Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as a pair of top-six sides host a pair of bottom dwellers.
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Aston Villa vs. Tottenham — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
There’s a strong sense at Tottenham that Spurs can finish top four in Jose Mourinho’s first go around, especially on a two-game winning streak heading into Sunday.
Spurs trail the surprise of the season Sheffield United by two points, meaning that a win at Villa Park can propel the London club back into the European mix. Having won their last five away trips in Aston with a combined score of 14-1, there is little evidence to question why Spurs would be unable to leave Birmingham with three points.
“We had a good week,” Mourinho said. “Three very good training sessions. Of course I told you if we didn’t play against Southampton [in an FA Cup replay] I would give the players some time but we would be back early.
“Because of the Southampton game we had less time for training but we had three very good days. We went through different aspects of our game to improve.”
Following a week with only practice activity, Villa take on, perhaps, the most important stretch of games since the second half of their disastrous 2015-2016 Premier League season – their last before the drop to the Championship.
According to manager Dean Smith, his staff and players are up for the battle that is avoiding relegation. Villa are only one spot to the right of the red, dotted line, making every game from here on out crucial for the Midlands club.
“As everybody knows, we had a big turnaround [of players] in the summer and they’re starting to gel,” he said. “For the first time we’ve had a mini break and we’ve seen a positive side to it. It gave everybody a chance to have some time away from the place, and to clear their heads.”
Arsenal vs. Newcastle — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
With five draws in seven matches, a week-long camp in Dubai, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are returning to the Emirates with the obligation to win.
Arsenal are projected, for the first time in 25 years, to finish outside of the top six. Of course, a lot of that falls on ex-manager Unai Emerey, but Arteta, 37, has yet to demonstrate the edge many believes he has on other up-and-coming teachers of the game.
The Spaniard will need time – lots of it and financial backing – but the fact that Arsenal are level with Newcastle with 31 points after 25 bouts doesn’t help Sunday’s scenario. Three points, and a well-executed defensive plan against the Magpies, however, may put out many long-burning fires for all thhose involved with Arsenal.
“I think we have to generate some defensive stability, but not by defending deep,” Arteta said. “I don’t like that. It’s by defending high and pressing the opponent as much as possible. But the process – together as many times as possible in the most efficient way – has to be done properly from here.
As expected, Steve Bruce and company are delighted to be in the position that they’re in, considering that a few weeks into the season it felt that St. James’ Park’s walls were collapsing.
“We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”
INJURIES: Arsenal — Marí (match fitness), Soares (knee), Tierney (shoulder), Chambers (knee) | Newcastle — OUT: Shelvey (thigh), Manquillo (thigh), Carroll (groin), Krafth (ankle), Dummett (thigh), Willems (knee), Colback (knee)