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Eight talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

It’s the final round of Premier League fixtures for 2023. Ahead of the weekend action, we look at eight Premier League talking points.

Big names prepare to depart for international tournaments

This weekend’s fixtures will be the final round of games before the Premier League campaign is punctuated by mid-season international tournaments. The Africa Cup of Nations and Asian Cup will see several stars depart in January, with some big names set to be absent for their sides.

Mohamed Salah is arguably the most high-profile absentee, as the Liverpool forward leads Egypt’s challenge at AFCON. The 31-year-old has a league-leading 19 goals and assists in the Premier League this season, with his absence a big blow to Liverpool’s title hopes.

Son Heung-min, who has scored 11 goals for Spurs this season, will compete for South Korea at the Asian Cup, alongside Hwang Hee-chan who is having a career-best campaign at Wolves with 10 goals this season.

Elsewhere, Mohammed Kudus (Ghana) will be a major loss for West Ham after his impressive debut campaign at the London Stadium, while Andre Onana (Cameroon) will hope to find form on international duty after a difficult start at Manchester United.

A best XI of Premier League players heading to AFCON

Will Boehly be patient with Blues’ project?

Mauricio Pochettino’s debut season at Chelsea has been a challenge, with the Argentine insistent that it will take time for the big-spending Blues to find their feet in the Premier League.

The West Londoners are 10th in the table, after a late Noni Madueke penalty earned Chelsea a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace in midweek. Much more was expected after around £1bn of investment in recent transfer windows, despite Pochettino’s pleas for patience with his side.

Against Palace, Chelsea named their youngest-ever Premier League XI, with an average age of 23 years and 21 days. According to Opta, it was the youngest side any team has named in the Premier League since May 2017, when Manchester United rang the changes for a final day dead-rubber with Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.

Chelsea have invested huge sums with an eye on the future, but face missing out on European football once again this season. Whether Todd Boehly has full trust in the process remains to be seen.

Wasteful Arsenal must improve – or strengthen

Arsenal’s title bid suffered a setback this week after the Gunners lost 2-0 at home to West Ham. It could have been even worse for Mikel Arteta’s side had David Raya not saved a late penalty from the visitors, though those numbers only tell half the story.

Arsenal were dominant in the contest, boasting 74% of the possession and firing 30 shots on goal, eight of which forced Alphonse Areola into saves. West Ham, meanwhile, scored two goals from their three shots on target.

The Gunners hit the woodwork once and missed FIVE big chances against West Ham, with Gabriel Jesus guilty of squandering one of the best with a poor header over the crossbar. Arsenal’s 77 touches inside the opposition box was also a Premier League record without scoring, since Opta first began collecting the data in 2008/09.

Arsenal continue to be linked with signing a centre-forward, with Viktor Gyokeres and Ivan Toney among those rumoured to be of interest. Arteta retains belief in his squad and will be cautious of upsetting the balance, with Jesus a fine – if not prolific – focal point for the patterns of his side. However, an alternative option might need to be sought if improvements are not found in the club’s conversion.

Can West Ham gatecrash the top four?

Six wins in eight games has seen West Ham climb the Premier League table, with the Irons having flown somewhat under the radar in recent weeks. Back-to-back wins over Manchester United and Arsenal have now placed David Moyes’ side in the division’s top six, as optimism swells around the London Stadium.

In their last four games, the Hammers have beaten top-four contenders in Spurs, Manchester United and Arsenal, while three consecutive clean sheets has been the perfect response to a big defeat at Fulham in early December.

An exciting frontline of Jarrod Bowen, Lucas Paqueta and Mohammed Kudus has clicked, which coupled with a clinical counter-attack and superb set-pieces has made West Ham a real threat.

West Ham have won 33 points from their 19 games, the club’s highest-ever return at the halfway stage. Now just six points from the Champions League places and with few of the teams convincing around them, the Hammers might just have hope of an unlikely push for the top four.

Villa comeback needs to be a turning point for Ten Hag

Erik ten Hag’s tenure at Manchester United has been a rollercoaster ride, perhaps never better summarised than the club’s Boxing Day win over Aston Villa. Boos rang around Old Trafford as his team trailed 2-0 at half-time, before a stirring second-half fightback turned the game around.

The Dutchman needs this result to be the turning point for his team, with the Red Devils having endured their fair share of false dawns under his management. Incredibly, despite eight league defeats at the half-way stage, United remain within touching distance of the top four ahead of his weekend’s trip to Nottingham Forest.

United must build on their second half against Villa, a performance which had plenty of positives. Marcus Rashford more closely resembled the player who scored 30 goals last season, Alejandro Garnacho impressed on the opposing flank, and Rasmus Hojlund fired in a morale-boosting first Premier League goal.

With Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Mason Mount closing in on first-team returns, now is the time for Ten Hag’s team to kick on.

Buoyant Bournemouth can continue run at Spurs

Bournemouth are the form team in the Premier League right now with no team in the division having taken more points across their last 10 games.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround, with Bournemouth having taken 22 points from their last nine games. Across their opening nine, Bournemouth failed to win and claimed just three points.

An impressive 3-0 win over Fulham extended the Cherries’ recent run to four consecutive wins, ahead of a challenging schedule that will see Andoni Iraola’s side take on Spurs, Liverpool and West Ham in their next three.

Bournemouth travel to face the former in North London this weekend, but should have no fear heading into the game. Spurs are hamstrung by defensive injuries and will be without a recognised centre-back once again this weekend. Since the start of November, no team has conceded more goals (19) or recorded a higher xGA figure (21.4) than Ange Postecoglou’s side.

Howe must find cure for Newcastle’s travel sickness

Newcastle’s home and away form could hardly be a bigger contrast this season.

Only Aston Villa (25) have taken more points on home soil than Newcastle (24) this season, who despite the setback of defeat to Nottingham Forest remain a force at St James’ Park.

On the road, however, it’s been a different story. Newcastle rank 19th in the Premier League for points won away from home, having won just once away all season. The Magpies also failed to win in three away games during the Champions League’s group stage, a bout of travel sickness their manager must find a cure for.

Newcastle travel to face Liverpool on Monday evening, among the hardest tests in the Premier League. The Reds are unbeaten on home soil this season, winning seven and drawing two of their nine games at Anfield.

Jota return timely for Liverpool

Diogo Jota made a goalscoring return for Liverpool at Burnley on Boxing Day, as the forward came off the bench to score on his first appearance since November 25. Jota’s return could hardly have been better timed as Mohamed Salah prepares to leave for AFCON commitments, with the Portugal international arguably the most natural finisher in the Liverpool squad,

Jota’s goal was his 50th in all competitions for Liverpool and taken in characteristically clinical fashion, while the 27-year-old’s comfortability across the forward line adds options for Jurgen Klopp in Salah’s absence.

With Luis Diaz, understandably given recent events, failing to fire on all cylinders and Darwin Nunez’s finishing unpredictable, the return of Jota is a huge boost as the Reds look to enter the new year as league leaders.

Read – Ranking the highest-scoring seasons of Lionel Messi’s career

See more – Ranking the best right-backs in the Premier League right now

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