SPORTS DESK : 1 APRIL, 2023, 1:32 AM
Arsenal enter the final furlong of the Premier League title race with a clash against Leeds on Saturday as they bid to be crowned champions for the first time in 19 years. BSS
Second-placed Manchester City cannot afford to stumble in a marquee match-up against Liverpool, while the battle to avoid relegation is heating up.
AFP Sport looks ahead to a crucial weekend in the top flight after the international break.
Arsenal fuelled by ‘powerful’ bond
With 10 games to play, Arsenal are in pole position to win their first title since 2004 after reeling off six successive victories to build an eight-point lead over Manchester City.
Mikel Arteta’s side have played a game more than the champions and still have to travel to Manchester to face Pep Guardiola’s team on April 26, but they have the destiny of the title firmly in their grasp.
Few would have expected Arsenal to be so close to glory after they blew their attempt to finish in the top four last season.
Arteta has worked wonders with a humble squad short of superstars but filled with team-first workaholics who buy into their manager’s desire to have a group of players who enjoy being around each other.
“We have the right level of competition and cooperation because they really want to help each other, but they have to challenge each other as well,” Arteta said ahead of Leeds’ visit to north London on Saturday.
“The secret is probably the unity and togetherness that they have between them.
“They love to spend time with each other, they love to play with each other. That’s very powerful.”
Man City braced for Liverpool showdown
Manchester City are refusing to surrender their crown without a fight, winning their past six games in all competitions and scoring a combined 13 goals in their most recent matches against Leipzig and Burnley.
But there is little margin for error in City’s attempt to clinch a fifth title in six seasons.
Pep Guardiola’s men have a slightly easier run-in than Arsenal on paper, yet also have the distractions of a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich and an FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United.
For City to stay in touch with Arsenal, they must beat sixth-placed Liverpool in the league for the first time in two years — Jurgen Klopp’s men still harbour hopes of salvaging a dismal season by sneaking into the top four.
City may have to face Liverpool without star striker Erling Haaland, who missed Norway’s recent internationals with a groin injury.
Intense survival scrap
The desperate scrap to avoid relegation looks tighter than ever, with nine clubs fighting for survival.
Just four points separate bottom-of-the-table Southampton and 12th-placed Crystal Palace.
Palace responded to their failure to win a single match in 2023 by sacking Patrick Vieira and re-appointing Roy Hodgson, with the former England boss taking charge for the first time against fellow strugglers Leicester on Saturday.
“I know my birth certificate tells me I am old enough to retire but the way I feel doesn’t tell me that,” said the 75-year-old Hodgson.
Bournemouth and West Ham are in the bottom three with Southampton, but sit only three points behind 13th-placed Wolves, whose manager, Julen Lopetegui, has urged his team to embrace the tense battle.
“It’s a pleasure to play these kinds of matches. To feel this pressure is a good thing,” Lopetegui said as he looked forward to the clash against struggling Nottingham Forest.
Leeds and Everton are also far from safe in a survival race that looks certain to go down to the wire.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)
Manchester City v Liverpool (1130), Arsenal v Leeds, Bournemouth v Fulham, Brighton v Brentford, Crystal Palace v Leicester, Nottingham Forest v Wolves, Chelsea v Aston Villa (1630)
West Ham v Southampton (1300), Newcastle v Manchester United (1530)
Everton v Tottenham (1900)
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