Premier League preview: Arsenal’s precarious lead hangs in the balance – Southampton visit comes at the perfect moment
2 min read
From 2-0 up and cruising to being at some points fortunate to avoid conceding a third goal and losing the tie, Arsenal’s afternoon at the London Stadium did not go to plan.
For the second week on the spin, the Gunners blew a two-goal lead to draw a crucial fixture in the Premier League title race and as a result have seen their lead at the top of the division cut to just four points having played a game more than second-placed Manchester City.
A desperately unfortunate penalty miss from Bukayo Saka proved harshly poignant in a match where during the aftermath of that spot-kick it felt like the visitors were never going to get a foothold back into the game.
It seems almost unfair that a team who have performed so admirably for practically an entire campaign now seem on the cusp of handing the experienced winning machine of Manchester City yet another title, but it is not called the ‘business end’ of the season for nothing and if you are to seal the ultimate prize in this tumultuous sport then you cannot afford to switch off when the importance of winning reaches boiling point.
Indeed, Arsenal are still in the driving seat and if City win their game in hand against, somewhat ironically, West Ham, then the north London side will remain a point in front of Pep Guardiola’s men. The caveat is the pair are still yet to meet at the Etihad, with the season’s most anticipated clash coming next Wednesday in a game where the stakes could now not be any higher.
With City majorly on the up – they are on a remarkable 10-game winning streak across all competitions – and Arsenal now wavering, the form book points to only one outcome on April 26 and that is another convincing win for the current Premier League champions, just as was the case when the pair met at the Emirates in February and City won 3-1 thanks to a scintillating second-half display.
But there is one final league fixture left for Arsenal to participate in before that heavyweight bout commences in nine days time and it could not be against a more welcomed opponent as bottom club Southampton visit north London on Friday evening.
The Saints have been pitiful all season, with a mixture of several poorly thought out off-field decisions interweaving with far too many subpar on-pitch performances to blame for their current position in the top-flight table.
Whilst nothing is as of yet mathematically confirmed, Southampton’s relegation to the Championship following a decade-long stint in England’s first tier seems imminent as another underwhelming performance led to a 2-0 defeat at home to a resurgent Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The challenge of survival does not get any easier for Ruben Selles’ side, with the result of this Friday’s game of top vs bottom already seeming like a foregone conclusion based on recent performances.
For Arsenal, though, they will view this fixture as the perfect opportunity to return to winning ways and reinstall some hugely needed confidence ahead of their season-defining encounter against City. More dropped points, you feel, effectively ends the title race.
The Cityzens are not in league action this weekend as they have the welcomed distraction of an FA Cup semi-final to participate in, as they meet Championship promotion hopefuls Sheffield United at Wembley on Saturday.
Because of this, they will have two games in hand over Arsenal come Saturday morning and potentially only a four or five point gap to close if the Gunners slip up once more against Southampton. Although that is unlikely, it is not totally inconceivable given how badly Sunday’s game turned out.
Elsewhere this weekend, in-form Aston Villa look to stretch their unbeaten run to nine games when they travel to west London to take on Brentford.
Unai Emery’s side sit sixth in the Premier League following a resounding and unexpected 3-0 win over Newcastle on Saturday and are in genuine contention to secure European football next term. Brentford, meanwhile, have lost their last three.
There’s an all-Midlands affair at the King Power Stadium as strugglers Leicester host Wolves in a game the Foxes desperately need to get something out of if they are to start clambering away from danger.
Meanwhile, Liverpool – who thumped six goals past Leeds on Monday – and Nottingham Forest clash at Anfield; Bournemouth will look to build on their magnificent win over Spurs when they welcome West Ham to the Vitality Stadium; Newcastle host Tottenham as the pair battle it out for the top-four; Crystal Palace lock horns with relegation-threatened Everton and Javi Gracia’s goal-shipping Leeds take on mid-table Fulham.
It’s all go.
Premier League fixtures in full
FRIDAY 21ST APRIL
Arsenal 20:00 Southampton
SATURDAY 22ND APRIL
Fulham 12:30 Leeds United
Brentford 15:00 Aston Villa
Crystal Palace 15:00 Everton
Leicester City 15:00 Wolves
Liverpool 15:00 Nottingham Forest
SUNDAY 23RD APRIL
AFC Bournemouth 14:00 West Ham United
Newcastle United 14:00 Tottenham Hotspur