Big Weekend: Aston Villa v Arsenal, Rashford, Newcastle, Stellini, Blades, and a wobbly PSG

Dave Tickner
Former Arsenal boss Unai Emery during a match

Will Unai Emery hand stuttering Arsenal another Premier League title setback? Can Newcastle do anything other than draw? How many goals will Marcus Rashford score? We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more on another Big Weekend…


Game to watch – Aston Villa v Arsenal
It’s suddenly a far bigger game than Arsenal wanted or expected now. After dropping seven points in the first 19 games of the season they’ve spaffed eight in the last three games and, while they didn’t play badly as such against Manchester City in midweek they were scruffy and careless in a game that required neither of those things.

However unexpected the eight-point lead may have been for Mikel Arteta and the Process Gang, an eight-point lead is what they had a month ago and now they have no lead at all. Arsenal fans can protest the point, but it is all a bit corn cob and they know what they’d be calling it if Spurs had done it.

Eight-point leads, once squandered, are seldom regained. Especially when up against a team like City. But there was enough even in defeat to the champions to suggest Arsenal’s young side could come again if they can get over the initial disappointment.

The mischievous and capricious fixture gods giveth and they taketh away. Arsenal play in the Saturday lunchtime slot, giving them a psychologically significant chance to reassert themselves and at least temporarily reclaim top spot. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they must do so against Aston Villa and Unai Emery, which is if anything slightly too much narrative.


Team to watch – Newcastle
Nobody has lost fewer games this season than Eddie Howe’s side, and on Saturday evening they have the chance for revenge over the one team to manage it: plucky mid-table strivers Liverpool.

It took a last-minute goal that night and in truth Newcastle did more than enough to take something from Anfield. They really could do with three points in this reverse fixture. Not so much for the revenge as for their own peace of mind.

The fact they sit fourth despite that solitary defeat tells you that there have been too many draws, and it’s now five in the last six Premier League games. Of the five, only the goalless draw at Arsenal could really be described as a point won rather than two lost, with Leeds, Palace, West Ham and Bournemouth all in the wrong half of the table yet all able to frustrate Newcastle.

The Magpies are an increasingly weary-looking team that could really do with getting that Champions League bid back on track as well as boosting confidence ahead of next weekend’s Carabao final against Manchester United. They must again attempt to do so without the influential Bruno Guimaraes, who serves the last of his three-match ban.


Player to watch – Marcus Rashford
It should be him every week at the moment, really. He’s just absolutely loving life. His 2023 goal tally is already into double figures and he comes into a Premier League clash with Leicester on Sunday on the back of a man-of-the-match performance in a wildly entertaining 2-2 Europa League draw at Barcelona.

Forget the second-tier label, it was the best European match in this first week of knockout action and Rashford was the very best thing about it, lashing home United’s equaliser and impudently creating the second.

He’s the country’s in-form player for an in-form team and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be delighted about it.

Barcelona vs Man Utd

Manager to watch – Cristian Stellini
The Tottenham assistant puts his 100% win record on the line again as Antonio Conte’s stand-in.

Conte remained in Italy after the 1-0 Champions League defeat to Milan on doctor’s advice following a check-up after his recent gallbladder surgery.

It means Sunday’s home derby with West Ham will be the third game this season Conte has missed – he was suspended for the dramatic 2-1 win at Marseille that secured progression to the Champions League knockouts and recuperating at home for the well-deserved 1-0 win over Manchester City.

Since then Spurs finished third in a two-horse race at Leicester, gave themselves work to do in the Champions League return leg against a crushingly mediocre Milan side and lost their most influential midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur to a season-ending knee injury.

It’s rarely dull when Spurs and West Ham clash, and while the Hammers remain slap bang in the middle of the relegation fight, they have taken a point off both Newcastle and Chelsea in their last two games. Stellini will need to coax another good performance from a maddeningly inconsistent Spurs team to maintain that perfect record of his.


Football League game to watch – Millwall v Sheffield United
The Blades’ seemingly serene path to a Premier League return in Burnley’s slipstream hit a bit of a bump with a midweek home defeat to third-place Middlesbrough, who are a side rejuvenated under Michael Carrick and looking capable of keeping Sheffield United honest in the run-in.

And the Blades have a testing little run of game coming on the back of that defeat, starting with seventh-placed Millwall and taking in games against other play-off contenders Watford and Blackburn either side of an FA Cup fifth-round clash with Tottenham. It’s very much not the time for that midweek defeat to turn into something more significant.


European game to watch – PSG v Lille
Just slightly sticky times for Paris St Germain, who have lost their last three games across three different competitions. They’ve been beaten by Marseille in the cup, Bayern in the Champions League and Monaco in the league over the last couple of weeks and have an interesting game here.

On paper, it’s a tricky one against Lille who are fifth in the league and have won their last two games. Yet it’s also true that PSG won the reverse fixture back in August 7-1 with a certain Kylian Mbappe scoring a hat-trick and a certain Neymar scoring twice and a certain Lionel Messi also on the scoresheet.