Lewis Ambrose·9 December 2023
Lewis Ambrose·9 December 2023
After a blockbuster midweek full of twists and turns, the Premier League is in a thrilling place as the weekend begins.
Here are five burning questions ahead of all the action.
Tottenham were considered surprise title race candidates around a month ago, before they joined the long list of sides Aston Villa have beaten this season. That victory saw Villa leapfrog Spurs and gatecrash the top four. The latest victory for Unai Emery’s side brought another bounce up a position, this time to third, and was an even bigger statement.
The midweek defeat of Manchester City at Villa Park was absolutely comprehensive. Villa’s 22 shots for is the most against a top flight side managed by Pep Guardiola ever. The two conceded was the fewest ever taken by a Pep Guardiola side in a top flight match.
Leon Bailey’s deflected winner was more than deserved and made it 14 home league wins in a row for the Villans ahead of Saturday’s visit of Arsenal, the last team to beat Emery’s team on their own turf.
Arsenal will be well aware of the test that faces them and Villa, really, have nothing to lose. Their run will end one day but if they can see off the Gunners, who enter the weekend top of the table, it may just be time to consider them title race dark horses.
Even the most ardent Villa fan would not name their side title race favourites even if they do beat Arsenal but this weekend could shine a light on who is.
A win for Mikel Arteta’s team would keep them top of the league just two weeks before a trip to Anfield. Liverpool themselves may be in the conversation and could easily finish this weekend top of the table, visiting Crystal Palace a few hours before Arsenal take Villa on in the Midlands.
And what about Manchester City?
A five-game winless run seems absolutely unthinkable, yet here they are, four without a win as they travel south to face Luton on Sunday.
Nobody should be surprised by now if they pull another record-breaking winning run out of the back in the second half of the season but drop more points and City’s hopes of defending their title may just be dashed enough for someone else to be considered the favourites instead.
Nottingham Forest lost 5-0 at Fulham in midweek in what seemed like the end for Steve Cooper but it looks like the boss will get at least one more shot this weekend.
Forest visit Wolves on Saturday and you feel they must win for Cooper to have any chance of keeping his job.
Only Sheffield United have fewer points since the September international break. Only Everton, with their 10-point deduction, sit between Forest and the relegation zone and Luton and Burnley — four and six points behind respectively — have closed the gap over the last while.
Goals look like an issue at both ends of the pitch but Taiwo Awoniyi’s injury means the attack is a real sticking point. Can Cooper find enough in the tank to inspire a result against an impressive Wolves side and keep his job over the festive period?
Tottenham have not been playing badly. You don’t play badly and take the lead in five consecutive Premier League games.
But you also aren’t playing well enough, or at least you aren’t clinical enough and must be incredibly luck, to end up winning none of those five.
Defeat to West Ham on Thursday suggested the first signs of discontent under Ange Postecoglou as fans booed at the final whistle and an element of frustration is to be expected. The question now is what will change.
Teams don’t play well and lose all the time, just as teams can’t play badly and win all the time. Either results will turn for Tottenham soon and performance will dip to match the results that they’ve suffered of late.
Micky Van de Ven and James Maddison aren’t coming back anytime soon, so Tottenham are going to have to win games without them or they are going to keep dropping points.
Newcastle visit on Sunday and generally pose a really, really tough test but have injury problems of their own, have just been beaten 3-0 by Everton and have won just one of 10 Premier League and Champions League away games this season. There can’t be a better time (or place) to face them … but they’ll be saying the same about their hosts.
Luton lost by a single goal when Tottenham arrived at Kenilworth Road and found the opener despite playing a half with 10 men. Liverpool were the next big name to visit and rescued a draw late on after going behind.
Then it was Arsenal’s turn. The Gunners led, they were pegged back, they fell behind, and they found the resolve to net a 97th-minute winner to stun Rob Edwards and his players.
Just days after that one, Manchester City are the next big side to make the trip to the Kenny, and they do so having failed to win each of their four Premier League games. There’s a vulnerability about the champions right now but there’s also the threat of them playing the part of the wounded animal and finding their bark.
Luton may only have nine points but they still haven’t lost a game by more than one goal since the opening day of the season. Sure, that’s nine defeats in 14 games all the same, but it’s nine defeats without a single drubbing and that points to a level of competitiveness. City aren’t likely to have things all their own way and those supporters in Bedfordshire will be holding their breath that this time, finally, they have enough to get a shock result over the line.