PL Sunday preview: Liverpool in chase mode; Arsenal v. Man Utd

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By the time Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures is complete, nearly all 20 clubs will have played 30 games in the 2018-19 season, signaling the official start of the run-in.

[ MORE: What did we learn on a wild PL Saturday? (video) ]

From the title, to the top-four, to the relegation battle, there’s still so much left to play for…

Liverpool v. Burnley — 8 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

From runaway PL title leaders and favorites, to staring a four-point deficit — with a game in hand, albeit — square in the face, the last two months have been anything but ideal for Liverpool. It’s not as if Jurgen Klopp‘s side has cratered and even lost a single game, so much as Manchester City have regained their brilliant, historic form of last season (three points dropped from their last 11 games) and managed to capitalize on the Reds drawing four of their last six. When 17th-place Burnley visit Anfield on Sunday, Klopp and Co., will have their hands full against increasingly desperate opponents who now sit just two points and one place clear of the relegation zone. There can be no looking ahead to Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Bayern Munich (0-0 after the Reds’ home leg).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side was the very definition of up-and-down since mid-January: three draws, followed by two wins, followed by two losses most recently. Prior to starting their potentially season-saving run just before the start of 2019, Burnley sat 19th in the PL table. After winning three straight to start the new year and eventually extending their run to eight games unbeaten (five wins), they had risen as high as 14th. Back-to-back defeats to fellow relegation battlers Newcastle United and Crystal Palace have since dropped them back into perilous danger as they head northwest to take on one of the Europe’s most prolific, irresistible sides on Sunday.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Dejan Lovren (hamstring) | Burnley — OUT: Aaron Lennon (knee), Steven Defour (calf), Jonathan Walters (achilles)


Chelsea v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 10:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Maurizio Sarri‘s debut season in the PL has been one he, and many Chelsea fans alike, would like to forget. And yet, it’s the sixth-place Blues — of the three teams currently jockeying for fourth place — who control their own destiny, due to having a game in hand and trailing the Champions League places by just two points. Sunday’s opponent, sixth-place Wolves, will be anything but a pushover, which they demonstrated the first time these sides met this season: Wolves 2-1 Chelsea, in December.

Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side to the comeback victory at Molineux Stadium, and the prolific duo (17 goals and nine assists between them this PL campaign) will be desperate to complete the unlikely double over such a giant in their first top-flight season in eight years. Against all odds, it’s Wolves who have lost just once in their last seven league games (four wins), and the Blues who have lost three of their last six (three wins) and suffered a frustrating slide down the table. With a six-point advantage over 11th-place Everton, and Sunday’s game in hand, Wolves are merely a handful of results away from mathematically securing a top-half finish with plenty of the season still to run.

INJURIES: Chelsea —  OUT: None | Wolves — OUT: Ryan Bennett (suspension)


Arsenal v. Manchester United — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

The leading contestants for a top-four finish are set to face off in a titanic clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with the added bonus of making a real push to catch and surpass a Tottenham Hotspur side suddenly spiraling out of control. Man United moved to within three points of Tottenham with their comeback victory over Southampton last weekend, only for those very Saints to do the Red Devils a massive favor on the back end: handing Spurs their third loss in four games.

Three points won’t come easy on Sunday, however, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side was pushed to its limits in the Champions League on Wednesday, only securing their passage to the quarterfinals in the 93rd minute against Paris Saint-Germain. Further complicating matters, United find themselves in the midst of something of an injury crisis (see below). On the bright side, Paul Pogba will be fit and fresh after missing Wednesday’s game due to suspension. On the brightest of bright sides, United remain unbeaten in 12 league games (10 wins) since Solskjaer took over for Jose Mourinho in mid-December.

