PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Spurs battle at the Bridge

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Sunday could provide a massive amount of clarity in the top-four race, or it could cloud things even further as we approach the final half-dozen games of the 2017-18 Premier League season…

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Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

For a second straight season, Arsenal find themselves focusing solely on the Europa League as their only realistic route into the Champions League. With that — and a quarterfinals clash with Russian side CSKA Moscow set to begin at the Emirates Stadium this Thursday — in mind, don’t be surprised if Arsene Wenger picks a reserves- and youth-heavy squad when Stoke visit on Sunday. Injuries to a handful of first-team regulars will also weigh heavily as Wenger considers his team choices for Thursday.

While the 2017-18 season has strayed far from the plan for Arsenal, it’s been far worse for Stoke, who find themselves next-to-bottom of the league with seven games to go. 17th-place Crystal Palace sit three points clear of the Potters, just outside the relegation zone. Mark Hughes‘ men have just one win since the calendar turned over to 2018 (four draws, five losses) and haven’t won back-to-back games all season.

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Sead Kolasinac (knee), Aaron Ramsey (groin), Jack Wilshere (knee), Alexandre Lacazette (knee) | Stoke — OUT: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (groin), Lee Grant (wrist)

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Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

It’s a combustible situation anytime Chelsea and Tottenham take the same field, and Sunday’s encounter at Stamford Bridge will be no different, with the two London sides separated by only five points in the league table. Spurs currently sit fourth, with the Blues on the outside looking in at the top-four. Victory for Spurs would all but seal Champions League qualification, even with a visit from champions-elect Manchester City left on the schedule.

For Chelsea’s part, defender Marcos Alonso doesn’t see failing to finish in the top-four as much as an inevitable response to winning the title last season.

“In England, after winning the Premier League, it is normal to have a difficult year, especially with the level that Manchester City are maintaining throughout the season,” he said this week. “Now we have an important end of the year, to qualify for the Champions League and fight for the FA Cup. We’re looking forward to it.”

Spurs last win at Stamford Bridge came in 2008 in the League Cup, while their last win league win in west London was more than 28 years ago, Feb. 10, 1990. In order to snap that streak of nearly three decades, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will have to navigate 90 more minutes without star striker Harry Kane, who’s still a week or two away from returning to action after suffering a ankle ligament injury on March 11. On a positive note, Spurs are unbeaten in 12 league games (nine wins), dating back to Dec. 16 against Man City.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), David Luiz (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Andreas Christensen (fitness); RETURNING: Thibaut Courtois (hamstring) | Spurs — OUT: Harry Kane (ankle)