Premier League talking points: An Emirates farewell for Wenger
Cheslea hope for Liverpool hangover, can Huddersfield crash Man City’s title party?
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will bid farewell to the Emirates this weekend. Photograph: Getty Images
1) A Friday night midfield rejig for Brighton?
Results elsewhere could secure Brighton’s Premier League status this weekend, but Chris Hughton’s side have been granted an early opportunity to get the job done themselves at the Amex on Friday night. Brighton have beaten United just once in their history and have already lost to them twice this season – both times at Old Trafford – in the Premier League and FA Cup. United’s unconvincing Cup quarter-final win came immediately after their feeble Champions League surrender against Sevilla, in a match Alexis Sánchez and Paul Pogba sat out as unused substitutes after failing to impress against the Spanish side. Both players have since hit their stride and are likely to feature on Friday, a state of affairs that suggests if Brighton are to beat United for the first time in nine attempts since 1982 they will have to do so the hard way. With Davy Pröpper back from a spell on the naughty step, Hughton must decide whether to pair him with Dale Stephens in his first choice central midfield partnership, or stick with Beram Kayal, who has impressed in the Dutchman’s absence. BG
2) An Emirates farewell for Wenger
And so it’s farewell. This will be the last time most Arsenal fans see Arsène Wenger at the Emirates, at least until they unveil his statue. Thursday’s failure in Madrid denied the venerable Frenchman if not a fairytale farewell, then at least a glorious appendix. Such will be the emotion of the occasion that the match is almost secondary, and yet defeat would be an almost cruel humiliation, leaving Wenger’s side distant from the top five and level on points with Burnley themselves. Having failed to unlock one famously well-organised defence in the Europa League they immediately face another one – Burnley have conceded 16 fewer goals in the Premier League than Arsenal. “There’s a lot of noise around the game but we’ve got to go there and do a job,” says Nick Pope. “We’re not just going to turn up and make up the numbers, we’ve got to put our foot down and put our own stamp on the game.” Having conceded decisive, controversial stoppage-time goals in each of their last three meetings, some luck for Burnley against Arsenal is long overdue. SB
3) Another Spurs hiccup against West Brom?
The fact that Swansea’s final two games of the season are against two of the three teams below them in the table means victory for Stoke against Crystal Palace in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off will send West Brom down. With qualification for next season’s Champions League not yet assured, Tottenham will be rooting for Stoke in the hope that an inevitable sense of deflation at the Hawthorns will put an end to West Brom’s impressive rally under Darren Moore. Spurs were fortunate to draw the corresponding fixture at Wembley, when Salomón Rondón squandered a glorious opportunity in added time. With Mauricio Pochettino’s future the subject of some speculation, failure to beat the Premier League’s worst team for a second time could be a precursor to grave repercussions come season’s end. BG
If ever there is a good time to face Liverpool’s deadly front three then it’s this weekend. The exertions of their Champions League semi-final epic against Roma are sure to have an effect on Jürgen Klopp’s side but with a top four spot not yet assured, Liverpool cannot afford to take it easy. Chelsea have won their last three matches in the Premier League to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for Europe’s top competition next season, with Olivier Giroud’s form the catalyst for their revival. The France striker has a solid record against Liverpool, with five goals in his 10 Premier League appearances against them for Arsenal, and his new employers know only victory will do on Sunday. EA
5) Huddersfield to crash City’s title party?
