The festive season is upon us and Premier League games are beginning to arrive thick and fast.
With five rounds of matches between now and Jan. 1, squad depth, luck with injuries and motivation will play a big role over the Christmas period.
We're 15 matches into the 2013/14 season and Arsenal sit five points clear at the top, while Sunderland remain rooted to the bottom.
We’ve dusted off the crystal ball and predicted the outcome of this weekend’s matches, but read on for a more in-depth look at two crucial encounters.
|Man City vs. Arsenal||Dec. 14||12:45 p.m. GMT/7:45 a.m. ET||BT Sport||2-1|
|Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace||Dec. 14||3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET||2-0|
|Cardiff vs WBA||Dec. 14||3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET||1-2|
|West Ham vs. Sunderland||Dec. 14||3 p.m. GMT/ 10 a.m. ET||1-1|
|Everton vs. Fulham||Dec. 14||3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET||3-1|
|Newcastle vs. Southampton||Dec. 14||3 p.m. GMT/10 a.m. ET||1-2|
|Hull vs. Stoke||Dec. 14||5:30 p.m. GMT/12:30 p.m. ET||Sky Sports 1||2-0|
|Norwich vs. Swansea||Dec. 15||1:30 p.m. GMT/8:30 a.m. ET||2-2|
|Aston Villa vs. Man United||Dec. 15||1:30 p.m. GMT/8:30 a.m. ET||Sky Sports 1||1-2|
|Tottenham vs. Liverpool||Dec. 15||4 p.m. GMT/11 a.m. ET||Sky Sports 1||2-2|
Schedule via premierleague.com
Man City vs. Arsenal
15 games into the league season, leaders Arsenal will face their biggest challenge away to Manchester City on Matchday 16.
The Sky Blues at the Etihad Stadium are arguably the most daunting of opponents in the league at the moment. They have picked up 21 points from a possible 21 at home this campaign, while scoring 29 goals and conceding just two in the process.
Simply put, when at their best, City are unstoppable within the confines of their own stadium.
The question for Manuel Pellegrini will be how to deal with Arsenal’s electric midfield. The Chilean boss likes to play with two front men at home, but the last time his side lined out like that against a talented and packed midfield—Bayern Munich at home in the Champions League—they were overrun.
10 - Mesut Ozil now has four goals and six assists in 12 Premier League appearances for Arsenal. Value.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 8, 2013
However, Pellegrini will be reluctant to change a winning formula at home in the league, even if Arsenal possess the talent to trouble them in midfield. Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, who have bagged 18 goals between them in the league, have been in fantastic form, and it would be a tough decision to leave the Spaniard out.
The majority of Arsenal fans would take a draw now. One point would likely secure top place on Dec. 25, while a win would see them clinch the Christmas No. 1 spot.
Who will win this game?
But City’s home form, combined with the return of Vincent Kompany, should be enough to see the 2011/12 champions squeeze a win against the league leaders.
Olivier Giroud has been in phenomenal form for Arsenal this season, but Kompany has the ability to limit his time on the ball and stifle his threat.
With the Belgian’s attentions on Giroud, then Arsenal’s go-to man will find it difficult to hold up the ball and link up the play.
Having said that, write the Gunners off at your peril. They have proved time and time again this season that their challenge is here to stay.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Spurs and Liverpool often produce tight encounters, and this weekend looks set to be no different.
Since 2000, 19 of their league matchups have been decided by a goal or fewer, including both fixtures last season—per Soccerbase.
Spurs responded well to their 6-0 drubbing away to Manchester City, picking up seven points from their games with Manchester United, Fulham and Sunderland. But they have yet to fully convince that they have found a solution to their attacking problems.
2 - Tottenham are one of two teams (with Newcastle) yet to score more than twice in a Premier League game this season. Opportunity.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2013
Jermain Defoe has replaced Roberto Soldado in the side, but the problems start a little deeper in the field for the North London outfit. They have lacked creativity going forward and struggled to created chances for their lone front man.
That said, a three-game unbeaten run relieved the pressure on Andre Villas-Boas somewhat, and he can now fully focus on the task at hand.
Luis Suarez didn’t quite live up to the dizzying heights he reached against Norwich when Liverpool beat West Ham at the weekend, but he looked impressive none the less.
14 - Luis Suarez has scored more goals than eight Premier League teams this season. Rampant.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2013
The Reds will be without the services of Steven Gerrard, who picked up an injury on Saturday; it will be interesting to see how they fare without him.
6 - No Premier League player has made more assists than Steven Gerrard this season (six). Marvel.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2013
Who will win this game?
Of Liverpool’s 35 league goals this season, Suarez, Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge have been responsible for 28—per BBC Sport. With the latter two out injured, it will be up to Suarez to shoulder the sole responsibility in front of goal.
The Uruguayan has proven in the last two games that he is more than capable of stepping up to the challenge. But being dependent on one man has its downside. When Suarez plays well, Liverpool play well. And when he struggles, the team suffers.
Spurs will be hoping it's the latter when they face off in the 4 p.m. GMT kick-off on Sunday.