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Premier League preview – Arsenal host Crystal Palace in must-win London derby as Brentford welcome back Ivan Toney

The upcoming weekend brings the second part of Matchday 21 during the so-called Premier League winter break.

Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur shared the spoils last weekend in an enthralling 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on the opening matchday of the new calendar year.

Elsewhere, Chelsea and Manchester City emerged victorious against Fulham and Newcastle United, respectively.

It’s now time for Arsenal and Liverpool to hug the spotlight, so read on as we preview the top games this weekend. 

Arsenal vs Crystal Palace

Saturday’s programme commences at the Emirates Stadium with an all-London encounter between the title-bidding Gunners and bottom-half Crystal Palace. 

Mikel Arteta’s side have whittled down the margin for error to the bare minimum with a woeful spell of results towards the end of 2023 and can’t afford another slip-up. 

Ominously for Arsenal supporters, last season’s Premier League runners-up closed out the previous calendar year with back-to-back defeats in the London derbies, going down to Fulham and West Ham United.

Arteta hoped for a response in the FA Cup tie versus Liverpool a fortnight ago, but it never came, as the Reds triumphed 2-0 in north London, condemning the Gunners to a sixth winless game in their last seven.

Faced with their worst seven-game stretch under the Spanish manager, Arsenal must dust themselves off and return to the win column to avoid losing further ground on pacesetters Liverpool. 

Given the gravity of the situation, Palace’s cross-capital voyage comes at a perfect time, offering Arteta’s beleaguered side a prime opportunity to get back on the rails. 

The Gunners have reigned supreme in this fixture, seeing the Eagles off in their last three top-flight meetings via a combined score of 7-1.

Looking at the visitors’ recent performances, a reverse in fortunes doesn’t seem probable after a downtrodden Everton side held Roy Hodgson’s uneventful troops scoreless in back-to-back FA Cup legs. 

Following a scoreless draw in the initial tie at Selhurst Park, Palace slumped to a narrow 1-0 loss at Goodison Park on Wednesday, extending their humiliating run to one win from their last 11 competitive games.

Brentford vs Nottingham Forest

Later in the day, resurgent Nottingham Forest head to the Gtech Community Stadium to meet underachieving Brentford in a bottom-table six-pointer.

Saturday could possibly be a turning point for the Bees as their talismanic striker Ivan Toney returns to the fold following an eight-month suspension. 

Manager Thomas Frank must be desperate to see his headline performer back on the pitch amidst Brentford’s rotten patch of five consecutive league defeats. 

Stuck only three points clear of 18th-placed Luton Town, they can ill-afford another sub-par result, but Forest’s upturn in form under new boss Nuno Espirito Santo ought to make things complicated.

The former Wolverhampton Wanderers coach inspired the Tricky Trees to an outstanding brace of wins against more heavily fancied Man Utd and Tottenham at the tail-end of 2023.

However, identical 2-2 FA Cup draws against lower-league Blackpool before eventually making it out of the third round via extra time at the start of 2023 means they must approach this contest with cautious optimism.

Sheffield United vs West Ham United

West Ham’s trip to rock-bottom Sheffield United gets Sunday action underway before table-topping Liverpool and mid-table Bournemouth face each other in Boscombe. 

Basement boys United embark on an impossible mission, bidding to become the first-ever Premier League side to avoid relegation after picking up a measly nine points across the opening 19 rounds. 

A 4-0 thumping of fourth-tier Gillingham in the FA Cup third round offered an ideal start to 2024, but the Blades’ form against top-flight opposition conveys a contrasting story. 

Six defeats across their last eight league outings paint a bleak picture ahead of West Ham’s landing at Bramall Lane.

David Moyes’ bid to lead the Hammers to their first-ever top-four finish in the Premier League gained momentum in late 2023, with his side generating three wins in their last four league matches.

With only four points separating West Ham from fourth-placed Liverpool, this is a seemingly presentable opportunity for the London outfit to apply sustained pressure on their cross-city rivals. 

Bournemouth vs Liverpool

Despite being knocked down from a four-match winning Premier League streak in their last league fixture of 2023, Bournemouth showed no signs of slowing down at the turn of the new calendar year.

Andoni Iraola’s side pulled off a stunning second-half comeback to beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 in the FA Cup third round and leave a 3-1 home loss to Tottenham firmly behind them.

Since no Premier League side has bettered the Cherries’ 19-point tally across the last eight top-flight matchdays, the Vitality Stadium faithful would be forgiven for not writing their side off before the kick-off.

Visiting Liverpool know better than to underestimate their hosts’ sudden recovery after a relatively sluggish start under Iraola, especially after a 1-0 loss in this corresponding fixture last term.

Stripped of the services of Mohamed Salah, who picked up a hamstring injury while on international duty with Egypt, Jurgen Klopp will seek a new hero as the Reds look to tighten the noose on the top spot.

However, the joint-top Premier League scorer is not the only notable absentee, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Kostas Tsimikas all struggling with injuries. 

In such circumstances, it’s only natural to assume Liverpool’s formidable 13-match unbeaten streak would be at risk (W8, D5). 

But in search of good omens, Klopp’s charges are unbeaten in all ten top-flight matches Salah has missed since joining the club (W7, D3).

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