Saturday 11th February
Arsenal vs Hull City
Three weeks ago if you had said Arsenal, at home, would cruise to victory against Hull I would have agreed with you. But how Arsenal have fallen in that time. A far from convincing win against Burnley, a win against a heavily rotated Southampton side in the FA cup with a heavily rotated Arsenal team as well, defeat to a Watford team who before that game hadn’t won a game since the 10th of December and defeat to a far superior Chelsea team, has got us Arsenal fans on edge. This fixture now no longer looks like the routine win that you would have assumed it may be. Hull have been resurgent under the reign of Marco Silva. Hull have picked up some big results in recent weeks against Man United and Liverpool which has really boosted their chances of beating the drop. Confidence will be high and they will believe that they can get something out of this game.
I still think that Arsenal will and should have enough to beat Hull in the day’s early kickoff but the seeds of doubt have been planted by some extremely poor performances in the last week. Sanchez and Özil need to play like the world-class players that they can be, but the whole team need to show spirit and fight to get us fans back onside. I really hope that Lucas Perez gets a chance soon too. He’s looked fantastic in every game that I have seen him in since his arrival but Wenger seems to have placed his faith elsewhere. But surely he could play off the right instead of Walcott who was not at his best against Chelsea to put it kindly. Wenger needs Elneny back and firing too. Elneny, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the Premier league. His range of passing and intelligence on and off the ball makes him perfect for that role in the midfield that Arsenal so desperately needs right now.
God help us all if Arsenal do not win, Arsenal Fan TV will be in a horrific state as per usual and we will be looking to secure that 4th place trophy again. Positive as always from an Arsenal fan…
Manchester United vs Watford
Manchester United have been on one hell of a run, one that I think that we’d be talking a lot more about if they didn’t lie 6th in the Premier League. Mourinho’s men look like a team that will not lose, but they just aren’t winning enough. They have the same amount of draws, 9 in all, with struggling Middlesbrough and three of those draws have come in their last 5 games. I say all this, but they are only 2 points off 4th spot. But I think United fans will demand more, and quite rightly, especially considering the amount of money they spent at the start of the season and stature of the club. But they are not far off. With Arsenal and Liverpool in poor form, there is no better time for the United players to show José that they want to win and want to be in that top 4, especially after he called some of his players out this week.
You would expect United to win this one quite comfortably, being at home and the prospect of being able to get into that top 4, but Watford should not be taken lightly. Watford have not lost in 4 and will take confidence from their 2 back to back wins. New signing M’Baye Niang looks like a handful and Tom Cleverley, returning to play against his former employees, seems to be enjoying his return to Watford forming a good partnership with Étienne Capoue in the middle of the Watford midfield.
But I think Mourinho’s men will take victory here, Ibrahimovic has goal scoring built into his DNA and with a number of creative options around him, United should be able to find a way to win here.
Middlesbrough vs Everton
Middlesbrough need to find some luck and some goals from somewhere; quickly. They will probably feel aggrieved after a narrow loss, although Spurs were in control for most of the game and Middlesbrough failed to have a single shot on target all game, which rather sums up their season so far, not enough goals. I do think that Middlesbrough has some very good, talented players within their ranks such as Traoré and Álvaro Negredo. Considering the attacking option that Middlesbrough have at their disposable it’s difficult to see why they cannot seem to find the back of the net more often. On the other hand, they are not conceding many goals. If you look at Bournemouth who are just 5 points ahead of them in the table Bournemouth have conceded 20 more goals than Middlesbrough but Bournemouth have scored 16 more goals. Worrying times for Aitor Karanka team who lie just a point outside the relegation zone.
Speaking of scoring, my goodness Everton! 11 goals in 3 games is impressive total, even if 6 of them came against a Bournemouth team that can’t seem to stop conceding. But it shows a ruthless streak that Koeman has seemingly instilled into his forwards. Lukaku seems to be back to his old self, scoring goals for fun. The youth that Koeman is putting faith in also seems to be paying off and Lookman, one of their January signings from Charlton, looks like he could have a big future ahead of him.