Arsenal, on the other hand, will be considerably fatigued themselves after losing to Rennes in the Europa League on Thursday, and playing nearly 50 minutes with just 10 men. With dwindling hope of lifting the final trophy still in play for the Gunners, Unai Emery‘s main objective has become exceedingly clear: get the club back into the Champions League for the first time in three years. Three points would not only send Arsenal two points clear of United for fourth, but would also trim the gap between themselves and Spurs to just a single point with eight games left to play.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Lucas Torreira (suspension), Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Rob Holding (knee) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (knee), Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Juan Mata (hamstring), Antonio Valencia (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (groin), Nemanja Matic (leg), Ander Herrera (hamstring), Phil Jones (illness), Matteo Darmian (undisclosed)

Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur v. Arsenal

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  • North London derby, for the 198th time
  • NLD wins: Arsenal – 82, Spurs – 64, Draws – 51 (all competitions)
  • Arsenal 4-2 Spurs, in December
  • Arsenal 0-2 Spurs, two weeks later (League Cup)

It feels like I write this sentence ahead of the season’s final north London derby every season, and it applies once again in March 2019: no matter the drastically different paths they take to arrive here, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal always seem to come together, both in the Premier League table and on the field, at a crucial crossroads this time of year.

Just a week ago, Tottenham led Arsenal by 10 points, and St. Totteringham’s Day could have just about been canceled for the third straight year. Then, Spurs lost back-to-back PL games for the first time since September, and the gap is now four points and successive places in the table. Up next? Yes, of course, the Gunners visit the new White Hart Lane Wembley Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

If one of these clubs ceased to exist, the other might as well fold and dissolve its assets as well, because what would be the point without its adversary? Good, never great. Top-four, never title winners. Kings of north London, or not.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Harry Kane recently returned from yet another ankle ligament injury, so Spurs should be operating at full-strength and humming right along, right? Try again. Sure, Kane leads his side with 15 goals this season (fourth-most in the PL) and he even bagged one on his return against Burnley last weekend, but Spurs managed to win six of eight games in his absence and scored 18 goals in the process (six from Son Heung-min). Since Kane returned? The aforementioned defeats in succession, and just the lone goal scored.

On the other side, Arsenal have waltzed to three straight PL victories in exceedingly comfortable fashion (a two-goal lead before halftime of each). That said, the difference in the Gunners’ home and away records this season is startling: 12 wins in 15 games at home (38 points), compared to just 5 wins in 13 games away from home (18 points). Their victory over last-place and almost-relegated Huddersfield Town two weeks ago was their first away win since November. It’s unclear if Mesut Ozil is back in the good graces of manager Unai Emery, but the club’s highest-paid player made just his fourth PL start in three months on Wednesday and tallied a goal and an assist.

Injuries

Spurs OUT: Eric Dier (tonsillitis), Dele Alli (hamstring); RETURNING: Jan Vertonghen (hip) | Arsenal — OUT: Hector Bellerin (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Rob Holding (knee) | QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (knock), Sead Kolasinac (knock)

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pochettino, on NLD lessons: “I’ve learned that every game is completely different and you cannot guess what is going to happen. You need to be ready for different circumstances. It’s always special, always different. I’ve learned that if you have a lot of experience playing this type of game, it shows you the more times you play, you understand that it’s not a plan, it’s to play with your heart, to play with focus and try to deliver your best. One game and another game is never similar. We saw that when we played in the Premier League and then the Carabao Cup, two different results, performances and two completely different games. We need to be ready for all circumstances that can happen in the game.”

Unai Emery, on catching Spurs: “We have been speaking about the opportunity [to finish above Tottenham]. Each match is giving us the opportunity to win three points. There was a 10-point difference between Tottenham and us two weeks ago and now it is four points. … The big opportunity for us is to play with confidence in our moment. They have lost two matches but are having a very big season.”

