Five football games to watch this weekend: Could FA Cup progress save Arsenal’s season?
There’s action from the Premier League, FA Cup and more
After Manchester City’s defeat to Chelsea sealed the Premier League title for Liverpool, focus shifts elsewhere, including relegation battles, European contests and FA Cup quarter-finals.
We’ve cast our eye over everything this weekend has to offer and picked out five games which could prove pivotal in shaping the rest of the football season.
Our weekend kicks-off with a huge game in the second city, with massive implications for both sides, but for very different reasons.
Dean Smith’s Aston Villa side haven’t been able to get started since the restart, and you could argue they’ve struggled to get started at all this campaign.
They’re down in 19th with 27 points, in the bottom three on goal difference. A win could jump them three points clear of the drop zone, heaping the pressure on those around them.
It won’t be easy though, as Nuno Espirito Santo brings his Wolves side to Villa Park in red-hot form, unbeaten in seven league matches.
The Wanderers are sixth, only five points off a Champions League spot and below Manchester United in fifth on goal difference. A win here would put them three points off third and give them a real chance of clinching a top four spot with their remaining fixtures.
Raúl Jiménez is having a season to remember, and he won’t want that to stop at Villa Park. He’s scored 15 goals so far this season, the most ever by a Mexican in a single Premier League campaign.
A sumptuous relationship on the field between Jimenez, Matt Doherty and Adama Traoré has blossomed this season, and it could prove too much for Villa.
Leeds and Fulham wouldn’t have returned to life in the Championship in the way they wanted, but results elsewhere may have made defeats slightly easier to swallow.
Cardiff City’s 2-0 win against the Whites meant West Brom could regain the lead, and go two points clear at the top. They failed to capitalise, and a 0-0 draw meant they could only go level at the top.
As for Fulham, a 2-0 defeat to Brentford isn’t as damaging as it looks. Scott Parker’s Cottagers still sit in the top four and could remain as little as seven points off top spot if Brentford beat West Brom on Friday night.
A win for Fulham would see them close the gap to top spot to four points and would start to raise questions as to whether Leeds would struggle to secure an automatic promotion spot for a second season on the bounce, despite their dominance.
Marcelo Bielsa will be conscious of this and will hope his side can put a performance together to grab three points. Another defeat could turn whispers of another capitulation to shouts from rival fans.
The Estadio de Balaídos hosts another match which has huge implications at both ends of the table, but this time, our focus is on La Liga.
With only seven games remaining, Celta Vigo sit two places above the relegation zone in 16th, seven points clear, but they’re far from safe.
A hard-fought win against Real Sociedad on Wednesday gave them reason to believe they’ll enjoy top-flight football for another season, and with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid the only top-half sides they’ve got left to face, they’ll hope to secure their safety as soon as possible.
Célticos are three games without defeat, and would hope to cause a shock to extend that run and take a step closer to securing a ninth successive season in La Liga.
A victory for Barca could pile the pressure on Madrid ahead of their match with Blaugrana’s city rivals Espanyol, who are looking for a great escape of their own.
Lionel Messi will again be hoping he can get on the score sheet, as he’s on the hunt for the 700th goal of his professional career. He notched his 250th assist for his boyhood club against Athletic Bilbao, but will he end his wait for goal number 700 here?
With Juventus in action on Friday night, Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio side could be seven points adrift in the race for the Serie A title, despite starting the week only one point off top spot.
A shock second-half capitulation against Atalanta solidified Juve’s spot at the top of the tree, and gave them a little more breathing space than even they anticipated.
Inzaghi will hope top scorer Ciro Immobile can get their title charge back on track after their mid-week blip, which was only their third defeat of the campaign.
Should Juventus have a slip up of their own against Lecce, Lazio could close the gap back up to a single point with a win and reignite their title hopes.
As for Fiorentina, they’ll be looking to climb the table and give a better showing of themselves than they have recently. They’ve drawn three on the spin, including a 1-1 draw against the league’s bottom side Brescia on Monday.
With 11 games left to play, they’re 13th on 31 points. That leaves them six points above the drop, and eight off a Europa League spot.
A win against Lazio could all but end the title ambitions of I Biancocelesti, while getting their own season back on track. If results go their way, they could close the gap to a European spot to five points.
Since the restart of the Premier League, Sheffield United have failed to find any kind of form and are beginning to fade. They’ve dropped from sixth in the league to eighth thanks to two defeats in two, but the FA Cup could prove a welcome distraction.
Blades boss Chris Wilder has said that his players don’t just want their season to “fizzle out”, and despite losing ground in the race of a place in Europe next season, they could look to the FA Cup as a route into the Europa League.
On-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson will be welcomed back into the side with open arms, with Jack O’Connell the only injury concern Wilder has. Lys Mousset and Oliver Norwood are available despite being taken off at half time in the Blades’ 3-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Arsenal could welcome the FA Cup break too, especially off the back of a morale boosting 2-0 away win to bogey side Southampton on Thursday.
They’ve had somewhat of an injury crisis since the restart, losing player of the year candidate Bernd Leno for up to six weeks, while Pablo Mari and Gabriel Martinelli have picked up more severe injuries.
Mikel Arteta’s back four was down to the bare bones in that match against Southampton, with Sokratis still out through injury, and David Luiz serving the second match of his suspension.
But he’ll be buoyed by the man of the match performance from Rob Holding. Though the Arsenal back line weren’t under constant pressure, he ensured Danny Ings couldn’t pose a threat through the 90 minutes, and was instrumental in the Gunners first clean sheet in three.
In the league, Arteta’s side are six points off a European spot with seven left to play. The Spaniard could target victory in this season’s FA Cup to settle an incredibly worried fan base and secure a fourth successive season in the Europa League.
All odds and markets are correct as of date of publication.