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Arsenal, Man Utd Test Resolve for Top-four Spot
In a behemoth of a match that could potentially make or break both sides’ top-four chances, Arsenal and Manchester United renew hostilities today lunchtime in the Premier League at the Emirates
The Gunners reignited their Champions League bid with an enthralling 4-2 success at Chelsea in midweek, while Ralf Rangnick’s side capitulated in a 4-0 defeat to Liverpool.
It took Eddie Nketiah all of 50 minutes on Wednesday night to equal Alexandre Lacazette’s Premier League open play goal tally for the entire season, as the 22-year-old led the Arsenal charge in a phenomenal spectacle at Stamford Bridge to end their three-game losing run.
Handed another opportunity to impress from the off after Lacazette’s COVID-19 recovery, Nketiah took advantage of Chelsea’s defensive lapses to register his first Premier League brace alongside strikes from fellow Hale End graduates Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka – the latter banishing his Euro 2020 penalty woes with a confidently-taken spot kick right at the death.
Finally rediscovering their magic touch against a Chelsea side who were all over the shop defensively means that fourth spot is still technically in Arsenal’s hands, with Mikel Arteta’s side only behind Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference ahead of what will seemingly be a pivotal North London derby on May 12.
A spate of devastating injuries and failure to bolster the attacking ranks in January seemed like it was going to prove costly for the Gunners after losses to Crystal Palace, Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion, but Arteta’s side produced in the big game on Wednesday and will see no reason why they cannot boost their top-four hopes at the expense of United’s this weekend.
Despite suffering back-to-back home losses to Liverpool and Brighton, Arsenal’s tally of 32 points on familiar territory is still the third-best record in the division, and the Gunners have all the motivation they need to avoid a run of three straight home defeats for the third season in a row.
Whether Erik ten Hag was watching on Tuesday night we may never know, but the Manchester United manager-elect would have certainly got a good image of the task at hand awaiting him at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils were simply torn to shreds by Liverpool on Merseyside.
Luis Dias, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane all carved their way through the United defence in what was frankly an embarrassing display from Ralf Rangnick’s men, and the German was the first to admit that the squad is in dire need of a significant overhaul after the full-time whistle.
United legends Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes also made their feelings known on the night as the 20-time English champions dropped below Arsenal into sixth on goal difference, and defeat at the Emirates would leave them six points adrift of their North London rivals having played a game more.
Man United travel to the Emirates having posted a mere two wins in their last seven Premier League matches – as well as losing each of their last three away from home – and Rangnick’s side are still waiting for their first Premier League clean sheet on rival turf since the turn of the year.
The Red Devils’ chances of ending such a miserable streak are seemingly rather slim at the Emirates, where Arsenal are unbeaten in three against their top-four rivals, but Michael Carrick did oversee a 3-2 win for Man United in front of the Old Trafford faithful earlier this season.
Meanwhile, Manchester City will be looking to move four points clear at the top of the Premier League table when they welcome Watford to the Etihad Stadium this afternoon.
The Citizens will enter the contest off the back of a 3-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday, while Watford suffered a 2-1 loss to Brentford in their last match on April 16.
Man City returned to the top of the Premier League table on Wednesday evening courtesy of a 3-0 success over Brighton.
The Citizens are again one point clear of second-placed Liverpool and will have the chance to move four points clear on Saturday, as Liverpool are not in action until Sunday, when they face Everton in the Merseyside derby.
Pep Guardiola’s side lost to Liverpool in the semi-finals of the FA Cup last weekend, so they are now fighting on just two fronts, aiming for success in the Premier League and Champions League, and Real Madrid will visit the Etihad Stadium for the first leg of their European Cup semi-final next week.
Man City will then take on Leeds United at the end of April before travelling to Real Madrid for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final, and it will be fascinating to see how the campaign finishes, as the club could win two trophies, one or potentially zero, with Liverpool aiming for a quadruple.
The Citizens have been strong in front of their own supporters in the league this season, picking up 38 points from 16 matches, but Watford have actually been much better away from home than at Vicarage Road, with 15 of their 22 points coming on their travels this term.
Watford are far from down and out, but there is no getting away from the fact that something special will need to happen in the final weeks of the campaign if they are to survive.
The Hornets are currently 19th in the table, seven points behind 17th-placed Everton, who have a game in hand, but they have some winnable matches coming up.
Indeed, Roy Hodgson’s side have a gigantic home game against Burnley at the end of the month before taking on Crystal Palace and Everton in back-to-back fixtures, while their final two matches of the campaign are against Leicester City and Chelsea.
Watford picked up an impressive three points away to Southampton on March 13 but have lost their last three league matches against Liverpool, Leeds United and Brentford, conceding seven times in the process.
The Hornets have also lost each of their last 14 games against Man City in all competitions, including a 3-1 defeat in the reverse match at Vicarage Road earlier this season.