Arsenal head to Tottenham with Arsene Wenger at breaking point
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures and highlights five key points to keep an eye on.
Tottenham vs. Arsenal
Chelsea vs. Stoke
Everton vs. West Ham
Man City vs. Aston Villa
Newcastle vs. Bournemouth
Southampton vs. Sunderland
Swansea vs. Norwich
Watford vs. Leicester
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool
West Brom vs. Man Utd
1. Will Tottenham end Arsenal's title hopes?
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is failing the club, and if this continues then there will be the strongest case yet to part ways with the Frenchman. This is the season for Arsenal to win the Premier League title for the first time since 2004. If they don't achieve it, which is looking increasingly likely, then Wenger will be to blame and he should face the consequences. Losing to a second string Manchester United last Sunday felt like rock bottom, but the Gunners found a new low with the 2-1 home loss to Swansea on Wednesday. Defeat in Saturday's North London derby at Tottenham would all but end their fading title hopes while further eroding Wenger's legacy at Arsenal.
Tottenham, meanwhile, were given a reality check during midweek after a 1-0 defeat at in-form West Ham ended a run of six straight top-flight wins. While losing to the Hammers is not necessarily something to be ashamed of this season, the level of Spurs' performance at Upton Park in comparison to their previous outings was concerning. "We were poor. We are very disappointed," head coach Mauricio Pochettino said after the result. Such a demanding manager will presumably expect an almighty response from his players at White Hart Lane, where much will rest with Leicester primed to extend their three-point lead at the top when they go to Watford later on Saturday.
2. Are Man City in danger of missing out on the Champions League?
After the joy of winning the League Cup on Sunday, Manchester City were slammed back down to earth by the very team they defeated at Wembley. Liverpool inflicted on City a third league loss in a row, meaning they now trail first-placed Leicester by 10 points, although Manuel Pellegrini's men do have a game in hand. That said, considering that Man United are now level on points with their rivals and West Ham one behind, City have gone from title contenders to a battle to qualify for the Champions League.
Quite how incoming manager Pep Guardiola would feel about overseeing a Europa League campaign next season is anyone's guess. Fortunately, City have the best chance possible to get back on track when they host bottom-of-the-table Aston Villa, who oddly managed to hold them to a clean sheet in November. "We will continue fighting," Pellegrini said after the 3-0 loss at Anfield, with the Chilean under pressure to ensure his City tenure does not finish with a whimper.
3. Can Slaven Bilic sustain West Ham's superb season?
Hands up if you foresaw Slaven Bilic doing quite such a tremendous job at West Ham. Presumably those with their hands raised also predicted Leicester sitting atop the division too. Bilic's men have done brilliantly so far this campaign, with the team already just a point shy of last term's total with 10 matches to play. The Croatian is fulfilling his mandate of ensuring the club head to their new stadium next season with enthusiasm sky-rocketing, rather than supporters braced for another relegation dogfight but in shinier surroundings. Bilic has played down talk of Champions League qualification, but it's hard to discount them from the picture. Wednesday's win over Spurs was yet another triumph over a big-name side and should they beat Everton then the Hammers could go fourth.
4. Could Chelsea make a late play for the top four?
What a difference a Guus Hiddink makes. Tuesday's win at Norwich lifted Chelsea into the top half of the table for the first time since August. The resilience that powered the Blues to the Premier League title last season is back. They are now just two points below Liverpool, and can look even higher if they dare. Genuinely, Champions League qualification is not beyond the realms of possibility. When you consider the sheer inconsistency of the division, any side that can string together a sustained run of results can swiftly climb the standings. One game at a time and all that -- with the next match coming at home to Stoke -- but 12 top-flight fixtures unbeaten is hard to ignore.
5. Will Crystal Palace be sucked into a relegation battle?
Crystal Palace last won a Premier League match on Dec. 19. Heading into March, Alan Pardew's side remain the only top-flight club not to win in 2016. In spite of their abysmal run, nine points still separate them and the relegation zone. Yet such a nose dive in form with 10 matches to play must surely make Pardew anxious. A home match against Liverpool is hardly what the doctor ordered to relieve that apprehension this weekend, but there are some positives amid thick negativity. Yannick Bolasie, the wonderful talent that he is, is back from injury, while Connor Wickham is going through one of his scoring spells, by hitting the ball very hard into the back of the net four times in his last two outings.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.