EPL PREVIEW: Arteta, Solskjaer stand tall after withstanding poor runs

·6-min read
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) and his Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) and his Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta. (PHOTO: Pool via Reuters/Paul Ellis)

SINGAPORE — What are the key matches and storylines to look out for in the next round of English Premier League (EPL) action? Yahoo News Singapore lists the top three:

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Arsenal vs Manchester United (Sunday, 1.30am Singapore time)

It is always a momentous occasion whenever Arsenal and Manchester United clash, given the intense rivalry the two clubs have shared during the Premier League era of English football.

But when they meet again at Emirates Stadium this weekend, it will not be two veteran managers helming the teams, with Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson being familiar figures amid the longstanding rivalry.

No, it would instead be two young leaders who have survived calls for their heads earlier this season, and have somehow emerged with their reputations enhanced.

As recently as last month, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was cutting a frustrated figure on the sidelines as the Gunners stumbled badly, going almost two months without a league victory as they tumbled down into 15th place.

Many were critical of the Spaniard’s managerial nous, and doubted if the rookie could rouse his sputtering team out of their long-term malaise.

Then, just as suddenly as their form slumped, Arsenal were revived, winning five of their last six league games to claw back to eighth spot, easing any fears of battling to avoid relegation.

Amid this revival, Arteta has decided to put more faith on younger players, hoping they are hungrier and more receptive to his tactics than the jaded veterans in the Gunners squad. It has paid off handsomely, and Arteta could feel a little buoyant as he prepares to face Man United to continue their fine form.

His counterpart at the Red Devils, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, also endured intense criticism early in the season, especially after a chastening 1-6 defeat by Tottenham at Old Trafford in their third league game.

Yet the Norwegian refused to be cowed, buckled down even as key midfielder Paul Pogba tried to seek a move from the English giants, and has now overseen a spectacular 13-match unbeaten run that has lifted Man United to second place behind Manchester City.

A shock 1-2 defeat by bottom-placed Sheffield United on Wednesday has put a dampener on United’s optimism of a strong title challenge, but it is nevertheless a fine achievement by Solskjaer to ignore the brickbats from pundits and fans, and persist in improving his squad’s performance.

He will want his players to respond after Wednesday’s embarrassing defeat, and should put out a strong squad to tackle Arsenal at Emirates. Yet, the Gunners should also have no fear of the Red Devils, especially after a sparkling 3-1 win away at Southampton on Tuesday.

It should be a rip-roaring clash between the two long-time rivals, and both managers deserve all the credit for lifting their sides out of poor runs and still be standing stoically at the sidelines, still in charge of the proceedings.

SCORE PREDICTION: Arsenal 2 Manchester United 2

Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celebrates after his team's first goal during their Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur.
Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celebrates after his team's first goal during their Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur. (PHOTO: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

West Ham United vs Liverpool (Monday, 12.30am)

The huge sigh of relief heard around the world on Thursday morning was from Liverpool fans, who finally had reason to celebrate in January after a 3-1 away win over Tottenham Hotspur ended their five-match winless league run.

While there were more injury setbacks in central defence – Fabinho did not start, and Joel Matip went off at half time with an ankle ligament injury – the Reds’ attack was back in fine fettle, after a 483-minute goal drought. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane scored, while Mohamed Salah had a goal chalked off by VAR.

There is little time to celebrate though, as Liverpool will have to recover fast to face West Ham back in London on Sunday. Manager Jurgen Klopp will be having headaches again as he has to decide on another makeshift central defence pairing to face a surprising Hammers team who are flying high in fifth place.

With David Moyes instilling a stable structure and a sense of defensive unity, West Ham have sparkled in the past month, winning four and drawing two of their last six league matches. Their midfield duo Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek have been highly influential in running the team, while forwards Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen have been chipping in important goals to keep the team purring.

It all sets up to be an intriguing clash at the London Stadium – can West Ham stun the defending champions and overtake them in the league table? Or can Liverpool maintain their revival even as injuries continue to decimate their squad?

SCORE PREDICTION: West Ham 1 Liverpool 2

New Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel during the match against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
New Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel during the match against Wolverhampton Wanderers. (PHOTO: Pool via Reuters/Richard Heathcote)

Chelsea vs Burnley (Sunday, 8pm)

And so began yet another managerial chapter in Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich era, as Thomas Tuchel oversaw a 0-0 draw against Wolverhampton Wanders on Wednesday.

He replaces Frank Lampard, who was given the boot a mere 18 months into his managerial reign. The sacking has riled Blues fans, who felt that the club had not given one of their greatest players enough time to achieve success.

And while Lampard’s reign was short, he should know better than most managers that, in Chelsea, the gaffer is booted out the moment the club feels that they are in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification.

The Blues are in eighth place, five points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham. In theory, there should be plenty of time for Lampard to turn things around. The problem is, he has not show that he could do so in the past one-and-a-half months.

A dire run of two league wins in nine matches was compounded by the struggles of Chelsea’s key off-season signings – Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, even goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.

And, as evident in Chelsea’s numerous past managerial sackings, once the club feel that they are not getting enough back from their investments, the manager will be the first to go.

So Tuchel would also not be given patience by the Blues. The former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint Germain manager will have to get the misfiring squad purring again – and fast.

Burnley seem ideal opponents for the German to get a win on the board quickly, yet they have shown a doggedness to grind out surprise wins against top clubs – as Liverpool could attest in losing their long unbeaten home record to them last week.

Can they put instant pressure onto Tuchel? Don’t be surprised if they can.

SCORE PREDICTION: Chelsea 0 Burnley 0

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