So far at home in the league this season, Manchester City fans have celebrated 58 goals and 15 victories. This weekend they will be celebrating again whatever happens in the game, with the trophy to be presented to after the final whistle. This will be their third Premier League title, but the first won with sufficient comfort to plan the presentation. Victory on Sunday would take them to 96 points, a tally never previously reached in the Premier League – for some time, the record books have been their only significant opponents. Huddersfield, though, were troublesome in the reverse fixture in November, when City came from behind to win thanks to Raheem Sterling’s late goal, and given their position in the table could hardly be better motivated to poop the party. A reminder of how fast situations in football can change: Huddersfield have scored 27 goals in the league this season; the last team to score fewer than 30 top-flight goals and avoid relegation were Manchester City, in 2006-07. SB
6) A more gung ho approach from Swansea
One point and a place above the relegation zone, Swansea City will drop into the bottom three if they fail to beat Bournemouth and Southampton win at Everton. While nerve-wracking, this scenario would not necessarily constitute disaster – with home matches against Southampton and Stoke to come, Swansea’s destiny remains in their own hands. Nevertheless, they could do with getting back into the winning habit, but Carlos Carvalhal’s inclination towards caution on the road could hamstring their chances of a first victory since the beginning of March. While it would be harsh to be critical of Swansea for their hiding against Manchester City, but their supine performance at the Hawthorns spoke volumes. Despite playing the worst team in the division, Swansea could scarcely have been set up more cautiously and were lucky to secure a point. At Bournemouth they will be better served by starting with similar urgency to that with which they ended last weekend’s defeat to Chelsea. If they are to go down, why not do so swinging haymakers? BG
7) Stoke can keep Palace looking over their shoulders
Paul Lambert’s jack-in-the-box antics on the touchline have been a highlight of this season’s relegation battle and with his Stoke side fighting for survival at home against Crystal Palace on Saturday, expect the 1997 Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund to be on top form. Lambert can take heart from Stoke’s victory over Palace last season – the first time they have beaten the in seven attempts – as they start the game three points from safety. Roy Hodgson’s side gained revenge in November and, with 38 points already in the bag, look to be safe after successive home wins. Yet Palace fans of a certain vintage will be wary of celebrating too soon – in 1992-93, the Premier League’s inaugural season, the Eagles were relegated with 49 points from their 42 games. EA
8) Another basement battle of sorts for Everton
Everton have lost only one of their last seven games, and that was against Manchester City. There was a time this season when they were genuinely concerned about the relegation scrap at the end of the season and so it has proved – in a manner of speaking. They are comfortably in the top half of the table, but having beaten Huddersfield last week to leave the Terriers in peril, they now face Southampton, with West Ham still to come. This is the third time that Everton have played Southampton in their final home game of the season, and the second time they have done so with one more away league match to follow. The last time it happened, in 1986, Everton were destined to finish second to Liverpool in both league and FA Cup, and the Saints were given a 6-1 thrashing. Two days later Southampton travelled to Tottenham and lost 5-3. Peter Shilton’s injury meant 17-year-old Keith Granger was flung into the side; after conceding 11 in those two games, he never played for the club again. SB
9) A reaction from Leicester or West Ham?
Given their previous in the field of downing tools for managers , it will be intriguing to see how Leicester’s players approach this game. Claude Puel’s future looks uncertain in the wake of his team’s slaughter at Crystal Palace and with nothing much to play for, the reaction – or lack thereof – of his players will be telling. Still in danger of going down, West Ham will be hoping there is mutiny in the air over the King Power Stadium and look likely to bring Andy Carroll along. The striker apologised to David Moyes following an act of petulance and subsequent training ground row, prompted by his manager’s refusal to give him a run-out against Manchester City from the bench. Should both sets of players fail to up their game after respective embarrassments, fans can look forward to witnessing one of the most lethargic “contests” in top-flight history. BG
10) Watford and Newcastle mired in mid-table malaise
Since winning four successive matches to secure top-flight status, Newcastle have looked distinctly mediocre in losing to Everton and West Brom. Here though, they meet a side whose motivation is similarly suspect, though it is hard to know if this match will be entertainingly carefree or demoralisingly careless. This is familiar territory for Watford: since promotion in 2015 they are yet to win a fixture in May. They have not won since the first weekend of March, their dismal away form has prompted their gentle slide down the table. Having lost 2-0 at Spurs on Monday, they declared themselves encouraged. “We managed to create chances and if we keep doing it we will begin to get results,” said Étienne Capoue. “If we play like that we will get the points against Newcastle.” With only a visit to Old Trafford to come, if Watford are to reach 40 points they surely have to. SB