With so much parity near the top of the EPL table this season, each and every week of play is of the utmost importance.
Although Week 22 may seem a bit short on marquee matchups, there is no denying the fact that the contests are important in terms of separating the contenders from the pretenders.
Just seven points separate first-place Arsenal from fifth-place Everton, and quality squads such as Tottenham and Manchester United are lurking as well. A single win or loss can shake things up significantly, so none of the top teams can afford to slip up.
Here is a look at the three biggest EPL matches on tap for Week 22, along with predictions for how each will ultimately play out.
|EPL Week 22 Schedule|
|Home Team||Away Team||Date||Time (ET)||Time (GMT)|
|Sunderland||Southampton||Saturday, Jan. 18||7:45 a.m.||12:45 p.m.|
|Manchester City||Cardiff City||Saturday, Jan. 18||10 a.m.||3 p.m.|
|Crystal Palace||Stoke City||Saturday, Jan. 18||10 a.m.||3 p.m.|
|Norwich City||Hull City||Saturday, Jan. 18||10 a.m.||3 p.m.|
|Arsenal||Fulham||Saturday, Jan. 18||10 a.m.||3 p.m.|
|West Ham||Newcastle||Saturday, Jan. 18||10 a.m.||3 p.m.|
|Liverpool||Aston Villa||Saturday, Jan. 18||12:30 p.m.||5:30 p.m.|
|Swansea City||Tottenham||Sunday, Jan. 19||8:30 a.m.||1:30 p.m.|
|Chelsea||Manchester United||Sunday, Jan. 19||11 a.m.||4 p.m.|
|West Brom||Everton||Monday, Jan. 20||3 p.m.||8 p.m.|
Chelsea vs. Manchester United
It is always an event when Chelsea and Manchester United lock horns, but this encounter feels a bit different from usual.
They are usually battling for position atop the table, and while the Blues are within two points of first, the Red Devils are simply trying to remain afloat. United are in grave danger of missing the Champions League and even the Europa League in their first season under manager David Moyes, but a win over Chelsea could potentially work wonders.
Wayne's come back fresh but not ready for Chelsea. He's doing some running and looking good. He's had a break, done some strengthening work on his groin. Hopefully he'll benefit, but not for this game.
Moyes also confirmed that Robin van Persie will have to sit out this huge clash:
I'm hoping Robin's got a good chance of training at the start of next week. If I could get him back on the grass it would be a great boost for us-- he's a really important player and one we've missed.
As for Chelsea, they appear to be in fine form with five consecutive wins to their credit, and star winger Eden Hazard is reaching elite status. With the Blues' momentum, and the fact that they will be facing a shell of United's usual line-up, expect Chelsea to win in fairly routine fashion at Stamford Bridge.
Prediction: Chelsea 2, Manchester United 0
Arsenal vs. Fulham
A match that appears to be even more lopsided on paper than Chelsea vs. Manchester United is the Jan. 18 showdown between Arsenal and Fulham at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners currently top the table with 48 points, but Manchester City, Chelsea and several other teams are nipping at their heels. Most observers figure that this should be an easy victory for Arsenal, but the pressure that comes with clinging to first place could make things difficult.
With that said, Arsenal are unbeaten in their past six matches and have generally performed quite well against clubs that they are supposed to beat. Fulham fall into that category as they currently sit 16th in the standings, just one point clear of the relegation zone.
That means that the Cottagers will have plenty riding on this match as well, but desire can only take a team so far. Also, Arsenal have a long history of success when it comes to beating Fulham, per the Premier League on Twitter:
Arsenal are third in the EPL in scoring, while Fulham have allowed 11 more goals than the next closest team. Clearly, that isn't a recipe for success as far as the Cottagers are concerned.
With the likes of Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil scoring at an impressive clip, the Gunners simply have too much firepower for Fulham to handle. Things could get very ugly at the Emirates.
Prediction: Arsenal 4, Fulham 1
Manchester City vs. Cardiff City
Arsenal may be in first place right now, but it can certainly be argued that Manchester City have been the EPL's most dominant team in 2013-14.
The Citizens trail the Gunners by a single point and boast the best goal difference in the Premier League by a wide margin at plus-36. City will host Cardiff City on Jan. 18 in what will be a huge match for both teams, but it is extremely difficult to envision the Citizens dropping this contest at the Etihad Stadium.
There is no question that Manchester City are questionable when it comes to defense and goalkeeping. Joe Hart and Costel Pantilimon have had their struggles with consistency between the pipes; however, it hasn't come back to bite City too often due to the fact that they tend to score in bunches.
In fact, Manchester City have scored 13 goals over their past three matches while surrendering none, so perhaps everything is starting to come together. According to WhoScored.com, the Citizens are one goal short of 100 over the past year, as seen in this interesting graphic:
That graphic makes it quite apparent that Manchester City have so many players who can beat the opposition. They also enter their match against Cardiff on an unbelievable roll, not having lost since dropping a 1-0 decision to Sunderland way back on Nov. 10.
Cardiff, on the other hand, are 18th in the Premier League standings and have just one win over their past six matches. All of that points to a winning recipe for Man City.
Prediction: Manchester City 3, Cardiff City 0
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