Liverpool host Arsenal in battle for Premier League Christmas No. 1

Mohamed Salah celebrates a goal for Liverpool. File photo

Liverpool and Arsenal will battle for the Christmas number one spot when they meet on Saturday, each with a golden chance to open up a significant lead over absent champions Manchester City.

If there is not a winner at Anfield, third-placed Aston Villa could be top at Christmas for the first time since 1999 should their phenomenal home form continue against bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United.

The festive Premier League programme also features Manchester United’s trip to West Ham and in-form Everton’s visit to fifth-placed Tottenham.

AFP Sport looks at three talking points ahead of the weekend action.

Liverpool and Arsenal vie for top spot

Arsenal sit top of the Premier League table with 39 points from 17 matches, one ahead of Liverpool and five clear of Manchester City, who are on Club World Cup duty in Saudi Arabia.

The defending champions’ run of one win in six games prior to heading to the Gulf has opened the door to a fascinating title race.

If the Gunners win at Anfield, Pep Guardiola’s men, currently in fourth spot, would find themselves eight points adrift by the time they return to top-flight action at Everton on December 27.

Last year City put on the afterburners to chase down long-time leaders Arsenal, eventually overhauling them to win a third straight Premier League title.

But Mikel Arteta’s men look better equipped to last the course this season.

Liverpool could open up a 10-point advantage over City as they are in action twice before their title rivals play again in the Premier League.

But after a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Manchester United last weekend, Jurgen Klopp has called for an electric atmosphere to ensure Arsenal’s wait for a win at Anfield since 2012 goes on.

“We need Anfield on their toes from the first second, without me having an argument with the opposition coach,” Klopp said after a 5-1 thrashing of West Ham in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.

“If it is too much football in December, if you are not in the right shape, give your ticket to somebody else.”

Villa ready to pounce

Villa can move to the top of the table on Friday when Sheffield United visit Villa Park seemingly as lambs to the slaughter.

Unai Emery has had a stunning impact since taking the helm in October 2022.

The eye-catching statistics keep mounting for Villa, who are now up to 15 consecutive Premier League home victories and counting.

Only City, with 87, have tallied more points in the Premier League in 2023 than Emery’s side’s total of 81, including a club record 25 Premier League wins in a calendar year.

The omens are bleak for the visitors, who have just two Premier League wins all season and have not won in the league at Villa Park since 1966.

Chris Wilder returned to Sheffield United as manager earlier this month but he will have to work miracles to save the club, who are rock bottom of the table and already six points from safety.

Man Utd search for cutting edge

Which Manchester United team will show up at West Ham?

Erik ten Hag’s men toughed out a 0-0 draw at Anfield last week, ceding control as they focused on defensive resilience to eke out a point.

West Ham do not boast Liverpool’s attacking threat but they have players who can hurt United, including the in-form trio of Jarrod Bowen, Lucas Paqueta and Mohammed Kudus.

The visitors are likely to enjoy more possession than they had at Liverpool, where they had the ball for less than a third of the time.

But even if they do manage to exert more control, will they make anything of it?

United have scored just 18 times in the Premier League this season — only five teams have fewer goals to show for their efforts.

They have failed to score in three of their four Premier League games in December and are already six points off the top four, in danger of being cut adrift in the race for Champions League football.

Fixtures

Friday

Aston Villa v Sheffield United (2000 GMT)

Saturday (1500 unless stated)

West Ham v Manchester United (1230), Fulham v Burnley, Luton v Newcastle, Nottingham Forest v Bournemouth, Tottenham v Everton, Liverpool v Arsenal (1730)

Sunday

Wolves v Chelsea (1300)

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