With this positivity running through the club the next couple of seasons look bright for Everton, but it is looking very good now and they will be dreaming of getting back into Europe. Everton look set to continue this run of form even if their away form is not the best.
Stoke vs Crystal Palace
I often joke with my friends about the sort of football that Stoke like to play, but the fact is they are no longer a team that play sophisticated, Sunday league long ball but a team that actually can play some good stuff. Yet they are probably one of the most inconsistent teams in the Premier League and cannot put a solid run of form together. Going into the match against West Brom, who in fairness have turned it on this season, they hadn’t lost in 4, which included results against Manchester United and Everton and then went and lost 1 – 0. This inconsistency seems to be the case every year with Stoke now that they have established themselves as Premier League team. So Stoke will be looking for some inspiration going into this game and this may come in the form of 6ft 7in figure that is Peter Crouch. I honestly thought he had already retired at the start of the season, now look at him: he’s got himself to the elusive 100 Premier League goals club, which includes some absolute belters may I just add in, another year added on his contract and a starting spot in the Stoke team. If the Stoke’s game plan was up to me, I would be getting it wide and getting some crosses into Crouchy, especially against this Crystal Palace back line.
I thought that Big Sam was meant to sure up teams? So why on earth did he buy Patrick Van Aanholt for a deal worth up to £14m and Jeffrey Schlupp for £12m? Okay yes, they were in need of left-back reinforcements but neither of them are renowned for their defending abilities. They did get Sahko in but will he make a vital difference; I have my doubts. Palace need a win and fast, a well ground out win against Bournemouth was impressive but then their first-half capitulation against fellow strugglers Sunderland was just embarrassing.
Palace will be out to prove something and I’m sure that Big Sam will have had them working on their defending all week, but will they be able to stop Crouchy and his brigade? Possibly. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one ended in a scoring draw.
Sunderland vs Southampton
Sunderland have looked good in the last couple of weeks, for the first time in a very long time. They have looked nothing like the relegation candidates that they are. I couldn’t believe the result I was seeing on Saturday when I was skiving out in the stockroom at work. 4 goals and a clean sheet, what have you done with Sunderland David Moyes. Steroids? Or the fact you sold Van Aanholt? But the fact is that keeping a clean sheet means that you will pick up points and if you couple that with a clinical finisher in Jemaine Defoe, you might just have a chance of staying up. Sunderland fans will be asking more of the same please Moyesy!
I called Stoke inconsistent, but Southampton are kings of all inconsistency. After fending off Liverpool in the Micky Mouse trophy that is the EFL cup, over two legs, they have slumped to three defeats in all competitions. The loss of Virgil van Dijk and Charlie Austin has really halted their progress, however, the signing Manolo Gabbiadini seems to be a good piece of business with a goal on debut and he probably should have had a second too. I hope that Southampton turn it around soon. They are a very likeable team with a lot of young English talent like James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett mixed in with some very good foreign flair like Dušan Tadić and Cédric. They won’t go down but just hope they have a good end to the season and push for the top half.
Southampton are in need of a win but Sunderland need it more. I’m really not sure which way this way will go.
West Ham vs West Brom
Who needs Payet when you have Andy Carroll? I’m glad Payet has left and I don’t even support West Ham. How can you refuse to play for a team when you are on that sort of money? If I did that at work I’d be out the door before I could say could anything. But anyway he’s gone now and West Ham may feel betrayed but they got £25m quid for him so they can’t complain too much. Instead now they have a new hero, well he’s not exactly a new signing, however, Andy Carroll is showing us a glimpse of what he can do. 4 goals in 4 games, including a phenomenal bicycle kick, against Crystal Palace. This was the goal of the month over Giroud’s scorpion kick, that should show you just how good it was. Although he is a doubt for this game with a groin injury. This rather sums up his career, plays well, scores goals, gets injured, repeat. The addition of Robert Snodgrass in January was, well at least in my opinion, a good one. With Payet now gone you’d hope Lanzini can shine and help West Ham restore some pride back into their club. West Ham lie 9th in the league just 5 points off high-flying visitors West Brom.
