It's a race not a beauty contest, but City may well finish first whilst still looking pretty sexy. Plus some things to ponder for Roy the Boy and use of the word 'effectively'...
City can go top for the first time since January 29, whilst Paul Lambert, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce might all need wins to save their jobs. It's Daniel Storey's Big Weekend...
"It was like a car crash," was Mikel Arteta's blunt appraisal of those first 19 minutes against Liverpool. The Gunners had held a half-time lead only once in ten matches before Saturday and starting slowly finally caught up with them in stunning fashion. The worry now is that a skid becomes a pile-up, with a difficult February followed by an even tougher March.
The next fixture should bring some respite. In truth, it would be nothing short of embarrassing if Arsenal fail to win against Manchester United on Wednesday, given the champions' current form and the Gunners' designs on the title. Arsene Wenger confessed that his team were "too nervous" in November's clash at Old Trafford, but another timid display is unlikely to be tolerated by an expectant fanbase.
United are wounded and Arsenal must take full advantage. If they are to have any credibility in the title race, it is time to prove they can beat their old rivals - especially when United are scrapping in mid-table, nine points from fourth. West Brom, Everton, Newcastle and Tottenham have all won at Old Trafford this season; beating United at home is the mininum requirement for an Arsenal side seeking an
Said David Moyes in November: "As regards Ozil, we weren't close to buying him but something was mooted. We didn't need that position at the time. It was put to us and it was just something at the time we didn't need."
If Ozil has anything about him, he'll want to show United exactly what they turned down and silence those who are beginning to question whether the 'Ozil effect' is merely a placebo.
Be better than Nacho Monreal. It shouldn't
David Moyes and Manchester United
Lose and the race for fourth is as good as over; win away to Arsenal and suddenly the three teams above begin to look over their shoulders again. It is time for David Moyes to be bold and show some imagination.
"I've never headed that many balls since the Conference," said Fulham's Dan Burn in his appraisal of Manchester United's tactics on Monday. "We knew that was going to happen and I was happy for them to play like that."
If a rookie Fulham defender is happy to face United's predictable approach, then Per Mertesacker should be rubbing his hands in anticipation of another aerial bombardment. Compared to Liverpool moving the ball at speed across the ground, United's hit-and-hope reliance on crossing should be a piece of cake for the Arsenal defence.
It is likely that Moyes will adopt a similar system, with Juan Mata tucking in on the right and Wayne Rooney playing just off Robin van Persie in attack. However, the manager can improve United's chances enormously by switching Ashley Young for Adnan Januzaj on the left. The simple statistic that Januzaj found a teammate with five of his 12 crosses compared to one in 15 for Young proves that, even if he is
deployed in a rudimentary way, the 18-year-old is a much better option.
It was embarrassing when Moyes pumped his fists in the air at 2-1 on Sunday, screaming in jubilation at supporters and forgetting that it would have been a narrow victory at home against the bottom club. However, victory at the Emirates could truly be classed as a turning point. It would, to an extent, clean the slate for the remaining 12 matches as the champions seek to rein in Liverpool.
Nobody believes they can do it, but United must if they are to stand any chance of returning to the Champions League next season and convincing everyone that stability is not merely a self-harming notion.
In the bottom three for the first time since September following a downfall entirely of their own making. It was a strange decision not to back Steve Clarke last summer, a stranger one to sack him, stranger still to replace Clarke with Pepe Mel and even stranger to prevent the new man immediately bringing in his own backroom staff and bolstering the squad in January. This is mis-management to rival Vincent Tan at Cardiff, but without the outrage and headlines.
The oddest thing about Mel's appointment was that his record with Real Betis over the previous 18 months was almost exactly the same as Clarke's spell at the Hawthorns - and yet the Scot was sacked for having a poor calendar year. "It has been well documented that we have not had the rub of the green in certain games this season but that does not cloud the generally disappointing points return during this calendar year," said sporting and technical director Richard Garlick as he announced Clarke's departure on December 14.
