LONDON: Arsenal’s grip on the Premier League’s top spot will be under threat from their old boss Unai Emery when the leaders travel to surging Aston Villa on Saturday.
If the Gunners slip up, Liverpool will seize pole position with a win against Crystal Palace, while reeling Manchester City aim to get back on track at Luton.
Here are the three talking points ahead of this weekend’s action:
When Unai Emery arrived at Aston Villa in October 2022, his new team were languishing just three points above the relegation zone.
Now, they sit third in the table ahead of a seismic showdown against leaders Arsenal that would have seemed impossible during the dark days before Emery’s transformative appointment.
Villa’s 1-0 win against Manchester City on Wednesday was the club’s most significant result for years, showcasing the impressive work done by Emery to revive a moribund club and infusing his players with belief they can do something special this season.
It is fitting that the latest test of Emery’s revolution comes against Arsenal, who sacked him in 2019 midway through a second troubled season in north London.
City manager Pep Guardiola labelled Villa as title contenders on Wednesday after Emery’s 50th match in charge served to underline his remarkable impact.
“I can come back in my mind and think how we were when we started this process,” Emery said. “We lost against Leicester and Arsenal at home. We couldn’t concede eight goals in two matches like we did.
“It was a key moment when we reacted in a meeting with the players, focusing more our idea and our style, building and being very demanding in it. The players, they reacted very well.”
John Stones has urged Manchester City to keep their composure amid a worrying slump that threatens to derail their bid for a fourth successive title.
City’s winless run extended to four league games on Wednesday as Aston Villa’s 1-0 victory increased the sense of concern surrounding Pep Guardiola’s side.
The treble winners were comprehensively outplayed, leaving Guardiola to admit he needed to “help” his “struggling” team.
Trailing Arsenal by six points, Stones believes City can use the pain of their stumble to stop the rot in a tricky assignment at Luton on Sunday.
The Hatters have already drawn with Liverpool at home and came within seconds of a point against Arsenal, before losing 4-3 on Tuesday.
“We have to use the hurt and the pain that is within us as motivation and fuel to put things right. I think everyone has that desire,” Stones said.
“We’ve been in these positions in previous seasons. I don’t think we or everyone should be hyping about what is going to happen. We have to stay calm as a team.”
As Liverpool head into a crucial period for their title ambitions, Jurgen Klopp’s irritation at a joke about his team’s quick turnaround to play Crystal Palace on Saturday laid bare the German’s desire to keep pace with leaders Arsenal.
The Reds boss branded a television presenter “ignorant” following his side’s 2-0 win at Sheffield United on Wednesday when he mentioned second-placed Liverpool travel to Palace at Klopp’s “favorite kick-off time.”
That was an ill-fated reference to Klopp complaining on previous occasions when Liverpool have been forced to play at 1230 GMT on a Saturday after a Wednesday evening match.
“That’s really brave to make a joke about that,” Klopp grumbled, but he will be reassured to hear Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk’s willingness to take on the challenge of coping with the gruelling schedule.
“Listen, we are in December and there are so many games to come. For us now, it’s a good start to December and we have plenty of big games to come. We should all look forward to it,” he said.
Saturday (1500 GMT unless stated)
Aston Villa vs. Arsenal (1730), Brighton vs. Burnley, Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool (1230), Manchester United vs. Bournemouth, Sheffield United vs. Brentford, Wolves vs. Nottingham Forest
Sunday (1400 GMT unless stated)
Everton vs. Chelsea, Fulham vs. West Ham, Luton vs. Manchester City, Tottenham vs. Newcastle (1630)