I have a soft spot for West Brom, although I’ve been questioning that ever since they allowed Hal Robson-Kanu’s to wear the number 4 shirt. A centre-forward in the number 4 shirt, some people just want to watch the world burn. But in all seriousness, West Brom are playing some very good football this year under Tony Pulis and it’s good to see. West Brom have only lost once of their past 6 league games and the confidence within the team is clearly high. They played Stoke off the park in the first half last week and will be hoping they can do the same against West Ham.
It’s going to be a close game this one but the London Stadium is no fortress and I can sense a West Brom win here – probably wrong but hey ho.
Liverpool vs Spurs
Arguably the game of the weekend, well clearly, otherwise BT sport wouldn’t have chosen it. Liverpool come into this game without a win in 2017 and have only scored 6 goals in that time too. To draw up a comparison Harry Kane has scored the same amount of goals on his own in that time. Liverpool are clearly a talented team that Jurgen Klopp is still trying to get the best out of. The likes of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have gone missing in recent weeks, which for Liverpool fans must be so frustrating considering how well these two started along with Sadio Mané. The goals have dried up for the first time under Klopp, who by the way has done a good job at Liverpool so far, in my opinion. Probably not the game that you’d want to play if you are a team looking to get back to scoring goals. Spurs’s back-line have the best goals against record in the league, conceding just 16 in 24 games. Although the loss of Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen is a huge blow for Spurs and a huge boost for Liverpool
Right, this is the part where I can’t be biased… god this is going to be difficult. Actually, it’s not. Yes as an Arsenal fan, I would love to see Spurs have a tough time on Saturday and it always gives me a smile when they don’t do well. But I like what Mauricio Pochettino is trying to build over at Spurs and the way he is going about it. Playing football that gets people excited and bringing through British talent from the academy like Harry Winks, who seems to be blossoming under Pochettino reign and of course Dele Ali and Harry Kane. If for nothing else this is good for the future of English football, English players getting regular first team football instead of being a bit part player warming the bench. You can see why there’s a lot to like about them and why the English media love to praise them.
But can Spurs overcome Liverpool? History says it’s unlikely. Liverpool are unbeaten in the last 9 games they have played against Spurs in league and cup. They have also only lost once in 22 meetings against Spurs when playing at home, winning 14 and drawing 7. This has a draw written all over it.
Sunday 12th February
Burnley vs Chelsea
One thing I have learnt this season is that Sean Dyche loves a moan. Every week it seems that he’s got something to have a good old moan about. I get that his club is up against it compared to the other clubs with their moderate wage budget and transfer fund and it may seem like the referees might favour the big teams, but it’s gone, Sean! Let it go! I’m not saying he’s not a good manager, by the way. I think he sets up his teams to get the desired result and each player in his team knows exactly what is demanded of them. I just think that if they ever brought back the TV series Grumpy Old Men he needs to make a guest appearance. Anyway back to Burnley vs Chelsea. It’s no secret Burnley are very very good at home, all 9 of their wins this season have come at home, they really do have a chance to upturn the apple cart here but it would be like me trying to climb Mount Everest, not impossible just bloody difficult.
Burnley’s opposition, Chelsea, have just been superb. It’s hard as an Arsenal fan to write this, but it is also the easiest thing to write. Since their 3 – 0 humiliation at the Emirates, they have been very nearly perfect and have been winning when other teams around them have dropped points. I think the one thing we can all take from this is 1: Conte is a very good manager and 2: the 3-4-2-1 system that he has reverted back to shows us that if in any doubt stick to what you know and the results will come. Chelsea has such a strong spine running through that team that you can see why they are odds on favourites for the league title. It’s also helped that they have stayed relativity injury-free for most of the season which has been helped due to the lack of midweek fixtures.
You have to fancy Chelsea to continue their dominance of the Premier League and win here but the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City have struggled here so far this season at Burnley. So there is a small glimmer of hope for Burnley – it’s just very small.
