League games in a row, they’ve conceded 10 times in their last four games across all competitions.
And to make matters worse, the champions are without the suspended Rodri this midweek, having lost three out of three the last time the midfielder was ruled out for disciplinary reasons.
Unai Emery’s side have made their home a real fortress and have won 13 league games in a row at Villa Park – a run that dates back to the beginning of March.
Villa enter midweek in fourth, just a point behind the champions, and it’s those areas in front of the defence that Rodri usually patrols that they attack so well, with John McGinn, Moussa Diaby and Leon Bailey all given the freedom to float behind Ollie Watkins, who will pose a huge threat behind City’s high line just as Loïs Openda and Son Heung-min have of late.
Another tough game could spark City into life … but it could also compound their struggles and see them drop further from the summit.
Manchester United host Chelsea on Wednesday in a clash between two sides who are seemingly never far from despair. It feels like, no matter how well things go, both teams are just one bad result away from tumbling into disaster again.
Chelsea beat Tottenham and drew with Man City before a 4-1 defeat at Newcastle stopped them in their tracks immediately after the international break. They recovered to beat Brighton at the weekend but lost Conor Gallagher to a red card in the process and make the trip to Old Trafford without him on top of the injury-enforced absences for a whole host of players.
The Blues are only five points behind United, who sit seventh, but equally they are just six points from 16th-placed Bournemouth.
Meanwhile, Manchester United had won six of their last eight in the league before also losing at Newcastle over the weekend. With that result following a 3-3 draw at Galatasaray, Erik ten Hag’s future is up for discussion once again, much like the form of some of his biggest name players.
Results have not always been terrible but United have faced 212 shots this season, more than all but four teams in the league, and are struggling to net at the other end, with 11 teams scoring more than their 16 goals so far.
While Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino appears to have the luxury of time, another defeat would be a huge setback for Ten Hag, for whom it increasingly appears the writing is on the wall.
Tottenham battled to a 1-0 win there, Liverpool only drew, and Crystal Palace recently became the first team to lose a Premier League match at Kenilworth Road. It is not an easy place to go.
And Luton are not an easy team to face generally. The Hatters may have lost nine of their fourteen league games so far this season but they have lost just one by more than one goal and that was way back in August. Teams beat Luton but they have to toil to get all three points.
It will be a fine test, then, for an Arsenal side that seems to slowly be clicking. Last week’s Champions League demolition of Lens was the first time Mikel Arteta has had the chance to field a front five of Martin Ødegaard, Kai Havertz, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli, and they rewarded him with a goal each.
Jorginho added a sixth from the penalty spot and the Gunners followed that up with their first early goals of the Premier League campaign on Saturday. Heading into the weekend’s game with Wolves, they were top of the table but had not scored a single goal in the opening 15 minutes of games so far this season. That changed with two — one from Saka, one from Ødegaard — as the north London club flew out of the blocks.
A fast start may be needed again if Arsenal are to consolidate their place at the top of the table this week.
Anthony Gordon has already faced ex-club Everton at Goodison Park, but the result was already in the bag for Newcastle when the winger came on for a three-minute cameo back in April.
This time he returns home not only first choice for the Magpies but absolutely flying as one of the Premier League’s most in-form and dangerous attacking players.
An England call-up surely beckons for the 22-year-old, who has six goals and three assists to his name in the Premier League this season.
One of those goals came in the 1-0 win over Manchester United at the weekend, adding to the goal Gordon scored in another 1-0 win over Arsenal, but while he has shone at home performances on the road have been a little less convincing. The same can be said for most of his team-mates too, with Newcastle picking up 21 of a possible 24 points at St James’ Park this season but winning just one of their six away matches.
Everton have the opposite problem, with one win in seven at home but 13 points from seven away games.
Either Newcastle and Gordon will find some away form to become the latest to silence Goodison Park or the Toffees will start finding some of that away day efficiency at home too to launch themselves back out of the relegation zone.
With Burnley winning at the weekend, Bournemouth on a roll and Everton continuing to pick up results despite that points deduction, the possibility of a tense relegation battle can’t be ruled out just yet.
It initially seemed that all three promoted sides would slide back down to the Championship after each of them started slowly but Luton are outside of the bottom three for now and Burnley could yet be boosted by that long-awaited second win of the campaign.
Forest in particular have won just one of their 10 games since the September international break, picking up the same points as Burnley (7) since then. Only Sheffield United (4) have fewer.
Bournemouth’s recent form has seen them ease away from the foot off the table but Everton’s points deduction was the first sign that a relegation battle could break out, and now Forest and Fulham will be desperate not to get sucked into the mad scrap for points.