Premier League preview: Arsenal take on Chelsea as Liverpool target top spot
Arsenal's lead comes under threat ahead of their blockbuster Monday Night Football meeting with title rivals Chelsea.
By Rob Parrish - Follow me on Twitter @skysportsrobp
Last Updated: 24/12/13 10:59am
Liverpool have the chance to move to the top of the table, temporarily at least, as they welcome Cardiff to Anfield in Saturday's early kick off.
Should the Reds fail to take maximum points, then the focus will shift to Craven Cottage, where struggling Fulham have the unenviable task of tackling Manchester City, who know that any stay at the pinnacle would only last until Monday.
Chelsea could spend Christmas in first place if Liverpool fail to take maximum points and the Blues then go on to triumph at Emirates Stadium.
All of the last four Premier League winners were Christmas Day leaders, while seven of the last nine went on to finish in first place - the exceptions being Arsenal in 2008 and Liverpool in 2009.
Tottenham, who axed Andre Villas-Boas on Monday, tackle Southampton in the first half of a Super Sunday double-header with caretaker boss Tim Sherwood in need of inspiration after their Capital One Cup exit in midweek, before Roberto Martinez returns to former club Swansea with his high-flying Everton side.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland know they are destined to be in last place even if they take all three points against Norwich at the Stadium of Light, while the team immediately above them, Crystal Palace, play host to Newcastle.
West Ham must halt their league slide with a daunting Upton Park date with champions Manchester United, West Brom begin the post-Steve Clarke era with a home meeting against Hull City, while Stoke City host Aston Villa in a Midlands derby on Saturday.
It may be the final match of the 10 fixtures taking place over the coming days, but there is no disputing the fact that Arsenal's home date with Chelsea is the standout contest. The Gunners must recover from their demoralising 6-3 defeat to Manchester City last weekend to re-establish their title credentials, while Jose Mourinho's Blues have not been in sparkling form of late, with their midweek cup exit to Sunderland coming on the back of an uninspiring home victory over Crystal Palace and a 3-2 reverse at Stoke.
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is no stranger to the headlines, and his blistering form in front of goal and talk of a bumper new deal make him the man of the moment ahead of the clash with Cardiff at Anfield. With 17 goals to his name this season and eight in his last three games, the Uruguay international is clearly the man to watch this weekend. Cardiff, meanwhile, are embroiled in off-field wrangling once again, with manager Malky Mackay given a very public dressing down by the club's hierarchy over his January transfer plans and reports suggesting he has been asked to resign or face the sack.
For all Manchester City's imperious home form, which was demonstrated to the full with their demolition of Arsenal, their away displays remain patchy as they make the trip to the banks of the Thames to tackle Fulham. Aston Villa have more points on the road than Manuel Pellegrini's men, and the absence of key man Sergio Aguero in the coming weeks will be a significant concern. Five defeats in their last six games has seen the Cottagers slide into the bottom three, with Rene Meulensteen yet to buck the trend which began under former boss Martin Jol.
Tottenham became the fifth Premier League club this season to part company with their man in the dug-out on Monday morning, as Villas-Boas paid the price for a 5-0 home humbling against Liverpool, despite Spurs being only five points adrift of the top four. Sunday's trip to Southampton, who have taken just two points from their last five games to slip from the dizzy heights of third to ninth place, is likely to be stand-in boss Sherwood's last chance to impress after the misery of their midweek Capital One Cup exit.
The second helping of Sky Sports' Super Sunday offering sees Swansea welcome Everton to the Liberty Stadium, with Roberto Martinez returning to the club where he began his managerial career. The foundations for flowing football laid by Martinez have been continued by Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and now Michael Laudrup, with the promise of a contest which will please the purists this weekend. The Swans have won just twice in front of their own supporters this season, with four draws also recorded in their eight home contests.
For all the Wearside euphoria over reaching the Capital One Cup semi-finals with victory over Chelsea, the stark reality for Sunderland is that they will be bottom of the Premier League at Christmas regardless of the result of their Stadium of Light clash with Norwich on Saturday. A paltry nine points from 16 matches leaves Gus Poyet's men four adrift and a significant upturn will be required to survive. Norwich responded well to drubbings by Man City and Liverpool and currently hold a five-point cushion above the drop zone.
Crystal Palace's two-game winning burst was halted by Chelsea in their last outing, but Tony Pulis will take heart from the way in which the title hopefuls were pushed all the way by the relegation-threatened Eagles. Marouane Chamakh has now scored in each of his last three Premier League games - a career first - and now has Saturday's opponents Newcastle in his sights. The Magpies, who are challenging for European football this term, have enjoyed great success at Selhurst Park recently, winning all four of their last league meetings with Palace in south London.
Manchester United's hopes of retaining the title they won at a canter last term remain in the balance with 10 points separating them from top spot prior to Saturday's trip to Upton Park to take on West Ham. Three victories in succession in all competitions have lifted spirits for the Red Devils, but the Hammers will also go into the game on a high after their dramatic late win over Spurs in the Capital One Cup. Sam Allardyce's side have, however, won just one of nine in the Premier League, with five defeats coming in that spell.
West Brom, who face Hull City at The Hawthorns this weekend, felt that four defeats in a row was evidence of a terminal decline under former boss Clarke and he was shown the door in the wake of the 1-0 defeat at Cardiff. With the Baggies just two points above the bottom three, whoever is brought in to steady the ship must swiftly arrest the downward spiral. Amid an off-field spat over their future identity, Steve Bruce has managed to maintain focus on the important matter of football and has the Tigers within striking distance of a place back in the top 10.
Stoke City go into their derby duel with Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium just one point behind their Midlands rivals in the standings. Paul Lambert's Villa saw their five-game unbeaten run halted by Fulham before a heavy home defeat at the hands of Manchester United, with Christian Benteke's ongoing goal drought, which currently stands at 11 hours and 59 minutes, of increasing concern. Mark Hughes has made the Potters tough to beat in recent weeks, with just one defeat in seven, but only two victories have been secured in that spell.