Relegation Watch: Most Important Battles of the Premier League Weekend
The fixture list lottery has decided that game week 27 will include some tasty battles in the Premier League relegation fight, and has rolled out some incredibly important matches.
Bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers welcome top of the league Manchester United to Loftus Road on Saturday, but this game looks likely to be less of a battle and more of a mauling if positions and points ring true.
Of course, QPR have held Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City to draws in West London, but Sir Alex Ferguson's team are on a completely different level.
Should Harry Redknapp pull off another result, then that is good news for Rangers fans. However there are matches happening in different parts of the country which these beleaguered supporters will be keeping more than half an eye on.
Here are the three most important of these fixtures, as the race to avoid relegation begins to gather momentum.
All fixtures, results and league positions taken from BBC.
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa
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On the back of a poor display against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Arsenal's woes are growing, and cries of "Wenger Out" are starting to ring louder, and not just from Piers Morgan's Twitter account.
The Gunners play host to Aston Villa this weekend, a team whom have started to show how much they actually want to stay in the Premier League.
Recent results have shown a marked improvement since January, with draws against Everton and Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion. Their win against West Ham earlier in the month was their first in nine games, since that victory over Liverpool in December.
Christian Benteke has scored in each of Villa's last five games in all competitions (via Soccerbase), and will be looking to add to that tally against a lackadaisical Arsenal defense.
The Gunners have conceded an average of 11 shots per game in the Premier League this season (via WhoScored). And in their past 10 games, have seen the ball in the back of their net 12 times, only keeping clean sheets against Sunderland and Stoke (via Soccerbase).
The combination of Benteke's lethal strike and an Arsenal defense—which although are not leaking goals—aren't keeping them out either, could well lead to a very open match.
On paper, Arsenal should win this. However with Aston Villa seemingly resurgent (even if it is only from the last match), and the Gunners inconsistent at best, Paul Lambert's side will be traveling to The Emirates with the hope of a point at least.
Then again Arsenal—fresh from defeat—could take their frustration out on Villa, and play the football which was seen in their 5-1 thrashing on West Ham United.
Fans of clubs dangerously close to the bottom of the table will be hoping the latter is the case.
Newcastle vs. Southampton
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Both Newcastle and Southampton are hovering above the relegation zone on 27 points: four clear from the bottom three.
However both teams are very much able to be dragged into the relegation struggle, and this will be one of the defining games as to which team, if either, are going to be fighting for their lives come May.
Southampton's change in manager has brought about a change in fortune for the club. The astonishing win against Manchester City and the crucial victory over relegation candidates Aston Villa have rejuvenated the Saints, and sandwiched between these three points were draws with Wigan, Everton and Chelsea.
The south coast side will make the 660-mile round trip to the north east, hoping to come away from St. James' Park with a positive result. But Newcastle seem to have found a certain je ne sais quoi since the January transfer window closed.
In the post-Ba era, the Magpies have put their faith in half of France to keep them in the big time, and so far, it seems to be working. Wins over Villa and Chelsea have seen Moussa Sissoko take to the Premier League with style, and Yohan Cabaye return from injury in a fine vein of form (via Soccerbase).
It's never easy traveling to Newcastle; a "big club"—or a "wee club" depending on who you talk to—Alan Pardew will be under extreme pressure to keep the Magpies in the Premier League, and it will be six-pointers like these which he will have picked out to claim maximum points.
Pardew also knows all about the threat Rickie Lambert poses, having brought him to St Mary's when he was manager at the club four years ago (via BBC). And Southampton won't roll over easily. Just ask Roberto Mancini. And Rafael Benitez. And Arsene Wenger.
Reading vs. Wigan
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In the last three seasons Wigan Athletic have been embroiled in the battle at the bottom, finishing 16th twice and 15th in 2011-12 (via SoccerAssociation). It's fair to say that Roberto Martinez knows what it takes to keep a club in the Premier League.
And as sure as day turns to night, Wigan are in the relegation fight once more this season. Currently in 19th place, their story of yet another successive survival must start right now if it is to have a happy ending.
The Latics have a Saturday afternoon planned in the royal county of Berkshire, and will be hoping to be taking three points from Reading come 5pm. However Reading will not hand these over on a silver platter.
Recent last ditch results against West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle and Chelsea prove just how much the Royals' players are willing to fight to stay in the Premier League. And they know that even if they are trailing come 70 minutes, there is still hope.
Reading have scored nine of their last 10 goals inside the last 20 minutes of a match (via Soccerbase). That's more comebacks than New Kids on the Block. But Wigan will be looking for a repeat of their own Lazarus impression at the Madjeski Stadium, as a Jordi Gomez last minute goal secured victory in the same fixture back in November.
Both clubs need to remember football is played over 90 minutes on Saturday, as late winners could be the downfall of both Reading and Wigan. And no fan wants to see their club drop out of the Premier League thanks to a lack of concentration at the death.