West Ham United vs. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Following wins by Liverpool and Manchester City on Saturday, Chelsea enter Sunday’s clash on the other side London, where they’ll take on a West Ham side that only last week picked up its first points of the season, third in the PL table. The Blues are, however — along with the Reds — one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the PL. Maurizio Sarri has stabilized Chelsea following a summer of tumult and turnover, thanks in large part to a series of dazzling performances by Eden Hazard — one of the figures at the center of the controversy this summer — as the Belgian has racked up five goals and a pair of assists in just over 300 minutes. His hat trick last weekend helped the Blues to a perfect 5-for-5 start to the season.
West Ham, on the other hand, finally have something to show for their efforts after appointing Manuel Pellegrini as manager and spending more than $100 million on transfers in the summer. All it took was one win to climb out of the bottom-three. Andriy Yarmolenko bagged a brace in the win over Everton, leaving Pellegrini more than pleased after showing faith in the Ukrainian during his first few weeks in the PL.
“I said at the start that Andriy needs a few weeks to get used to playing in the Premier League,” Pellegrini said this week. “He has a lot of quality, we know that, but in this league you can’t just play with quality.
“He demonstrated against Everton that it was the correct moment. He did it very well. After this performance, we must demand him to give more, because he’s able to be a top player for us.
Another side enjoying a purple patch of results of late is Arsenal, winners of three straight after defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea to start the season. Unai Emery has worked out a decent enough formula, though the Gunners are yet to keep a clean sheet this season (their 9 goals conceded puts them in the bottom-half of the league in the goals-allowed column). Even star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang acknowledged his side’s defensive struggles following Thursday’s 4-2 victory over Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League.
“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes.”
Everton’s season has also been marked by a drastic difference between the first two games and the three which followed thereafter, only in reverse of Arsenal’s turnaround. After impressing in their first two games, the Toffees have collected just two points from the last three games. Their struggles have been, in part, down to the absence of Richarlison, who scored three goals in the first two games of the season before earning a red card and a three-game ban for head-butting Adam Smith during the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth. Injuries throughout the team proved costly against West Ham last weekend, and not much has improved on that front. Defensive pillars Michael Keane and Phil Jagielka remain out, while Seamus Coleman and Yerry Mina will undergo late fitness tests ahead of Sunday’s kickoff.
Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is chock-full of top-six sides in action, as Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all look to advance their respective bids to topple this season’s favorites, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Cardiff City vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
The pressure has eased — even if only ever so slightly — on Unai Emery after picking up his first victory as Arsenal manager last weekend. What the Spaniard could now use is a healthy haul of points from the Gunners’ next seven games, all of which come against non-top-six sides. Up first is a trip to the south of Wales to take on 16th-place Cardiff, a side still seeking its first win (and goal) this season. Emery and midfielder Mesut Ozil have reportedly fallen out with one another, but the manager maintains the story is little more than tabloid fodder.
“Throughout my career I have respect for the media, for newspaper, radio, TV. But there are a lot of people in the media and at not every moment is the information real. It isn’t true, the news. … In this situation with Mesut Ozil, it is clear: he is OK, he has the commitment we want, he is a very important player for us and we want to help him to give us the best performance in each match and each moment.”
As for the Bluebirds, Neil Warnock‘s side is the last remaining team without a goal to their name this season. On the bright side, the two points they have to their name means they’ve kept a pair of clean sheets — in back-to-back games, no less — against Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town.
Burnley vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
It might be early in the 2018-19 season, but it’s not too early for Jose Mourinho to find himself facing the possibility of being fired should Man United lose away to Burnley a week after losing 3-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. It’s not just Monday’s result, but the overwhelming sense of discontent around Old Trafford that has begun to make Mourinho’s position feel as if it’s untenable. He and his players are saying all of the right things, publicly, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Turf Moor, but it’s not as if anyone has any other choice at the moment.
Luke Shaw, for instance, feels the players must stick together and keep their heads down to right the ship.
“You see a lot of things in the media that go on about what our dressing room is like, but we have a really good spirit, a really good group of lads who want to work and achieve big things here. We have a group of hard workers and amazing talents, everywhere you look on the field. We have got to start taking our chances and I am sure we will start winning games. We have got to pick ourselves back up, keep working hard and we need to pick up points after two losses. We need to win and win in a good way.”
Burnley, on the other hand, are dealing with adversity of their own after failing to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League this week. Now, Sean Dyche‘s men seek their first win of the season, and their first point since opening day. Back-to-back defeats to Watford (3-1) and Fulham (4-2) have dropped the Clarets to 19th place in the league table.
At the other end of the table, Sunday also provides an unlikely meeting of unbeaten sides when Watford host Tottenham at Vicarage Road. The Hornets have feasted on bottom-half sides in their first three games, while Spurs landed the first blow of the season amongst the “other” top-six sides vying for Champions League qualification.
