PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Arsenal wandering no man’s land

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
0 Comments

The Premier League’s top-four is all but confirmed this season, which means perennial Champions League sides Chelsea and Arsenal have little to nothing to play for in their final seven games; the same can’t be said for either of their opponents on Sunday…

[ PL ROUNDUP: United deny City their title; Spurs inch closer to Liverpool ]

Arsenal vs. Southampton — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal’s quest for a top-four-five-six finish in the PL continues on Sunday, when the Gunners welcome relegation-battling Southampton to the Emirates Stadium, a day after seventh-place Burnley closed the gap to just two points with a 2-1 win over Watford. Form has improved, marginally, in recent weeks (back-to-back league wins, plus three single-leg victories to reach the brink of the Europa League semifinals), but 16 points is the current margin between themselves and fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur. This year’s un-St. Totteringham’s Day could come as soon as next weekend.

18th-place Southampton, meanwhile, face a three-point deficit which represents the difference between the PL and Championship come August. Having lost two straight in the league, and won none in their last five outings, Mark Hughes‘ men are flirting with a return to the second division after five seasons in England’s top flight (and successive finishes of 8th, 7th, 6th and 8th the last four seasons). Last weekend’s 3-0 loss to fellow relegation battlers West Ham United is the season’s low point thus far, though tougher times still appear on the horizon, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City still to come on Saints’ remaining schedule. Finally, Southampton haven’t won in any of their last 22 trips to Arsenal (November 1987).

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), David Ospina (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles) | Southampton — OUT: None

[ THREE THINGS: What we learned from Man United’s comeback over City ]

Chelsea vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Much like Arsenal, the final stretch of Chelsea’s season is almost entirely a non-starter — only without the possibility of qualifying for next season’s Champions League by wining the Europa League. Last weekend’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham, the Blues’ first defeat to Spurs at Stamford Bridge in 28 years, all but sealed their place in Europe’s “other” club competition right on the heels of last season’s PL title. Antonio Conte is widely expected to depart in the summer — whether by his choice, or that of Roman Abramovich — and land in any number of high-profile jobs across Europe.

West Ham, on the other hand, enter Sunday’s London derby at Stamford Bridge full of confidence for the first time in months (they lost their three games prior to the win over Southampton, by a combined score of 11-2), and a full five points clear of the relegation zone. Like Saints, though, the Hammers have been woeful in recent years against Sunday’s foe: 11 games without a win at the Bridge (outscored 22-6).

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Ross Barkley (fitness), David Luiz (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Pedro (knock) | West Ham — OUT: Micahil Antonio (hamstring), Winston Reid (knee), Sam Byram (ankle), Andy Carroll (ankle), Pedro Obiang (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Manuel Lanzini (knee), James Collins (hamstring)