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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.

Forest welcome return to home comforts

No matter how hard the Premier League’s bottom half huff and puff, none have been able to climb away from trouble. It’s a congested lower half in the Premier League this season, with each of the bottom nine sweating over their top-flight status.

Nottingham Forest have slid closer to trouble after a five-game winless run, with spirited home draws against Everton and Manchester City punctuating three disappointing defeats on the road.

Steve Cooper’s side have taken just six points away from home this season, but have fared rather better on home soil as the club prepare to host Newcastle. Forest are unbeaten in ten games at the City Ground dating back to September, with only Manchester United (12) boasting a longer undefeated home sequence in the Premier League.

Given a huge 77% of the club’s points this season have been won on the banks of the River Trent, Forest will be hopeful of another positive result as Eddie Howe’s Champions League chasing team visit on Friday evening. A tough test awaits, but Cooper’s side will no doubt relish a return to home comforts.

Toney’s second chance to impress Southgate

Ivan Toney has been included in the England squad for March’s international fixtures, as the Three Lions begin their Euro 2024 qualification campaign with clashes against Italy and Ukraine.

The Brentford forward is the second-highest scoring Englishman in the Premier League this season and was an unfortunate omission from the World Cup squad, with Newcastle forward Callum Wilson selected as Harry Kane’s deputy in Qatar.

Toney responded with a match-winning performance at Manchester City following that disappointment, before continuing a fine run of form which has fired Brentford into European contention. He has 16 league goals for the campaign and produced a superb performance as the Bees won at Southampton in midweek.

Toney failed to make an appearance when receiving his first international call up in September, but now has a second chance to impress the England boss. That he has been selected despite the looming verdict on his FA charges for breaching gambling rules is a testament to the esteem in which he is held.

The 27-year-old has scored 28 goals in 59 appearances to prove himself at Premier League level and will be the danger man Leicester will focus on when the Foxes face Brentford this weekend. He will hope to keep Thomas Frank’s side punching above their weight this weekend, before another audition on the international stage.

Can Conte fix Spurs’ away day issues

Tottenham’s season hinges on a top four finish and the north Londoners strengthened their grip on fourth with a 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest last weekend. Harry Kane continued his excellent season with two goals, while there were encouraging performances from Son Heung-min and Richarlison.

Spurs travel to face Southampton this weekend and Antonio Conte will need his side to improve their recent away record at St Mary’s. Spurs have lost four consecutive games on the road in all competitions, a run which has seen the club exit both the Champions League and FA Cup. The last three of those at AC Milan, Sheffield United and Wolves have seen Spurs fail to score, a concerning statistic that will need to improve if Conte’s side are to secure Champions League qualification.

Spurs will be confident against a shot-shy Saints side, however, with this weekend’s opposition embroiled in one of the most hotly-contested relegation battles for several seasons. Southampton are bottom of the Premier League and have scored just three goals in their last eight league fixtures, while their xG (8.23) is the worst recorded in the division since the turn of the new year.

Southampton’s home record this season is also poor, with just one win at St Mary’s since August. The Saints have lost six of their past seven games on home soil.

Back three behind Chelsea’s mini-revival

Graham Potter appears to have found the formula to navigate Chelsea out of troubled waters, with a change to a back three system having led to an upturn in results. Three consecutive wins – including progress to the Champions League quarter-finals – has made the picture rosier at Stamford Bridge and Potter’s tactical tweak has been behind that run.

Chelsea look more solid, more threatening and more comfortable with three central defenders, while the formation has helped Marc Cucurella settle into the side. After a man-of-the-match performance against Borussia Dortmund, the summer signing led Europe’s top five leagues for tackles among defenders last weekend as Chelsea won at Leicester.

Wesley Fofana – who earned a first France call-up this week – has impressed since his return to the side, while Benoit Badiashile has shown encouraging signs since his arrival from Monaco in January.

Chelsea’s season has been difficult and the west Londoners remain tenth in the Premier League table, but for the first time since Potter’s early reign there appears a positive outlook in west London. This weekend the Blues can record a third consecutive Premier League win for the first time since October. Their new-look defence will be confident against an Everton side without a win on the road under Sean Dyche and who are the joint-lowest scorers in the Premier League this season.

Where now for Crystal Palace?

Patrick Vieira has become the latest managerial casualty of the Premier League season, with the club confirming the departure of the Frenchman on Friday morning.

Vieira impressed during his debut season in charge of Palace, but the Eagles have struggled to build on those foundations and a slide towards the bottom three has led to decisive action from the board.

Palace are on a wretched run of form and without a win in 2023. The Eagles have gone ten games without a win in the Premier League, a slump which has seen them dragged into what promises to be the most fascinating relegation battle in several seasons. Palace are 12th, but it is a position which is deceptive given just five points separate them from Southampton at the bottom.

Goals have been problematic for Palace, who are the fourth lowest scorers in the division and rank 18th for xG. It’s been 425 minutes since Palace last scored in the Premier League and a blunt attack has contributed to Vieira’s dismissal. A managerless side will now look to upset the odds this weekend, against an Arsenal team who lead the title race and boast the second-best defensive record in the league.

Arsenal’s chance to up the pressure

It’s full focus on the Premier League now for Arsenal, even if it had long been the club’s priority. A midweek Europa League exit to Sporting Lisbon was disappointing, but the silver lining in defeat is an end to the often gruelling Thursday-Sunday schedule as the Gunners’ chase their Premier League dream.

Arsenal have shown impressive mettle this season and handled an increase in pressure at Fulham last time out. Manchester City’s win the previous day had reduced the gap at the top ahead of a tricky test at Craven Cottage, but Arsenal swatted aside Marco Silva’s side to underline their title credentials.

Five-point lead restored, the Gunners now have the chance to turn the tables and pile the pressure on the chasing champions. City’s FA Cup commitments mean Arsenal can move eight points clear of Pep Guardiola’s side with a win over struggling Crystal Palace this weekend.

An Arsenal win would mean City find themselves a considerable distance from the league leaders when next returning to action, in a huge clash against Liverpool at the Etihad on April 1. It shapes as a pivotal part of this season’s title race and Arsenal have the chance to significantly up the ante this weekend.

Read – Remembering Mikel Arteta’s first ever Arsenal XI

Read Also – Five high-profile Premier League players whose form has dipped in 2022/23

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