While much of the talk about Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has focused on the fact that not a single player was signed this summer — the first such occurrence for a PL club since the summer transfer window began — Monday’s demolition of the Red Devils served as a coming-out party for Brazilian attacker Lucas Moura, a $___-million acquisition who had virtually no impact last season after signing in January. As a well-known former manager in north London might say, getting Moura up to speed with a full preseason behind him has been kind of like a new signing.
Pochettino’s counterpart on Sunday, Javi Gracia, has pushed all of the right buttons thus far, and he’s had to do so when it comes to picking his lineup and substitutes. With such a healthy, deep squad, Gracia might feel this is Watford’s best chance to knock off Spurs for the first time in the PL era. In 12 league meetings spanning two and a half decades, they have just three points to show for their efforts, and haven’t beaten the north London side in league play since 1987.
The Gunners are without a point after losses to Chelsea and Manchester City, and the team has struggled to show improvement under Emery to this point. Should they falter again, pressure could build with the built-in excuse of a difficult first two fixtures now passed.
The Hammers sit 19th in the table with zero points and a -5 goal differential after losses to Liverpool and Bournemouth. They squandered a lead last time out, wasting a 1-0 lead to the Cherries to fall 2-1. They have just four wins since January 20th. Midfielder Jack Wilshere is set to play his former club and lead the midfield in Noble’s absence.
What they’re saying
Arsenal playmaker Henrikh Mhkitaryan on the team’s struggles: “We don’t feel any pressure. We are not thinking that something is going wrong because we are moving in the right way even if we lost two games. I don’t know why people are criticizing so much. I’m not paying attention because I know if I’ve played bad or well.”
West Ham attacker Marko Arnautovic on Arsenal: “They have a new coach and a new team and they are trying to achieve big things because they are a top club. But there is no reason why we can’t take points there because they are also human beings.”
West Ham is struggling to find its way, and the Gunners need a win desperately, and Arsenal will channel that motivation to a 2-0 road victory.
Chelsea’s new manager is looking to instill an additional attacking flair after taking over for a countrymate whose first focus was defensive structure. The Blues dazzled in their opening match, but still have plenty of room for more sharpness up front as they return Eden Hazard to an already dangerous lineup.
Arsenal’s new boss, meanwhile, takes over for a club legend who seemed to lose his way, hoping to shore things up at the back after the Gunners seemingly deteriorated as the years under Arsene Wenger waned on. Their defensive frailties were on display in the season opener as they were shredded by last year’s runaway champions, losing handily to what seemed like the clearly better team. They have lost a young up-and-coming star in Ainsley Maitland-Niles to a long-term leg injury, and the starting goalkeeper was shredded for poor play last weekend.
Despite all that, the points don’t care which team is facing what circumstances, they simply find the team with the better scoreline after 90 minutes. So who will come out victorious at Stamford Bridge?
As stated earlier, Hazard should return to the Blues’ starting lineup after playing 14 minutes in the opener and assisting a goal, while Cesc Fabregas remains out with his knee problem that Sarri called “very unusual.” Ross Barkley could make way for the Belgian star in midfield, or Willian may sit instead. Mateo Kovacic could also see time in midfield if Sarri truly wanted to shuffle the deck so soon.
For the Gunners, Maitland-Niles is out but Nacho Monreal likely returns in time to take his place, although Sead Kolasinac remains out as does Carl Jenkinson. Unai Emery could hand Lucas Torreira his first Premier League start after the 22-year-old was impressive as a substitute for starter Granit Xhaka against Manchester City. Would it be the Swiss to make way for his younger Uruguayan counterpart, or would Aaron Ramsey sit instead? Petr Cech will reportedly retain his place in goal despite a poor performance in the opener.
What they’re saying
Arsenal manager Unai Emery on maintaining spirit: “We need to keep our personality, our mentality. Against [Manchester] City, the team kept their ideas, kept their spirit in the game for the full 90 minutes even when we were losing. That was a good thing. I want us to continue with this work and to be competitive for 90 minutes, but with a better performance both individually and collectively.”
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri on Arsenal under Emery: “For everybody it’s difficult against Manchester City. I think Emery is a very good coach. He won three times the Europa League, he won in France with PSG. I think Arsenal this season will be competitive. I think they will be able to fight for a place in Champions League.”
Chelsea’s season-opening test wasn’t exactly of top-drawer difficulty, but they clearly have less distance to go under Sarri than Arsenal does under Emery. For that reason, the Blues should be able to defend home court with ease, winning 3-1 with the Gunners making things interesting at 2-1 before a late goal sends the home crowd comfortably happy.