Premier League leaders Leicester can knock Arsenal out of the title race
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures and highlights five key points to keep an eye on.
Sunderland vs. Man Utd
Bournemouth vs. Stoke
Crystal Palace vs. Watford
Everton vs. West Brom
Norwich vs. West Ham
Swansea vs. Southampton
Chelsea vs. Newcastle
Arsenal vs. Leicester
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool
Man City vs. Tottenham
1. How will Leicester deal with increased expectations?
Leicester City's jaw-dropping 3-1 win at Manchester City last weekend ensured we've all just about come to terms with the Foxes as title-winning material. Any remaining sceptics will surely be converted should they repeat that feat at Arsenal on Sunday. But Claudio Ranieri must cope with a new issue that goes by the name of "expectancy." It is a different type of pressure to win when it is demanded of you. Even Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has fed the media the line that Leicester are now favourites for glory. Arsenal stumbled after leading from the front earlier this season and now it's the Foxes' turn to be the team everyone wants to defeat, or at least avoid losing against.
In September, Arsenal beat Leicester 5-2 in a game that totalled 43 shots -- one of only two losses for Ranieri's side from 25 fixtures. It was a gloriously nonsensical encounter of attack versus attack that Arsenal prevailed in, yet logic dictates that to upset this Leicester team then the opponents should not play into their hands by pressing high and thus leaving themselves open, like City did last Saturday. No matter the tactics, only a victory will do for Wenger's third-placed team, for leaders Leicester have it within their power to knock Arsenal out of the title race by making the gap eight points.
2. Can Manchester City cope with Tottenham?
Manchester City were badly exposed against Leicester. Although two of the Foxes' three goals came from set pieces, the threat of further humiliation remained with Manuel Pellegrini's side lacking the relentlessness of their opposition. Leicester were quicker to the loose balls and faster to spring forward. Anything resembling a re-run of this performance against Tottenham on Sunday will not be acceptable.
Speaking after last week's 1-0 win for Spurs, defeated Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores likened the North London team to "animals," such was their ferocity. Mauricio Pochettino has at his disposal an insatiable crop of players, who thumped City 4-1 in September. Martin Demichelis, who in particular had a poor game against Leicester, will again have his work cut out against the effervescence of Dele Alli & Co. With focus on Leicester, the title dream remains for under-the-radar Spurs.
3. Who is more fragile: Aston Villa or Liverpool?
One of Liverpool and Aston Villa have won two and lost just one of their last five top-flight matches, managing three clean sheets in the process. It's not Liverpool. Bottom-of-the-table Villa are staging something resembling a revival despite the general consensus that they are doomed no matter what they do -- eight points still separate them from safety with 13 games left. Liverpool, meanwhile, are the same number of points (12) from the bottom three as they are from fourth place. All is not going according to plan for Jurgen Klopp, whose side have shown flashes of genius but also a worrying trend to collapse and concede from set pieces.
4. How will Chelsea cope without Kurt Zouma?
The screams of pain from Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma when he fell awkwardly in last Sunday's 1-1 draw against Manchester United were haunting and did not bode well for the 21-year-old. It was confirmed he will be sidelined for six months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. During an utterly miserable season for champions Chelsea, Zouma has been one of a few bright lights. The France international has been an ideal foil to the experienced but ageing John Terry in the heart of defence, helping Guus Hiddink to a so-far unbeaten return to Stamford Bridge. Now, re-enter Gary Cahill in his place, a man looking to get his campaign back on track ahead of representing England at Euro 2016. That starts at home to Newcastle on Saturday evening.
5. What is going on at Stoke?
It seems like only yesterday that Stoke City were flavour of the month. They were going to rule the world with Mark Arnautovic, Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri strutting their stuff in attack. But the wheels have come off somewhat. Three straight losses have been endured, not to mention departures from the FA Cup and League Cup. There is still a 10-point gap between them and the relegation zone, but dreams of European qualification are beginning to fade. Goalkeeper Jack Butland said that "words need to be had" in light of their slide from seven to 11th in the table. A trip to Bournemouth awaits this weekend when a win for the Cherries would see them just two points below Stoke, who badly need captain Ryan Shawcross back from injury.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.