Chelsea player Cole Palmer.
Chelsea star Cole Palmer.
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Six talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points, featuring Liverpool’s record in London, Arsenal’s set-piece threat, and Cole Palmer’s return to the Etihad.

Can Liverpool end capital woes at Brentford?

Liverpool will make the trip south to London for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off at Brentford, a fixture scheduling that Jurgen Klopp will no doubt have grumbled at.

Klopp’s groans will be even louder should Liverpool continue a lousy recent record in the capital, with the Reds having won just two of their last eight trips to London.

Each of Liverpool’s two defeats this season, at Tottenham and Arsenal, came in London, while the Merseysiders were also beaten 3-1 in this fixture last season. Liverpool have failed to win on each of their previous two Premier League visits to Brentford.

Mohamed Salah could return after resuming training following a hamstring injury, though Liverpool are likely to be cautious given the recent setbacks for Dominik Szoboszlai and Trent Alexander-Arnold and an EFL Cup final with Chelsea to come next weekend.

Arsenal set-pieces spell trouble for Clarets

Arsenal cemented their status as the Premier League’s set-piece specialists last weekend, causing countless problems for West Ham in a record-breaking 6-0 win at the London Stadium. William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães were each on the scoresheet, converting from Declan Rice deliveries with the club-record signing having impressed since stepping up to dead-ball duty.

Arsenal’s evolution into masters of the set-piece has seen Mikel Arteta’s team score 16 times from such situations in the Premier League this season, three more than second-placed Everton and, crucially, significantly more than title rivals Manchester City (10) and Liverpool (7). Their prolificacy from set-piece situations is an additional threat to the eye-catching aesthetic of sharp combinations between the forward line, with multiple routes to goal strengthening their title credentials.

Gabriel has been the chief target for deliveries into the box and scored his 14th league goal for Arsenal last weekend, with no defender in the division having scored more since his arrival at the Emirates.

Arsenal this week face one of the worst teams in the league for defending set-pieces. Burnley have looked chaotic defending their box for much of the campaign and only Nottingham Forest have conceded more than their 12 goals from set-pieces. Vincent Kompany will need to find a plan to deal with Arsenal’s dangerous deliveries this weekend.

Palmer makes Etihad return with decision vindicated

Pep Guardiola revealed in November that Cole Palmer’s decision to leave Manchester City was the player’s, admitting he had been keen to keep the 21-year-old at the Etihad.

“Cole arrived and accepted some processes and then after one or two years said ‘No, I don’t want to play here, I am not going to play.’ But I said ‘Riyad [Mahrez] is leaving, you are going to get a chance here,’ and he said ‘No, I am not going to play here, I want to leave,’ so I said ‘OK, leave.’

“He got what he wanted. It is good for him. He is a young player, a huge talent otherwise he would not have been here. He is a nice lad and is doing really good.”

‘Doing really good’ is perhaps underselling the impact Palmer has made at Chelsea, silencing the doubts surrounding his £42.5m move to west London. In just over half a season, Palmer has 20 goal involvements in 29 appearances for Chelsea, averaging a goal or assist every 93 minutes in the Premier League.

A full England debut arrived in the autumn and the common consensus is that Palmer – pushing for a place in the Euro 2024 squad – has been Chelsea’s Player of the Season. In a team that has struggled for consistency, he has been a bright spark.

Howe hails Solanke ahead of Bournemouth reunion

Eddie Howe will believe his faith in Dominic Solanke was justified after watching the forward’s progress at Bournemouth this season. Solanke signed for Bournemouth in a £19m deal from Liverpool in January 2019 but endured a tough start on the South Coast, scoring just three times in 42 appearances as the Cherries were relegated from the top division.

A healthy return of goals in the second tier propelled Bournemouth back to the Premier League, but another modest top-flight campaign, scoring six times in 2022/23, added to the question marks on whether he could cut it at the highest level.

Solanke has answered those questions emphatically with a career-best campaign this term, scoring 13 goals in 23 league appearances for Andoni Iraola’s side. Newcastle manager Howe will come face-to-face with his former club and player when the Magpies host Bournemouth this weekend and he has backed the 26-year-old for England recognition.

“I think he can play international football for sure,” Howe said at his pre-match press conference.

“I’ve watched a lot of him this year and he’s impressed me every time I’ve seen him.”

A reported transfer target for the Toon in the summer, Howe might just be watching more of Solanke before the end of the season.

Manchester United must maintain momentum ahead of Luton banana skin

Manchester United breathed life into their top-four hopes after securing a late win at Aston Villa last weekend. Scott McTominay came off the bench to score a dramatic winner, a result which saw the Red Devils close the gap on the Champions League places.

Erik ten Hag’s team have shown signs of improvement of late and are on a run of three straight wins, with the form of Rasmus Hojlund having helped their cause. After a stuttering start, the Denmark international has scored in five consecutive Premier League games and will become the youngest ever to score in six straight if he nets at Kenilworth Road.

McTominay’s form poses a headache for Ten Hag, with the Scotland international having been an influential figure from the bench. The 27-year-old is Manchester United’s leading league scorer (7), leads the Premier League for goals from the bench (4) alongside Brighton’s Joao Pedro, and has earned a league-leading 12 points with his goals.

However, McTominay’s best performances have come when granted a licence to get into the box, a role currently filled by Bruno Fernandes, who leads Europe’s top five leagues for chances created. With Casemiro and Kobbie Mainoo impressing in partnership behind the Portuguese, McTominay may have to settle for a super-sub role.

Ward-Prowse wait continues

James Ward-Prowse is widely recognised as the finest free-kick taker in the Premier League right now, but the midfielder’s wait for a first in a West Ham shirt continues.

The summer signing from Southampton has scored five goals in all competitions for the Irons since his £30m arrival last summer, though is yet to celebrate a trademark free-kick in the club’s colours.

Ward-Prowse’s last set-piece special came in Southampton’s 1-0 win at Chelsea on February 18 last year, with the England international approaching a full calendar year without a free-kick goal. Having scored seven times from such situations over the last two full campaigns, it’s a relative drought for Ward-Prowse, whose next free-kick would be a history-making moment.

He’s currently sat on 17 free-kicks in the Premier League, one behind David Beckham’s divisional record.

Read – Five forwards who could replace Kylian Mbappe at PSG

See more – Iconic Performances: A teenage Wilshere takes on Barcelona’s midfield masters

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