The Premier League has broken into two mini-leagues—the top seven and the bottom 10.
Only Newcastle and Southampton, eighth and ninth respectively, are exempt. Neither is likely to challenge for a place in the top four, yet both have shown more than enough of what is required to stay in the top flight and need only a few more points to guarantee it.
Above them, everyone will harbour hopes of Champions League qualification or title glory. Below them, just six points separates Hull in 10th place from Crystal Palace at the foot of the table. And that is why every single point—and the chance to climb the table—is so important for the majority of teams right now.
Here we look at which sides are most likely to improve their outlook in Week 22.
|2013-14 Premier League Table (As of Thurs, Jan. 16)|
Man City vs. Cardiff
Under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Cardiff are likely to attack Manchester City and attempt to complete an unlikely double over their free-scoring opponents.
Cardiff won 3-2 against Premier League title challengers City in August, but since then City have gone goal crazy and scored 99 goals in all competitions this season, as reported by Jamie Jackson of The Guardian.
However, on former Manchester United striker Solskjaer's return to the city, he will want to make a good impression. And having lost his first league game in charge last weekend, he will be desperate to guide the Welsh side away from the foot of the table.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini has talked up his club's chances of winning all four competitions they are in this season, but they are due a slip-up and could be caught out a second time by a Cardiff side eager to impress.
Sunderland vs. Southampton
After a week of turmoil off the pitch, Southampton have reason to be nervous about their trip to the second-worst side in the Premier League.
Gus Poyet's side have begun to show they may be about to turn their season around, having won three games in a row in all competitions. They have also lost just once in nine and have the look of a side growing in confidence with every passing week.
Having lifted themselves off the foot of the Premier League with a thumping 4-1 win against Fulham last weekend, Poyet will have his side prepared and raring to go in the knowledge that they can escape the relegation zone with a win.
With everything that has gone on at Southampton—the resignation of chairman Nicola Cortese and the uncertainty surrounding manager Mauricio Pochettino's future—it is hard to imagine they will arrive at the Stadium of Light focused and prepared.
Arsenal vs. Fulham
Although leaders Arsenal can't technically climb the Premier League table this weekend, they can extend their lead courtesy of Cardiff's predicted win against Man City.
The Gunners, with 23 points from a possible 30 at home already this season, are a dangerous animal at the Emirates Stadium, while Fulham are a side in disarray.
The Cottagers may have won impressively against an insipid Norwich side in the FA Cup midweek, but the worst goal difference in the league tells a different story. Fulham have conceded 46 goals in 21 games, per ESPN FC.
By contrast, that will be music to the ears of an Arsenal side with a record of 41 strikes in 21 outings that boasts attacking talents to make Fulham's creaky defence quake.
If Sunderland are capable of scoring four against Rene Meulensteen's side, then this game has the potential for a thrashing.