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English Premiership

Eyes turn to EPL relegation dogfight

Liverpool appear to be sailing to the Premier League title but the battle against relegation is developing into a nail-biter © AFP / Paul ELLIS

LONDON, United Kingdom, Dec 31 – Liverpool appear to have the Premier League title wrapped up with a 13-point advantage over second-placed Leicester but the fight to avoid relegation looks like being a down to the wire tussle.

Just nine points separates ninth-placed Crystal Palace and third from bottom Aston Villa.

Here AFP Sport picks out three pivotal matches in Wednesday’s action:

Arteta needs to get Gunners firing

Arsenal have been in the English top-flight since 1919 but Mikel Arteta’s side could be drawn into a relegation scrap © AFP/File / Adrian DENNIS

The old adage ‘too good to go down’ should apply to Arsenal, who have been a fixture in the top tier since 1919/20. However, they are just six points above the drop zone and new boss Mikel Arteta would probably have preferred an easier opponent than Manchester United as he bids to win his first game after a draw and defeat in his opening two matches in charge.

The United attack will be licking their lips at the thought of giving the weak Gunners defence a thorough test with goalkeeper Bernd Leno and defenders Skohdran Mustafi and David Luiz far from reliable. Arteta will want to see more of what his side produced in the opening half hour of the 2-1 defeat by Chelsea if they are to avoid a fifth successive home loss in all competitions — their present run of four is their worst since 1959.

“Individual errors cost you games but I can’t fault the effort, commitment and for putting in place what we practised,” said Arteta.

However, with confidence at a low ebb defeat for Arsenal on Wednesday and victory for third from bottom Aston Villa at Burnley would suck them deeper into the relegation battle.

Hammers pray Moyes delivers in second coming

David Moyes saved West Ham once and now he is being asked to do it a second time © AFP/File / Ben STANSALL

David Moyes may not be welcomed back universally by West Ham fans but if the 55-year-old saves them from relegation for a second time like he did in the 2017-18 season, before being dispensed with, then all will be forgiven. A home game for the side fourth from bottom against Bournemouth, who are just a point above them in 16th, represents a seemingly ideal first challenge.

However, their home form has been as woeful as Arsenal’s with four successive defeats — equalling their worst run in the Premier League since November 2005 — and it would not be a surprise to see Moyes energise their attack by selecting both Michail Antonio and Sebastien Haller.

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The Cherries have largely escaped attention in their terrible run — just one win in nine — but the pressure may begin to mount on Eddie Howe with a defeat.

“It feels great to be home,” said Moyes. “I feel like I’ve got unfinished business.”

Watford’s revival faces stern Wolves test

Troy Deeney’s Watford have been transformed by Nigel Pearson since he took over as manager © AFP/File / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

Nigel Pearson engineered a remarkable rescue act for Leicester in the 2014-15 season — at the time they were only the third side to escape the drop having been bottom at Christmas — arguably laying the foundations for their even more miraculous title win the following campaign.

The 56-year-old — who was relieved of his duties prior to the league winning season — could be on course to do the same for second from bottom Watford. Their third manager this term has guided them to two wins and a draw in four matches since taking over.

This new found confidence was reflected in easing to a 3-0 win over third from bottom Aston Villa on Saturday — scoring two of their goals after they had been reduced to 10 men — and this will be a much needed weapon when they host Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Wolves arrive sitting pretty in seventh place and on the back of an impressive win over champions Manchester City and considered unlucky to have lost to Liverpool on Sunday.

Pearson for his part will be looking for more of the same of what he witnessed against Villa: “We showed good intensity. We showed incredible unity on the pitch and bench. We have to make sure that remains high on our agenda — to keep the players together.”

Fixtures

Wednesday (1500 GMT unless stated)

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Brighton v Chelsea, Burnley v Aston Villa (both 1230), Newcastle v Leicester, Southampton v Tottenham, Watford v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Manchester City v Everton (1730), Norwich City v Crystal Palace (1730), West Ham v Bournemouth (1730), Arsenal v Manchester United (2000)

Thursday

Liverpool v Sheffield United (2000)

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