Prediction

It’s been nearly five years (10 games) since one of these sides last won a league meeting away from home. Thus, advantage Spurs, to get something out of this one. In nine NLD appearances (PL only), Kane has scored nine goals, so it’s pretty safe to assume he’ll bag at least one. Still, it’s hard to look at Spurs’ midfield of Harry Winks and Mousa Sissoko and believe they can keep a clean sheet against Arsenal’s firepower. This one has wholly-unsatisfying-to-both-sides draw written all over it.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

Arsenal fears broken jaw for Koscielny

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Things are getting worse for Arsenal on the injury front as their defensive line continues to take hits from all angles.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery said they fear Laurent Koscielny has suffered a broken jaw after a clash with Romelu Lukaku in the 3-1 FA Cup loss to Manchester United.

Koscielny departed in the 64th minute after falling hard in a tangle with Lukaku. He received treatment on the field that resulted in a lengthy delay, and it was clear he was struggling with a facial injury.

The Frenchman’s injury is an even bigger blow to Arsenal considering fellow central defender Sokratis was forced off in the first half with an ankle injury from landing awkwardly following an aerial challenge. That, coupled with Hector Bellerin‘s lengthy absence from a torn ACL suffered just a few weeks ago, has left the Arsenal defense in tatters.

It’s not the first time this season that the Gunners have struggled with injuries to their back line. Rob Holding, like Bellerin, is out for the year with an ACL tear. Koscielny himself missed nearly the entire first half of the season after recovering from his own ACL tear, while Sead Kolasinac dealt with a knee injury that left him sidelined for the first three months. Nacho Monreal missed nearly two full months with a hamstring injury, and 21-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos has struggled with a groin problem for most of the season. Shkodran Mustafi missed three matches in December with a hamstring problem, while Sokratis has been one of the more consistent presences for Arsenal this season, but has had ankle problems crop up this season before his injury on Friday.

Arsenal has even suffered injury problems to its defensive line before this season, with Arsene Wenger facing the same situation in his final few years in charge. Monreal, a left-back naturally, was forced deputized in central defense for a significant portion of Wenger’s final season in charge of Arsenal.

Season over for Arsenal’s Bellerin

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Arsenal’s fears regarding Hector Bellerin‘s leg injury were founded in truth, as the Spaniard is set to miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

[ MORE: Juve wins again ]

Bellerin, still just 23, was stretchered off of Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat of Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium this weekend after his knee appeared to buckle during a non-contact play.

He’s already made 181 appearances for the Gunners, with seven goals and 24 assists.

Stephane Lichtsteiner and Carl Jenkinson are in Arsenal’s right back corps, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles capable of logging minutes, too.

Arsenal closes ground on Chelsea (video)

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  • Chelsea with 64 percent possession
  • Arsenal takes 2-0 halftime lead
  • Arrizabalaga strong in defeat

Chelsea had most of the ball but Arsenal produced almost all of the danger in a 2-0 defeat of the visiting Blues at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny scored for Unai Emery‘s men, who avenged a 3-2 loss at Stamford Bridge in August to move three points back of the fourth place visitors.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chelsea’s opening moments were anything but stable, with a couple silly fouls and a flubbed chance by Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette off a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang feed.

Blues goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga bailed his team out when Laurent Koscielny jabbed a hard header at him off an Aaron Ramsey free kick.

The ensuing corner kick saw Lacazette put the Gunners ahead with a hard chipped finish past Arrizabalaga at the near post.

Koscielny’s shoulder turned a Sokratis shot over Arrizabalaga and inside the far post at the 40th minute.

Chelsea was a bit of a mess, but Marcos Alonso nearly pulled the deficit back to one when he headed off the post in the 45th minute.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Pedro blazed a cutback pass from Willian over the bar after running into a promising 56th minute position.

Sead Kolasinac inspired danger in the 64th minute, but Arrizabalaga stood tall for Chelsea.

Arsenal suffered a significant setback in the second half, as Hector Bellerin‘s knee appeared to buckle on a non-contact injury. His leg was strapped down and the Spaniard was stretchered off the pitch.