Dangerous obstacles lurk as Villa set to test Arsenal's title race nerves

The North Londoners have been near-perfect since the turn of the year, but this is now the time when cool heads are needed

By Reuters

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Arsenal is top of the Premier League table on goal differential over Liverpool and by a point more than Manchester City. - AFP File
Arsenal is top of the Premier League table on goal differential over Liverpool and by a point more than Manchester City. - AFP File

Published: Fri 12 Apr 2024, 3:05 PM

Arsenal's form in the Premier League has put them within sight of their first title for 20 years but there is a good reason why many remain sceptical about the ability of Mikel Arteta's side to hold off Manchester City and Liverpool.

Their remaining fixture list looks loaded with dangerous obstacles, far more so than City and Liverpool's, and the first one they must clear is Aston Villa at home on Sunday.

Arteta's side travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers the following week, then host Chelsea and then go away to arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur while an away clash at Manchester United is also on the horizon.

Throw in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-finals at Bayern Munich three days after hosting Villa and their is no escape from the pressure cooker for leaders Arsenal.

Apart from some slipshod defending against Bayern on Tuesday, the Gunners have been near-perfect since the turn of the year, but this is now the time when cool heads are needed.

Arsenal lost 1-0 at Villa in December and their followed a slump in form that looked like wrecking their title hopes, but they have won 10 of their last 11 league games to stand top of the table with 71 points, ahead of Liverpool on goal difference.

With City just a point behind, any dropped points now in a three-way title race for the ages could be terminal.

Which is why the visit of fifth-placed Villa, managed by former Arsenal boss Unai Emery, is causing some anxiety.

Emery, who was jettisoned by Arsenal after 18 months in charge, would doubtless take some satisfaction from reminding the Arsenal fans of his tactical acumen.

In striker Ollie Watkins, who has been involved in a league high 28 goals (18 goals and 10 assists) Villa have a player capable of denting Arsenal's hopes although Emery will not be able to call on midfielder Douglas Luiz who is suspended after he picked up a 10th yellow card last weekend.

Manchester City have the chance to turn up the pressure dial on Arsenal and Liverpool and move top by beating relegation battlers Luton Town at The Etihad on Saturday.

Despite City having their smallest points total after 31 games since 2020, Pep Guardiola's side know exactly what it takes to survive a title scrap and remain favourites.

Eighteenth-placed Luton, fighting for their Premier League lives, will be no pushovers though and have proved against the big teams that they are prepared to have a go.

Liverpool will hope to come through their Europa League quarter-final first leg against Atalanta later on Thursday unscathed as they host Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Juergen Klopp's side blinked first last weekend when being held to a 2-2 draw at Manchester United -- a result that took the title race out of their own hands.

Liverpool have won 11 of their last 13 league games against Palace, drawing the other two, and it would be a huge surprise if they did not get back to winning ways quickly.

The weekend action gets under way at Newcastle United where fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur will be seeking to wipe away the painful memory of a 6-1 hammering last season when they were 5-0 down after 21 minutes.

Tottenham and Villa both have 60 points in the chase for the final guaranteed Champions League berth, although Tottenham have played a game less.

Another twist to the relegation battle was added this week with Everton being docked two more points for financial breaches and they could conceivably find themselves in the relegation zone before they face inconsistent Chelsea on Monday.


Playing Saturday, April 13

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur (3:30pm UAE)

Brentford v Sheffield United (6:00 pm UAE)

Burnley v Brighton & Hove Albion (6:00 pm UAE)

Manchester City v Luton Town (6:00 pm UAE)

Nottingham Forest v Wolverhampton Wanderers (6:00 pm UAE)

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United (8:30 pm UAE)

Playing Sun day, April 14

Liverpool v Crystal Palace (5:00 pm UAE)

West Ham United v Fulham ((5:00 pm UAE)

Arsenal v Aston Villa (7:30 pm UAE)

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