Premier League Weekend Preview: Defining Moment in Race for Champions League?

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Premier League Weekend Preview: Defining Moment in Race for Champions League?

On Wednesday night, Liverpool made history for all the wrong reasons. Their 2-1 reverse against group champions Fiorentina meant that, for the first time ever, The Reds had lost two consecutive European home games.

That may not sound like a big deal, but for a club with such a proud history and strong pedigree on the continent, Alberto Gilardino's injury-time goal was yet another devastating blow to the fans' pride, and potentially another nail in the once untouchable Rafa Benitez's coffin.

Out of the Champions League and only three points above Birmingham City in the league, Liverpool host Arsenal on Sunday in this weekend's most notable match, the only Sunday fixture.

While Liverpool's players often relish such games, as was the case when they defeated Manchester United 2-0 in October, they must ensure that they not only play out of their skins to overcome a talented if vulnerable Arsenal team, but also that they remain undefeated throughout Christmas and the New Year.

Over this period, Arsene Wenger must mitigate the impact that striker Robin Van Persie's injury will have on his team. Andrei Arshavin scored four last season against Liverpool. He will need to have his scoring boots on at Anfield and thereafter, if the Gunners are to push on in the league.

Tottenham, after fine performances but disappointing results at Everton and Aston Villa, have less daunting fixtures in front of them. Their five remaining 2009 league fixtures sees them welcome Wolves, Man City and West Ham, and travel to the northwest to face Blackburn, before nipping across the captial to take on Fulham.

Indeed, this weekend is crucial for Spurs, as rivals Arsenal, Aston Villa and Man City will all do well to win a point.

Elsewhere, the early Saturday fixture will provide bookings, entertainment, controversy...and a lot of goals!

Wigan are the most unpredictable team in the league—occassionally excellent, often atrocious. Stoke has a good home record, and are an outside bet for Europe.

Saturday's other standout fixture is Manchester United v. Aston Villa.

Villa were overrun by Spurs at Villa Park a fortnight ago, but excelled against Hull last time around, and remain just one point off and four goals away from a Champions League qualification slot.

Elsewhere, it's crunch time for West Ham, and only three points will suffice from their visit to the Midlands to match up against a confident Birmingham team. Bolton v. Man City, Burnley v. Fulham, Chelsea v. Everton, Hull v. Blackburn and Sunderland v. Portsmouth all look like home wins.

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