Chelsea will roll into Anfield on Monday during Week 17 in an attempt to knock Arsenal from the perch atop the Premier League.
After the Gunners were humbled 3-6 last week playing Manchester City at Etihad, their lead in the table has been reduced to just two points over both Chelsea and Liverpool.
That means a win from Chelsea will guarantee them at least a share of the lead. With Liverpool hosting 15th-place Cardiff City, a share of the lead is likely the best Chelsea could do with a win.
One of the just mentioned matches cracked my list of the week's most pivotal. You might be able to guess which one.
Check out my full predictions for Matchday 17, and then I'll offer up a closer look at the three most pivotal contests of the week.
|Manchester United||2-1||West Ham|
|Stoke City||0-0||Aston Villa|
|West Brom||1-1||Hull City|
Arsenal vs. Chelsea
When: Monday, Dec. 23 at 3 p.m. ET/8 p.m. GMT
This match is a proving ground for both squads.
The Gunners opened up serious doubt about their championship caliber by allowing six goals to the Citizens. That is more than half of the 11 Arsenal had allowed in all of their EPL matches leading up to that contest.
As for Chelsea, the Blues head into this contest having taken just three points in their last three league contests.
Chelsea's defense has also seen some recent struggles. They've allowed a combined nine goals in their last four league matches.
Arsenal will enter this match with fresher legs, but they will also likely be missing the defensive services of the injured Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere—who is facing a ban, according to a report by Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph.
I expect both teams to focus on defense. That will result in a cautious and low-scoring draw.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea
Swansea City vs. Everton
When: Sunday, Dec. 22 at 11 a.m. ET/4 p.m. GMT
The Swans are doing just enough to stay in the top half of the table. Since a blowout loss to Manchester City on Dec. 1, they have posted a 1-2-0 league record. Their win was an impressive home drubbing of Newcastle.
Everton, however, will arrive at this match with even more impressive recent form. In their last three league matches, Everton has seven points with an away win over Manchester United, an away draw with Arsenal and then an easy home win over Fulham.
This sets up for what will be a well-played match, but the Swans will struggle for quality looks. Swansea doesn't have the firepower to crack the fierce defense of Everton.
Prediction: Swansea 0-1 Everton
Southampton vs. Tottenham
When: Sunday, Dec. 22 at 8:30 a.m./1:30 p.m. GMT
It's hard to know how Tottenham will respond to the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas:
The official club statement from Spurs after sacking Andre Villas-Boas as manager was just 16 words long. Brief. pic.twitter.com/5gGbcxVTc4— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2013
Of course, it will be hard for them to look any worse than they did their last time on the pitch in a 0-5 demolition at home against Liverpool.
Tottenham will have to display much better form to score on Southampton.
Southampton is coming off a recent stretch of defensive ineffectiveness. In a three-match span with matches against Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa, Southampton gave up a combined eight goals while losing all three.
They got right back on track, however, with a 1-1 draw against Manchester City and then a 1-1 draw with Newcastle.
I expect that defense to blank a somewhat shell-shocked Hotspur.
Prediction: Southampton 1-0 Tottenham