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Six talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

Six talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend, featuring renewed focus for the title challengers, Everton’s defining week, and Aston Villa’s chance to up the pressure in the top-four race.

All eyes on the Premier League for title contenders

It was a disappointing week of European football for the Premier League. Four quarter-final exits mean no English teams are remaining in Europe’s top two club competitions, with Manchester City and Liverpool out despite starting the round as Champions League and Europa League favourites respectively.

That each of the three title contenders, Arsenal additionally, bowed out of Europe in the same week was a shock and full focus now turns to the run-in. Arsenal and Liverpool faltered last weekend to hand Manchester City the advantage, though can climb above the champions with wins this weekend. Pep Guardiola’s team are in FA Cup action and the chance to increase the pressure on City, so often flawless during the run-in, can not be missed.

Wasteful Brentford have a chance to pull clear

Brentford’s inability to turn chances into goals has seen the Bees hover above the relegation mix for much of the campaign. Thomas Frank’s side has edged away from danger of late with three draws and a win from their last four and can all but confirm another season in the Premier League with a win over Luton this weekend.

Three points for Brentford will take them 10 points clear of the 17th-placed Hatters, with four games to go. Frank will hope his team can improve a wasteful record around goal with only Everton (-19.5) having underperformed their xG to a greater extent than the Bees (-11.47).

 

Ivan Toney has featured for just nine minutes across the last two games and was an unused substitute for last weekend’s win over Sheffield United. Frank might be planning for his expected departure in the summer, but a recall looks likely.

Last Chance Saloon for Burnley

Games don’t come much bigger than this for Burnley. Six points from safety, the Clarets take on basement club Sheffield United in a relegation six-pointer at Bramall Lane. The Blades are on the brink of relegation with Chris Wilder’s team 10 points from 17th position, though Burnley can give themselves faint hope with a win this weekend.

With a relatively tough run-in, facing Manchester United, Newcastle, and Tottenham immediately after this weekend, this fixture cannot slip past Vincent Kompany’s team without maximum points.

It’s only one defeat in six for Burnley, though the Clarets have thrown away vital points in recent fixtures. After a shocking error to hand Everton three points earlier this month, Arijanet Muric made another awful mistake to gift Brighton a point last weekend.

The goalkeeper’s own goal was the second calamity in successive games, undoing some of the fine work he showed when first replacing James Trafford in goal.

Aston Villa must take chance to up the pressure

The stakes increased in the race for Champions League qualification this week. European exits for Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and West Ham mean England are highly unlikely to receive an additional place in next season’s competition through coefficient, removing the safety net of a fifth-placed finish.

It appears a straight shootout between Aston Villa and Tottenham for a top-four finish now. Villa moved three points clear of the north Londoners with an impressive 2-0 win at Arsenal last weekend, capitalising on a slip-up from Spurs at Newcastle, though Ange Postecoglou’s chasers have a game in hand.

However, Spurs are reeling from last weekend’s 4-0 defeat at St James’ Park and could potentially find themselves nine points behind Villa by the time of their next league fixture. Spurs are not in action this weekend due to the FA Cup semi-finals, with Villa taking on Bournemouth on home soil.

Next weekend, Unai Emery’s team host Chelsea on Saturday evening, a day before Spurs take to the field. The next fixture for Spurs? A North London Derby with Arsenal. Villa must make the most of this chance to increase the pressure on their top-four rivals.

Are Arsenal unraveling again?

Arsenal faced no shortage of jibes after stuttering during the run-in last season. Chokers. Bottlers. You name it, they heard it. The longest time at the top of the table without winning the Premier League was not a record the Gunners wanted, but a four-game winless run in April allowed Manchester City to claw back the deficit.

It’s not quite the same scenario this time around, though the Arsenal fans will be nervous after back-to-back defeats in all competitions. After a late double saw Aston Villa claim three points at the Emirates last weekend, Arsenal exited the Champions League to Bayern Munich in midweek.

Successive losses have stalled the momentum of an unbeaten start to the calendar year and a tricky trip to Wolves will be an acid test for this Arsenal team and how much they’ve improved – and learned – from last season.

Defining week for Everton, on and off the pitch

Everton are in a perilous position on and off the pitch right now, with James Tarkowski labelling the club’s 6-0 defeat to Chelsea on Monday the most embarrassing moment of his career.

The club’s thrashing at Stamford Bridge leaves the Toffees two points above the relegation places, ahead of a must-not-lose clash with Nottingham Forest this weekend. Forest are a point and place behind Everton in the table, having had their own sanctions for breaching the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules.

The two teams are desperately looking to preserve their Premier League status and could face catastrophic consequences with a drop into the second tier. Everton’s uncertainty extends off the pitch with the ongoing 777 takeover saga continuing in the background.

A takeover that was hoped to be completed last Christmas has rumbled on, as 777 looks to pass the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test and provide evidence of where their investment will come from. Rumours of administration should a deal not materialise will be a huge concern, with the implications of a nine-point penalty.

Read – Ranking the five favourites for the 2023/24 PFA Player of the Year award

See more – Midfield Magicians: Fernando Redondo, gentleman, scholar and deep-lying playmaker supreme

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