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If someone had told you Arsenal would be a shade of odds on to beat Sheffield United at the Emirates before the season started, you would have been knocked over in the rush to get on at the bookmakers. But such has been the impressive form of the South Yorkshire outfit and the inconsistency of the London club that punters are able to back the hosts at that price now.
The Blades are four points clear of their more illustrious opponents with only the big two clubs, Liverpool and Manchester City, having managed to beat United on their travels this term.
Arsenal have a huge job trying to force their way back into the top four as they now trail Chelsea by eleven points, and perhaps new manager Mikel Arteta will feel trying to secure a top-six finish is more realistic in his debut season at the helm.
Too many draws have hindered the Gunners and they, along with Wolves, have featured in the most stalemates in the top flight so far this season. The biggest blow for the hosts will be the three-match ban handed to star striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang which of course helps explain why the price has become so big.
Arsenal have replacements, with Alexandre Lacazette filling in, and with a strong looking midfield can prevent Sheffield from having enough ball to create chances on their way to a crucial three points.
Everton were bitterly disappointing when failing to beat what was arguably a Liverpool second string in the FA Cup two weeks ago but bounced back with a narrow 1-0 success over Brighton at Goodison last weekend. Brazilian forward Richarlison was the match-winner and he has now found the net eight times in the Premier League this season.
These are exciting times for fans in the blue half of Merseyside with new manager Carlo Ancelotti at the helm and their new stadium plans well on track.
The club look to have put behind them any lingering worries about relegation and look primed to make a top-six challenge. Their away form has been alarming however and with only two victories on the road, this is an area that will have to improve if they are to continue making progress.
They have a good opportunity this Saturday when they travel to a West Ham team low on confidence who now find themselves only a solitary point outside the bottom three.
The Hammers were unfortunate not to rescue a late point at Sheffield United after a goal was chalked off via VAR but have struggled to sustain any resemblance of form, which has plunged them nearer to the trap door. Everton can secure maximum points on their way to brighter times.
Chelsea are involved in the tea time live game when they make the long trip north to Newcastle. The Blues were cosy 3-0 winners over Burnley last time out, following progression in the FA Cup after eliminating Nottingham Forest.
Forward Tammy Abraham is enjoying a great season and looks poised to be included in Gareth Southgate’s plans for England in the summer, especially if Spurs forward Harry Kane fails to recover quickly enough from injury.
Newcastle are averaging less than a goal a game which is preventing them winning enough times to move clear of the relegation zone. They did manage to bag four on Tuesday evening when League One Rochdale were easily dispatched in the FA Cup, but whether they can produce that back in the PL is highly unlikely.
Record signing Joelinto scored only his second goal for the club against Dale and the huge price tag around his head has certainly not helped his goal output.
The Pensioners are in a strong position to secure a top-four finish in manager Frank Lampard’s first season in charge and they will hope to increase their five-point cushion over the chasing pack in the North East. They have enjoyed several big victories on their travels and will be confident of adding to that total here.
Brentford are one of the form teams in the Championship and having closed the gap on early pacesetters West Brom and Leeds, find themselves just six points adrift of a top-two berth and automatic promotion.
They still have to welcome the two clubs above them to Griffin Park and it’s going to be an exciting finish to their final season at their home since 1904.
Ollie Watkins continues to impress leading the line, and with eighteen strikes has drawn level with long-time leader Aleksandar Mitrovic at the head of the leading scorer chart. Bee’s fans will be praying the in-form hot shot is not sold in the transfer window as he is clearly pivotal to their promotion chances.
This weekend the Londoners travel to West Yorkshire where Huddersfield await. Town had picked up under the leadership of new manager Danny Cowley but a 2-5 home defeat against Stoke on New Year’s day set alarm bells ringing, and an FA Cup exit at Southampton was followed by a damaging 2-1 loss at Yorkshire rivals and fellow relegation-threatened Barnsley at Oakwell last weekend.
With a tricky fixture list ahead, the visit of Brentford would not be the Terriers’ first choice of opponents and they will do well to keep the rampant Bees at bay. I strongly suspect they will fail.
Sheffield Wednesday are another high flying club and an excellent 2-0 win at Leeds has moved them into the top six.
Even the absense of key forward Steven Fletcher failed to blunt a potent Owls attack and they have bounced back well from consecutive league defeats over Christmas.
Crowds have been building and fans are starting to believe that in an open year, a playoff charge can be achieved and the thought of a long-awaited return to the top flight may be within their grasp.
Blackburn arrive at Hillsborough looking a team resigned to a mid-table finish following a season-ending injury to the influential Bradley Dack on Boxing day.
One point from their subsequent three matches, as well as an FA Cup exit at Birmingham, looks to be confirming their worst fears and they face another defeat across the Pennines.