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PL Sunday preview: Title-race showdown at Anfield

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures consists of three games featuring four of the six sides with top-four aspirations, including the big one: the one we’ve all been waiting for since they met in the Champions League quarterfinals in April, Liverpool versus Manchester City.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 8? ]

Fulham vs. Arsenal — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal seek their sixth straight PL win on Sunday when Unai Emery and Co., make the short trip south to the River Thames and head west until they float up to Craven Cottage. Emery has settled in quickly — and quietly — since back-to-back defeats to Man City and Chelsea to begin his first season at the Emirates Stadium. While they’ve managed more than a handful of goals en route to five straight wins, it’s the defensive record (just four goals conceded, including back-to-back clean sheets against Everton and Watford) which has given the Gunners a foundation to build upon. Just two points separate Arsenal from fourth-place Chelsea.

Down at the other end of the table — 17th place, to be exact — Fulham are winless in their last four league games and have just five points to show for their first seven outings after spending more than $130 million this summer after winning promotion from the Championship. Injuries have been a key cause the Cottagers’ early-season struggles, as manager Slavisa Jokanovic has already used nine different defenders in PL play. American defender Tim Ream returned last weekend after missing the start of the season with a back injury and should do his part to stabilize a side that has conceded 16 goals in seven games.

INJURIES: Fulham — OUT: Timothy Fosu-Mensah (shoulder), Joe Bryan (hamstring) | Arsenal — OUT: Petr Cech (hamstring), Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (illness)


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

The good news for Chelsea: they’re still unbeaten to start the PL season. The slightly-less-great news: it’s been three weeks since they last won a PL game and they’re in danger of falling away from the leading pack, which presently consists of Liverpool and Man City. The Blues have won six straight games against Southampton (all competitions), including the FA Cup semifinal in April.

“We have lost two points in both our last two (league) games, so obviously we want to get three points as much as we can,” defender Cesar Azpilicueta said this week. “We weren’t able to in the last two games so we need to improve because every time we go onto the pitch, we want to win.”

Southampton, on the other hand, currently sit 16th in the midst of a three-game winless skid, including back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers. It’s been 205 minutes since Saints last scored a goal in PL play, and they have a bottom-five offensive record this season (six goals in seven games). Mark Hughes will be desperately hoping that edging past Everton on penalty kicks in the EFL Cup third round on Tuesday gives his side a much needed boost with the busy winter period not so far away now.

INJURIES: Southampton — OUT: None | Chelsea — OUT: Marco Van Ginkel (knee)


Liverpool vs. Manchester City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The last time Man City visited Anfield, they conceded three times in the game’s opening half-hour on their way to a 3-0 first-leg defeat, and a disheartening exit from the Champions League. The visit before that, Pep Guardiola‘s side conceded four times — including a three-goal barrage that lasted just nine minutes — as they watched their 22-game unbeaten start to the season vanish at Anfield. It’s been more than 15 years since City last beat Liverpool on Merseyside, as they’ve lost 11 times at Anfield since May 3, 2003.

Guardiola has not yet revealed whether or not Kevin De Bruyne (knee) will return after two months on the sidelines, though City have managed just fine — thus far — without their play-making genius. A run of four straight wins (by a combined score of 12-1) have vaulted City back ahead of Liverpool for the top spot in the table, thanks to the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Chelsea last weekend. Jurgen Klopp‘s side was perfect up until its trip to Stamford Bridge.

Klopp was very quick to downplay his side’s recent success against City, knowing his side is in for another colossal battle on Sunday.

“We won the last three games against City — twice in the Champions League and once in the league. After none of these games do you go into the dressing room and think, ‘Now we’ve got it, now we know how to beat Manchester City.’

“There is no real way; there isn’t one thing you have to do so you can beat them. That’s not there. You need a fantastic football team — which I have, thank God — with an outstanding character, ready for being really brave, ready for making mistakes in a very difficult game against an outstanding opponent.”

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Naby Keita (back), Adam Lallana (groin) | Man City — OUT: Claudio Bravo (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Ilkay Gundogan (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (foot)

Lacazette leads Arsenal to win over Watford

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  • Own goal puts Gunners ahead
  • Lacazette finds Ozil for 2-0
  • Watford winless in four

Arsenal broke through late to beat Watford 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Craig Cathcart‘s 81st minute own goal was joined by Mesut Ozil’s 83rd minute strike to provide three points to the Gunners.

Arsenal sits fifth, level on points with fourth place Spurs. Watford drops into sixth, two points back of the Gunners.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Alexandre Lacazette could’ve won a penalty had he gone down under a Christian Kabasele challenge, but he wobbled forward and mishit a shot. Perhaps he should’ve anyway, by that logic, but we digress.

