In recent years Arsenal, seemingly in constant recalibration, have reliably come off second-best to Liverpool. But the leaders will begin Sunday’s match at the Emirates 11 points clear of Jürgen Klopp’s side, albeit having played a game more, and face opponents who badly need to get on a run. Liverpool are the ones in flux, Sadio Mané’s departure appearing to have had a profound impact, and can no longer be sure of turning this season into a one-two with Manchester City. One remarkable stat is that Arsenal have not scored against Liverpool in their last six meetings across all competitions, but anyone watching Leandro Trossard plunder a hat-trick at Anfield last weekend would fear for the visitors’ defence against a rampant attack led by Gabriel Jesus. It has been well documented that second place looks up for grabs this time around: this could be the time Mikel Arteta and company begin the changing of the guard in earnest.
- Arsenal v Liverpool, Sunday 4.30pm (all times BST)
Erik ten Hag has regularly talked of not changing winning teams. It has proved effective in shutting down questions on why Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro have been watching games from the sidelines. A 6-3 defeat at Manchester City, a scoreline that flattered United, means their manager will now surely alter a losing team. The omission of the last on that list, a five-time Champions League winner who cost £60m, is the most confounding. Leaving the Brazilian out for Scott McTominay can be seen as a mark of Ten Hag’s belief that nobody, no matter their resumé, can expect to walk into his lineups. But after the Etihad, Casemiro’s time has surely arrived. An evening trip to Goodison, facing opposition showing unexpected solidity and with the best defensive record in the division, is a tough assignment for a first Premier League start.
- Everton v Manchester United, Sunday 7pm
Things did not go to plan for Conor Gallagher at the start of the season. Fresh from an excellent loan at Crystal Palace, he was determined to establish himself at Chelsea, only to irritate Thomas Tuchel by picking up an avoidable red card against Leicester at the end of August. If anything Gallagher seemed too eager to impress and his situation worsened when he lost his England place last month. Should he have gone on loan again? It was difficult not to think so at that stage, but Gallagher had different ideas. He kept his head up and earned his reward when he came off the bench to score a brilliant last-minute goal against Palace last weekend, securing Graham Potter’s first win since replacing Tuchel. It was a brilliant moment for Gallagher, who had never scored for Chelsea before, and he will hope to push on when struggling Wolves visit Stamford Bridge.
- Chelsea v Wolves, Saturday 3pm
Train strikes will make it difficult for Tottenham fans to make this battle between third and fourth. After their last two performances, a no-show in the north London derby and Tuesday’s stalemate at Eintracht Frankfurt, some supporters will be happy to half-watch on TV. They would be missing the chance to see Brighton, whose attacking performance in drawing 3-3 last week at Anfield was thrilling. Leandro Trossard’s hat-trick reinforced his status as one of the players of the season so far, and threw up the ironic aside that Potter had been holding his old team back all along. Perhaps Roberto De Zerbi can prove that not all Italian coaches are as conservative as Antonio Conte has been this season – though in Serie A, De Zerbi’s Sassuolo took only one point from Conte’s Inter in three encounters, another 3-3 draw in June 2020. JB
- Brighton v Tottenham, Saturday 5.30pm
Manchester City are the only team yet to lose in the league pyramid, have scored 29 times and conceded nine goals. Pep Guardiola’s champions may soon overhaul Arsenal, who lead the table by a point, and sail off into the distance, casting the title race as a non-event. Why? City have claimed the last two championships and are supremely focused on matching Manchester United’s Premier League record of reeling off three-in-a-row. Then, there is the Erling Haaland factor. The Norwegian phenomenon is football’s Jonah Lomu, steamrollering defences like the great New Zealand winger did as rugby union’s gamechanger in the 1990s. Haaland scored twice against Copenhagen before being withdrawn at half-time of Wednesday’s Champions League game, his tally now a ridiculous 19 goals in 12 City appearances. Against Southampton, he chases a fourth consecutive home hat-trick. He and City seem unstoppable this season.