It is sham logic and looks even more ridiculous when Clarke's record is judged alongside Mel's reign at Betis. The La Liga club won 11 of their first 19 matches in the 2012/13 campaign, but only five of the last 19 and nine of 36 in 2013 before Mel was sacked on December 2. In comparison, West Brom won ten of their first 19 matches last season, four of the last 19 and seven of 34 in 2013 before Clarke's exit, including victories at Anfield and Old Trafford. Suddenly Garlick's reasoning looks rather disingenuous.
But that is now by the by. The defeat to Crystal Palace has left the Baggies floundering in 18th before the visit of table-topping Chelsea on Tuesday night and there has been no anticipated improvement in performances following Mel's arrival, with Keith Downing doing a better job of organising the team in his four-week spell as caretaker manager.
"I was aware this was a difficult challenge," said Mel on Monday. Unless he can oversee a drastic change in fortunes, West Brom could be made to pay the price for a series of bemusing decisions.
"The result at Manchester United yesterday was a result that cheered me up because if gives us a chance to try to catch them, and if we try to finish above Manchester United, that would be a hell of an achievement for this club regardless of anything else," said Alan Pardew on Monday.
"That's the immediate incentive for us, and then we will see where it takes us."
After successive 3-0 defeats following the loss of Yohan Cabaye, the immediate incentive is to, well, not lose 3-0 again when Tottenham visit St James' Park on Wednesday. Newcastle need something to play for now they are trapped in a mini-league with Southampton, but focusing on the immediate fixture is imperative as their season begins to unravel following a dire January window.
One win in the last four matches against West Brom and back-to-back defeats at the Hawthorns that brought an end to the reigns of Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo. It's time to pick that particular bogey.
Speaking of bogey sides, City face their chief aggravators Sunderland on Wednesday in a dress rehearsal for the League Cup final. If only it were a real dress rehearsal for a period drama, with John O'Shea wearing a petticoat and being pursued on horseback by the dashing Mr Negredo.
This is the perfect opportunity for City to snap out of their recent malaise after failing to score in successive Premier League matches for the first time since December 2011. It also precedes a brace of fixtures against Chelsea in the FA Cup and Barcelona in the Champions League, meaning that City can ill afford more disappointment if they want to keep their season on track.
Don't let everyone down again, Edin.
After the 4-0 thrashing of Everton came a body-popping bubble-bursting 1-1 draw at West Brom. After the 5-1 defeat of Arsenal comes what can now be billed as a 'tricky test' at Fulham.
The biggest concern for Liverpool is that they won't be able to exhibit the ruthless counter-attacking football that has been the hallmark of much of their success this season. Not if Fulham set up as they did against Manchester United, anyway.
This examination will require a different answer. The guile of Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez will be crucial in dragging defenders out of position in exactly the way United failed on Sunday. It will be a victory pinned on speed of thought and how quickly the Reds can move the ball in the final third, rather than speed of Raheem
Sterling and Daniel Sturridge on the break.
If Liverpool win and United lose to Arsenal, the gap to the champions will stand at 12 points. With only 12 games remaining, even the most optimistic Moyes apologist will be forced to concede that the battle for fourth is over.
It is perfectly understandable that Fulham's match-day employees are not willing to spend several extra hours on public transport before and after Wednesday's game in light of the tube strike, but what is seemingly a small issue could have quite a significant impact on the season.
Liverpool will be desperate for the match to go ahead. After thrashing Arsenal on Saturday and travelling to London in preparation, the Reds will be eager to keep the ball rolling with another win that maintains or increases the gap over their rivals.
However, should the game be cancelled and Man United shock everyone with victory at the Emirates, it leaves Liverpool feeling rather uncomfortable as their lead over the champions is cut to six points, knowing that they still have to travel to Old Trafford and then squeeze in a rearranged trip to Craven Cottage. It is infinitely more advantageous to Liverpool if the match is on.
Matt Stanger - Follow him on Twitter here