Watford backstop Ben Foster made a decent stop on Granit Xhaka as the half-progressed, while Arsenal’s story between the sticks was a substitution when Petr Cech was injured and gave way to Bernd Leno.

Arsenal’s second half breakthrough began when an Alex Iwobi cross became Cathcart’s own goal and escalated quickly, with Ozil making it 2-0 within three minutes.

Lacazette assisted the Ozil goal with a decent low cross.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Cech: ‘I had a lot to do’ as Arsenal praises its keeper

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are going to get a lot of love for their quickfire goals in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Everton, but they know where the Gunners’ bread was buttered on Sunday.

And that butter comes with a helmet.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-0 Everton ]

“I think 20 times maybe, Cech kept us in the game,” Aubameyang said after the game. “I think we are improving every day and feeling good and better, so when we win it is better for the team. It is going well and we are enjoying training at the training ground.”

And here’s this fine double entendre from Lacazette.

“A big thanks to Petr Cech because he took a lot of balls today and we won our first clean sheet.”

Cech made a save within the match’s first throes as Dominic Calvert-Lewin challenged his 18, and then denied Theo Walcott with an outstanding dart to close down his former teammate.

As for the man himself, Cech’s a drummer and knows he just had to keep the beat despite early concerns about his role as a ball handler in Unai Emery‘s system.

Also, he very subtly humble-bragged about how well he played. From the BBC:

“Everton created a lot of chances in the first half and we had to stick together and wait for our opportunity to score which made the difference. I’m delighted with the performance and the clean sheet. I had a lot to do today and I had to help the team stay in the game, and as an experienced player, you have to do your part.”

Cech is one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, but his reputation has taken a hit over the past couple seasons. He was very, very good on Sunday, and will keep antsy Bernd Leno at bay for a few more weeks.

Quick strike Arsenal tops Everton

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  • Scoreless at halftime
  • Lacazette smashes opener
  • Aubameyang makes it 2-0

Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a pair of goals in under four minutes as Arsenal overcame a sloppy first half to beat Everton 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Petr Cech and Jordan Pickford both made fine saves in the effort, but Cech had more and Everton struggled to find much threat outside of Richarlison and Theo Walcott.

Arsenal moves sixth with 12 points. Everton is 12th with six. Flipped.

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Everton had a pair of good chances go wanting, the first an ungiven penalty to Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the second a ball bounding through the six.

Jordan Pickford made a palm stop on Nacho Monreal‘s bouncing shot as the hosts finally got into the match after the first 10 minutes.

Richarlison was lively in his return from a red card suspension, forcing Cech into a two-palmed save in the 21st minute.

Ex-Arsenal man Theo Walcott won a dangerous free kick with a clever dribble into the box, and Gylfi Sigurdssson hoped his 30th minute effort would punish the Gunners.

Lucas Digne took the kick instead, and Cech popped it over the goal for a corner kick. No luck.

Richarlison played Walcott through on Cech with a 38th minute pass, but the goalkeeper reacted quickly to deny Walcott.

Alexandre Lacazette took one touch too many on the doorstep before halftime.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Arsenal broke through in the second half.

Aaron Ramsey played a part in both goals, the first an assist on Lacazette’s outstanding strike in the 56th minute.

Then Aubameyang wrong-footed Pickford with an in-tight shot to the back post.

Cech made a fine save on a free kick in the 71st to deny Everton a way back into the match.

Arsenal hold off late Newcastle charge

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  • Ozil scores in 200th Arsenal app
  • Xhaka bags free kick
  • Clark pulls one back
  • Newcastle one point in five

A stoppage time goal had Arsenal on red alert despite a relatively comfortable 90 minutes in a 2-1 win over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil scored for Arsenal, who moves level on points with sixth place Spurs.

Ciaran Clark nodded in a Yoshinori Muto cross in stoppage time to give the Magpies extremely late hope, but Newcastle remains in the drop zone after playing four of their first five against Top Four contenders.

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A big error from a slipping Shkrodan Mustafi forced Sokratis into a good intervention after Jacob Murphy pushed his chance a bit too hard.

Newcastle had to remove injured captain Jamaal Lascelles for Ciaran Clark at the break. Would Arsenal take advantage?

It was Newcastle’s other center back, Federico Fernandez, who allowed Arsenal to score its opener. Xhaka lashed a bending free kick past a flying Martin Dubravka. 1-0.

Xhaka’s long cross led a shot blocked into the path of Ozil, who did not miss.

Petr Cech didn’t have to make a save until the 88th minute, pushing a Joselu header over the goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]