Swansea vs Leicester
Hey Derby, do you miss Paul Clement? I’ve always liked Paul Clement and I have no idea why. I’ve never sat down and watched one of his teams play. But from what I can tell is that he knows his stuff and is clearly getting the best out of his players and getting the results Swansea need to beat the drop, the manager of the month award shows you that. Fernando Llorente looks like a classic centre-forward and I can see now why in FIFA 11 he was given the complete forward badge. Gylfi Sigurðsson (yes I had to google how to spell his name) has been their best player all year and the stats do not lie. 8 goals and 7 assists this season as well as his work rate, make him extremely invaluable to a club that’s looking to beat the drop. Swansea will fancy themselves here and will look to make the reigning league champions suffer even more.
Oh dear, Leicester. I get that Champions League football is the pinnacle of the European football but you need to stay in the Premier League first! This slump is as just as remarkable as their form last year, but obviously for all the wrong reasons. They just aren’t as formidable as last season and it is a real possibility now that Leicester could be hosting Championship football next season just a year after winning the Premier League and being in the last 16 of the Champions League. Jamie Vardy is back to looking like a non-league striker and I doubt he’d be starting then. Thank god he didn’t want to join Arsenal. Riyad Mahrez isn’t looking like PFA Player of last season and lacking confidence. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, Demarai Gray. The young man has brought some energy to a team that has looked so slow and laboured this season and scored a superb solo goal against Derby during the week, very nicely done Mr Gray. It’s just a shame he hasn’t had more chance to show his qualities from the start, he’s only started 5 games in the Premier League this season. That might change this weekend though and it might just be the spark that Leicester need to kick start themselves.
So Leicester are in desperate need of a win and a boost for their confidence levels, yes they won during the week, but can you see it coming here away from home against a team that is rejuvenated under a new manager? I can’t personally see it.
Monday 13th February
Bournemouth vs Manchester City
Bournemouth will always hold a special place in my heart after I repeated what Eddie Howe did in the 2014 – 2015 season and guided them to the Championship title and the promised lands of Premier League in Football Manager 2015. But in all seriousness, I admire the way Bournemouth have guided the club from the clutches of administration and have risen up through the leagues to the top of English football. Eddie Howe has done a fantastic job but it’s not like he’s done it through playing negative football. He’s done it by getting his teams to play in accordance with his own philosophy of attacking and controlled football. As much as I admire Bournemouth they need to be careful. Their defence is like a burst pipe and they cannot seem to stop conceding goals, 13 goals conceded in 4 Premier League games is not good reading for anyone associated with Bournemouth. They miss Nathan Ake and will be regretting allowing Chelsea to put a recall clause in the deal. Their leaky defence does not bode well for the arrival of one of the most talented attacking teams in the Premier League. They have some very good players within their squad, like Ryan Fraser, however, they will be looking to Arsenal loanee, Jack Wilshere to help inspire them to victory. Wilshere has been playing well, and has kept the Bournemouth midfield flowing and creating chances. They just need to stop conceding goals first.
Bournemouth’s leaky defence does not bode well for the arrival of one of the most talented attacking teams in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola is another manager I admire highly, what he has achieved in the game already as such a young manager is incredible. Yes, the Premier League has proven more difficult and testing, but that is why he is here isn’t it, to test himself? But Man City are, in my opinion, still finding their feet under Pep and I think that next year we will see, with the addition of new signings, this team flourish. However, this is now and the arrival of Jesus in January seems to be good money spent. He has 3 goals and an assist in just 2 games and is keeping Sergio Agüero out of the team at the moment. To be fueling speculation that Man City would sell Sergio Agüero because you are playing that well, at the age of 19, probably means you are something pretty special.
I can see Manchester City making Bournemouth’s nightmare start to 2017 even worse, but Bournemouth will should not be worried about scoring against another team with a defensive record left to be desired.
If you have read this far – I admire you, I would have probably given up after the first paragraph. But thank you for reading, I have really enjoyed this and I hope it can be the first of many. If you want to share it that would be great or comment your own thoughts please feel free to. If you enjoyed it please let me know, or if you’ve got some advice, throw it my way, I am always looking to improve. Cheers, Skeelsy.