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Dublin: 11°C Monday 19 April 2021

Can Arsenal curb Chelsea's title march and more Premier League talking points

Plus, will Jose Mourinho place faith in Anthony Martial again?

Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta (left) and Arsenal's Theo Walcott battle for the ball in the match between the two sides earlier this season.
Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta (left) and Arsenal's Theo Walcott battle for the ball in the match between the two sides earlier this season.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

Updated at 09.00

1. Can Arsenal curb Chelsea’s title march?

EVEN THE MOST die-hard Tottenham fan will probably be quietly cheering for Arsenal this weekend.

With Chelsea having dropped points just once all season against a side outside the top six (Swansea in September), these big games appear to be the rest of the league’s only hope of Antonio Conte’s men faltering in their bid for a fifth Premier League title.

And even if the Blues do slip up, there is no guarantee that others will capitalise. Man City aside, none of the other top-six sides could better their draw with Liverpool.

Arsenal, in particular, were disappointing, losing 2-1 at home to Watford.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger could not hide his immense frustration at the outcome. “It was obvious we lost duels and were not sharp enough,” the French manager said. “It looked more mentally that we were not ready for the challenges.”

The rest of the league will be hoping Wenger can consequently get a positive reaction from his side in Saturday’s early game.

2. Liverpool must build on midweek positives

A largely disastrous January for Liverpool ended in a relatively positive fashion, as they produced a much-improved display amid a 1-1 draw with Chelsea.

Yet Liverpool’s problem this season has not been in games against the top sides — their record is better than Chelsea’s in this regard.

The Reds issues have invariably come in games against the smaller teams, dropping points against sides such as Burnley, Swansea, West Ham and Bournemouth.

Playing against top-class teams and sides who stick numbers behind the ball are almost two different skills.

Having to break down an opponent is an entirely different proposition to beating a team equally confident of victory who adopt an adventurous approach as a consequence.

Hull showed impressive resilience to earn a 0-0 draw at Man United on Wednesday, so Liverpool will need to be at their sharpest this weekend to avoid a similar disappointment against the Tigers.

3. Will Mourinho place faith in Martial again?

Manchester United v Wigan Athletic - Emirates FA Cup - Fourth Round - Old Trafford Anthony Martial has struggled to hold down a first-team spot at Old Trafford this season. Source: Mike Egerton

So far this season, Anthony Martial has featured in just 13 of Man United’s 23 Premier League matches.

Despite a disappointing season under Louis Van Gaal last season, Martial impressed after United paid £36 million plus add-ons for his services last summer.

The 21-year-old was arguably the Red Devils’ best player in the 2015-16 campaign, scoring 17 goals in all competitions.

Despite six goals this season, under Mourinho, Martial’s form seems to have stagnated to a degree since the start of the campaign.

Having impressed in the 4-0 win over Wigan, the French international was not involved midweek against Hull.

Without Martial, however, the Red Devils’ attack looked ponderous. The other three wingers who did play, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkitaryan, were largely ineffectual.

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Martial, at his best, can enliven this United side and provide them with the inspiration needed to break down defensively stubborn opponents.

Yet with rumours of a potential departure from the club not going away, whether Mourinho will ever trust the player enough to make him a regular in the side remains to be seen.

4. Tottenham’s peripheral players must do better

As impressive as Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane have been at times this season, there will be occasions where the trio are not at their very best.

Such was the case on Tuesday as Tottenham laboured to a 0-0 draw against Premier League strugglers Sunderland.

Yet it would unfair to direct the blame primarily at the star players.

One conspicuous weakness of Tottenham this season has been the ability of their more peripheral players to contribute.

Jan Vertonghen’s injury meant Kevin Wimmer came into the side initially, but the Austrian — who’s looked unconvincing in the past — was hauled off after 45 minutes against Manchester City following an uncertain display.

Rather than retaining him for the midweek game, Tottenham switched from three to four at the back and appeared to lose some of their attacking momentum as a result.

Moreover, Vincent Janssen and Moussa Sissoko were introduced off the bench on Tuesday, but as has been the case for much of the season, they failed to make the desired impact when presented with an opportunity.

The combined fee for the two summer signings was €55 million, yet both seem ludicrously overpriced on the evidence of their Spurs careers so far.

At home to Middlesbrough is a game Tottenham should win easily, though their inept performance against Sunderland on Tuesday suggests this outcome is far from guaranteed.

5. Will Guardiola stick to his guns?

Man City’s teamsheet will be interesting as ever on Sunday. So far this season, Pep Guardiola has made more changes to his starting XI than any other Premier League manager.

The Etihad outfit’s team against West Ham on Wednesday night was particularly incongruous. Both Sergio Aguero and Claudio Bravo were left out of the starting XI, with Gabriel Jesus and Wily Caballero given the nod in their place.

In particular, it will be interesting to see whether Jesus plays from the outset against Swansea.

Judged by stats alone, Aguero has done little wrong — his tally of 18 goals in 24 matches is as impressive as any other striker in the Premier League.

The problem, it appears, is that Aguero seems reluctant to intensively press opponents in the manner Guardiola demands. Jesus, by contrast, shows no such hesitance.

Expecting a 19-year-old to lead the attack of a team of the calibre of Man City is a lot to ask, yet on the evidence of recent games, City have an extraordinary and seemingly unflappable young talent on their hands.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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