- Manchester City v Southampton, Saturday 3pm
There was pressure on David Moyes to drop Jarrod Bowen before West Ham’s win over Wolves last weekend. The former Hull City winger was outstanding last season, scoring 18 goals in all competitions, but it was something of a surprise to see him retain his place in the England squad last month. Bowen had looked short of his usual zip and he could not have complained had his manager left him out. However, Moyes decided to give Bowen another go, faith that was justified by a first league goal of the campaign. “I told him the minute he walked back through the door – ‘You get us four or five goals between now and the World Cup and you will be banging on the door,’” said Moyes, who will be looking for more sharp finishes against Fulham.
- West Ham v Fulham, Sunday 2pm
There is much talk in football about who deserves what – whether a goal, a result or a placing. The reality, though, is that the game has devised metrics perfect for determining these things, known as ‘the score’ and ‘the league table’. So we cannot say Crystal Palace do not deserve to be 17th with one win from seven games, because that reflects how they’ve done according to our pre-determined criteria. But it is absolutely the case that Crystal Palace should not be 17th with one win from seven games, because they have some lovely, exciting and excellent players who are far better than that. In their defence, they have already faced Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, but they were in front in three of those four encounters and conceded late in the latter – as they did when tossing two points at home to Brentford. Which is to say their performances have been decent, but a lack of ruthlessness has cost them – an issue they must solve, and fast.
- Crystal Palace v Leeds, Sunday 2pm
Those Newcastle players who fail to secure places in World Cup squads will be heading to the Middle East this winter after all. Eddie Howe has booked an extended warm-weather training camp in Saudi Arabia, both to prepare his non-internationals for the Premier League’s Boxing Day restart and so that essential construction work needed to improve the club’s sub-standard training ground can progress. The team’s fortunes improved radically last January after they spent a week in Jeddah and the hope is all that Vitamin D will exert a similarly positive effect this time. Let’s see if Howe is equally enthusiastic about putting his head above the parapet and talking about human rights and women’s freedoms in Saudi – given all that’s going on in the Gulf this winter, this is surely not the time for diplomatic silences.
- Newcastle v Brentford, Saturday 3pm
There’s nothing like a derby win to get a season going, never mind a derby thrashing. So Leicester, who had lost six league games in a row prior to their evisceration of Forest, now visit Bournemouth in confident mood. Because of what came before, though – and because of how poor Forest are – the feeling will still be a fickle one, so to capitalise on their new-found confidence they will need to start well at the Vitality. But perhaps the tide has turned and, after a fair bit of tinkering, Brendan Rodgers has found the right balance. The 4-1-4-1 formation he deployed on Monday night allows Wilfred Ndidi to protect the defence without sacrificing midfield creativity, and though James Maddison might prefer to play centrally, coming in off the right makes him harder to track, especially given the ability of Timothy Castagne to supply width down that side and Harvey Barnes to stretch play on the other. But Bournemouth will provide a far sterner test than did Forest.
- Bournemouth v Leicester, Saturday 3pm
The flux at Nottingham Forest continues. Steve Cooper gave an impressive, defiant, yet honest post-match interview following Monday’s 4-0 loss, and is reported to have a stay of execution – at least until after this next Midlands derby. The latest shenanigans backstage are understood to be the defenestration of a recruitment team that signed off on 23 players being added to the squad in the transfer window, with a new sporting director coming in – as Cooper put it: “Some of the guys have only met each other these last couple of weeks.” But he fights on to face another manager under pressure. The failure to put away 10-man Leeds last Sunday did little for Steven Gerrard’s credibility, but at least a first away point of the season was secured. Should Villa fail to land a first away win at the City Ground, it’s yet possible Gerrard will be ahead of Cooper in seeking new opportunities.
- Nottingham Forest v Aston Villa, Monday 8pm