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Premier League Week 23 Preview
In this most exciting of Premier League seasons, one point currently separates the top three, even Everton down in eleventh could still hold realistic hopes of a Champions League place, while the likes of Watford, on the same number of the points as the aforementioned Toffees, could be nervously looking over their shoulder as only eight points separates them from Newcastle in the relegation places. Quite simply, any run of form now could go a long way to securing a club’s ambitions for the season. If this particular campaign has taught us anything, it is that the Barclays Premier League can be gloriously evenly-balanced, even in apparent match-ups between teams at the top and the bottom. Here are some of the most significant contests from week 23.
Sunderland V Bournemouth, Saturday 23/01/16 at 15.00 GMT
For Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland, every precious step forward is closely followed by a giant leap back. And so, crucial wins over Aston Villa and Swansea were then undone by a rather lacklustre defeat at Tottenham, which still leaves the Black Cats three points from safety. Rather worryingly is that the teams above them continue to secure results, although on a positive front, the Wearsiders are at least starting to score goals, with Jermain Defoe’s form in particular offering cause for optimism. However, defensive improvements are vital for the side with the worst defensive record in the division, and Allardyce may well look to strengthen in that department before the January transfer window closes. Bournemouth, meanwhile, arrested a slump in form by securing an impressive 3-0 win over Norwich City last time out, and have been boosted by the arrival of two strikers in the shape of Benik Afobe, who indeed notched in that win over the Canaries, and Lewis Grabban, for a combined £16.3m. That may seem a lot, but if it keeps the Cherries in the division, it is money well spent. Avoiding defeat here will be of critical importance to Eddie Howe and his men, and the team from the south coast will be buoyed by the fact they secured a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture in August. Matt Ritchie, who scored that day, looks set to miss out once again through injury, while Sunderland could be able to call upon defender Younes Kaboul after a month out with a hamstring injury.
Sunderland 3.00, Draw 3.20, Bournemouth 2.45
Watford V Newcastle United, Saturday 23/01/16 at 15.00 GMT
This is another game with implications at the bottom of the table as Newcastle look to extend their revival against a Watford side who, after an impressive first half to the season, have found themselves pegged back by a run of four consecutive defeats in which they have only scored twice. Eight points now separate these two teams in twelfth and eighteenth respectively, so the home side must avoid defeat to prevent themselves being sucked into a relegation tussle with fifteen games sill to play. It has only been two games without defeat for Steve McClaren’s visitors, but that represents a decent spell in campaign of turmoil, and the manner of their victory over West Ham last time out, coupled with the arrival of Jonjo Shelvey, could be the fillip the Magpies need to pull themselves away from danger. The Hornets could well need a signing or two to boost their morale in a campaign which has already seen them far exceed expectations – Quique Sanchez Flores will hope that the best has not already been seen at Vicarage Road this season. Watford secured a 1-2 victory at St James’ Park back in September thanks to two goals from top scorer Odion Ighalo, who has now failed to score in three matches, which is a relative drought for a player who has netted 13 times this season. The home side have no new injuries reported, while The Magpies have serious doubts surrounding Florian Thauvin, Vurnon Anita, Papiss Cisse and Paul Dummett.
Watford 2.10, Draw 3.40, Newcastle United 3.60
Arsenal V Chelsea, Sunday 24/01/16 at 16.00 GMT
The Gunners could find themselves in third by the time they play London rivals Chelsea on Sunday afternoon, depending on results for Manchester City and Leicester City, who have games away at West Ham United and at home to Stoke City respectively. A win here is imperative for Arsene Wenger’s men, who will be keen to banish memories of their 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. That result marked one of the very few highlights in The Blues’ campaign so far, and although Gus Hiddink’s side are now six games undefeated in the league, that run only includes two victories over Sunderland and Crystal Palace. Indeed, last season’s champions were more than fortunate to claim a draw with Everton last time out, and with Arsenal requiring a win after two consecutive draws, this is a fascinating encounter between two great rivals which would normally have consequences for the title. Indeed it may do on this occasion, but only for the home side. The Gunners should be able to welcome back Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, while Eden Hazard could feature for the visitors.
Arsenal 2.05, Draw 3.50, Chelsea 3.60
Full list of Week 23 fixtures
Norwich City V Liverpool, Saturday 23/01/16 at 12.45 GMT
Crystal Palace V Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday 23/01/16 at 15.00 GMT
Leicester City V Stoke City, Saturday 23/01/16 at 15.00 GMT
Manchester United V Southampton, Saturday 23/01/16 at 15.00 GMT
West Bromwich Albion V Aston Villa, Saturday 23/01/16 at 15.00 GMT
West Ham United V Manchester City, Saturday 23/01/16 at 17.30 GMT
Everton V Swansea City, Sunday 24/01/16 at 13.30 GMT
All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 15.00 GMT on 21/01/15