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Goals galore at the Emirates, Burnley's brilliant 2017 and more Premier League talking points

Plus, Mark Hughes one more defeat away from the sack at Stoke and Big Sam looking to keep the good times rolling on Merseyside.

Liverpool v Arsenal - Premier League - Anfield Liverpool ran away 4-0 winners when the sides met in August. Source: Peter Byrne

1. Will Liverpool vs Arsenal pack a pulsating punch like it always does?

It’s not a derby, it’s not even a rivalry, however Arsenal versus Liverpool is a hallmark fixture each and every season and a staple part of a well-balanced Premier League diet.

For every morose and uninspiring meeting between two sides belonging to the top six, and believe us when we say there are plenty throughout an entire campaign, the meeting of the London and Merseyside clubs almost always delivers a brilliant 90 minutes of entertainment with a rate of unusual consistency.

Both sides have taken their fair share of beatings over the last decade, with the last 16 meetings between the sides offering five wins apiece and six draws. Those games have also averaged a massive 3.5 goals per game and witnessed just one 0-0 stalemate.

The last time the sides met Liverpool handed out a 4-0 drubbing at Anfield back in August, with Mohamed Salah scoring two and setting up another in an inspired performance which hinted at the form he has shown ever since for the Reds.

Salah continues to sit atop the Premier League top scorers charts, however his side are just about managing to hang onto a Champions League spot with persistent pressure from Burnley, Tottenham and, well, Arsenal.

A win at home tonight for Arsene Wenger’s side would see the Gunners leapfrog Liverpool into fourth, opening up a gap of two points. The hosts, like Liverpool, are unbeaten in their last five in all competitions.

With one point separating the sides in fourth and fifth spot, and with recent form split evenly, it promises to be another intriguing encounter, with all signs pointing towards leaky defences and goals aplenty.

2. How will Manchester United respond to their mid-week League Cup exit?

To say it is an upset for League Cup holders to exit at the first hurdle at the hands of a side 21 places below them in the English league pyramid would normally be true.

But that belief would also be a disservice to a brilliant performance from Bristol City on Wednesday night which saw Manchester United beaten at Ashton Gate with a dramatic 93rd minute winner from 26-year-old Korey Smith.

The goal sparked momentary pandemonium as a pitch invasion ensued, causing all sorts of cliche’s about the magic of the (eh …Carabao) Cup to resurface amidst the glee of seeing a major scalp.

Bristol City v Manchester United - Carabao Cup - Quarter Final - Ashton Gate Jose Mourinho talks with Bristol City manager Lee Johnson. Source: Simon Galloway

Jose Mourinho described Bristol as ‘lucky’ a number of times in his post-match interview. He will know more than anyone else that such sentiments are meaningless now after all is said and done, with that attention firmly switching back to the priorities of the Premier League.

His side are definitely out of the League Cup but will ascertain that they are not out of the title race just yet. United remain the sole threat to Manchester City’s dominance at the top of the table.

11 points currently separate the rivals and Mourinho will know his side simply cannot afford to let it grow any larger when they visit the King Power on Saturday to face Leicester.

They too, like United, will be sick of City’s current run of form, with Claude Puel’s side also exiting the EFL Cup this week — to Pep Guardiola’s side on penalties.

3. Can Sean Dyche and Burnley end a remarkable 2017 on a high?

2017 was all the better for the rise and rise of the Proudest Man in Proudsville.

Sean Dyche has elevated Burnley to a whole new level this season with some minor tweaks, additions and a rate of stubborn consistency against all comers.

Saturday sees the Clarets host Tottenham looking to maintain their lead over last season’s Premier League runners-up — no you did not read that wrong.

In fact, were Burnley to overcome Mauricio Pochettino’s side on Saturday on top of Arsenal and Liverpool drawing later tonight, they could go level on points with the Reds and be back in the reckoning for fourth spot.

Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley - Premier League - Wembley Stadium Chris Wood scored a 90th minute equaliser when Burnley met Tottenham in August. Source: Steve Paston

The realistic and pragmatic chances of that Champions League charge being sustained until May is unlikely, but Saturday’s game against Spurs presents a chance for the side to end 2017 with an absolute bang befitting of their recent success.

Tottenham have all but thrown their chances of competing for the title away over the course of the last two months — losing to Man United, Arsenal, Leicester and Man City since the end of October — but have regained a certain level of form, winning three of their last five games in all competitions.

They will want to end the calendar year navigating their way from seventh back into the top four, but Burnley will not make it easy for them having lost just one Premier League game at Turf Moor all season.

4. Allardyce set to keep the honeymoon going at Goodison Park

Big Sam’s the man for Everton and the good times are rolling on. Since his arrival at Goodison Park the Toffees have won four games from five and are yet to lose with him sat in the dugout.

It’s a far cry from the hectic disaster days of Ronald Koeman and to a lesser extent David Unsworth, with the side having skyrocketed up the table from the mire of relegation into ninth spot.

Everton v Huddersfield Town - Premier League - Goodison Park Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Sam Allardyce’s biggest test will come on Saturday with the visit of champions Chelsea.

Antonio Conte’s side have stabalised in recent weeks, booking their place in the semi-finals of the League Cup and the knockout stages of the Champions League, on top of edging their way into third spot with three Premier League wins in four.

It will be both side’s final game of the campaign and an opportunity to reflect on a year of highs and lows.

Both clubs are again on the up in the year which saw one crowned champions and the other look like potentially being dragged into a relegation battle. With little else in common, it’s safe to say now that both will be back in the Premier League again in 2018.

5. Mark Hughes on the brink at the Britania

One more defeat could spell the end for poor Mark Hughes at Stoke. The Potters are looking towards a fight for survival for the first time in many seasons following the departure of mainstay Tony Pulis.

The club’s lack of, and poor, spending during the summer has left them short in key positions, with their ‘big-money’ signings in Kevin Wimmer (£17 million) and Bruno Martins Indi (£6 million) not hitting the ground running.

Stoke City v West Ham United - Premier League - bet365 Stadium Mark Hughes has lost 10 of his last 18 games at Stoke. Source: Dave Thompson

Stoke currently sit 17th and are just one point above the drop zone. Although the club’s board has backed their manager in recent weeks, Hughes knows that defeat at home to West Brom would mark the end of his tenure.

The side have lost 10 of their last 18 games, with another loss added to that meaning they could spend Christmas in the bottom three.

Stoke will hope Hughes can be the man to turn their disappointing season around safe in the knowledge that the alternatives do not stand out at present — the managerial landscape appears rather bare after all of Big Sam, David Moyes and Alan Pardew were snapped up like hot property.

That leaves Tony Pulis. But Stoke have already been to that well long enough.

Premier League (all games kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise)

Friday

Arsenal v Liverpool (19.45)

Saturday

Everton v Chelsea (12.30)

Brighton v Watford

Man City vs Bournemouth

Southampton v Huddfersfield

Stoke v West Brom

Swansea v Crystal Palace

West Ham v Newcastle

Burnley v Tottenham

Leicester vs Man United (19.45)

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Aaron Gallagher

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