Big Midweek: Arsenal v Chelsea, Ten Hag, Liverpool, Crystal Palace’s double act

Will Ford
Ten Hag Olise Eze Saka
Erik ten Hag, Michael Olise and Arsenal v Chelsea feature in a Big Midweek.

Arsenal v Chelsea appeals far more than the Merseyside derby in what is a Big Midweek for Erik ten Hag after the Wembley debacle, as we look forward to what Crystal Palace’s double act can do against Newcastle.


Game to watch: Arsenal v Chelsea
A very big game for Arsenal, obviously, as they can extend their lead at the top of the Premier League ahead of Manchester City’s trip to Brighton on Thursday, but also suddenly rather a big one for Chelsea, who will go level on points with both Manchester United and Newcastle in the race for Europa League (or Conference League) qualification.

In what has turned out to be the norm this season for Chelsea against Big Six opposition, they gave at least as good as they got against the Gunners at Stamford Bridge in October. Arsenal barely had a sniff before Declan Rice’s brilliant finish from Robert Sanchez’s assist with 20 minutes to go, but could in the end have won a game they should have easily lost, illustrating the gulf in the mental stability of the two sides as Chelsea crumbled.

The familiar foible of missed chances again cost Mauricio Pochettino’s side against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final, and although they’re eight games unbeaten in the Premier League heading into this clash with Arsenal, Cole Palmer – who’s a major doubt due to illness –  has either scored or assisted 15 of their 23 goals across those eight games. Without him Chelsea’s threat is minimal.

Mikel Arteta and Arsenal will feel like they need to win all of their remaining five games to have a chance of pipping City to the title, which looks a tall order with Tottenham and Manchester United away still to come. But a win over Chelsea, and a decent performance, will be a huge morale boost for them ahead of those games, and will at least put City under some pressure to keep churning out results.

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Manager to watch: Erik ten Hag
There’s not much he could have said after Manchester United’s win over Coventry on Sunday, but claiming they “showed character today” was a laughable response to a game in which his players humiliated themselves. Sure, winning is the most important thing, but with axe-wielding co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe watching from the stands, Ten Hag could have done without such a second-half capitulation, particularly when his decisions played such a significant part in bringing it about.

There is no easier game in which to right wrongs than Sheffield United at home – it should be a banker. But one specific point of intrigue will be whether Ten Hag plays Casemiro at centre-back again. The Brazilian was pretty good and then entirely terrible against Coventry, who will be kicking themselves that they didn’t realise sooner that any ball in behind or to the side of Casemiro was one their strikers were going to get on the end of, no matter how much of a head start the United old-timer had on them.

In normal circumstances we would be promoting the importance of an early goal for Chris Wilder’s side, but as illustrated on Sunday, a goal that looks like a consolation could be just as damaging to a United team that lacks leaders on the pitch and a coach failing to make sound tactical decisions on the touchline. Lose this and it’s surely the end for Ten Hag at United. There would be no excusing defeat to Sheffield United at Old Trafford.

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Team to watch: Liverpool
If only there was a way to watch Liverpool without having to watch the Merseyside derby. Everton haven’t scored in their last four games against the Reds and have won just one of their last 29 meetings in all competitions. It’s rarely dramatic and often very dull indeed, and any hope of Goodison Park being a factor to swing it in Everton’s favour is diminished rather by them having the worst home record of any Premier League team since the start of last season.

A win would almost certainly secure Everton’s successful circling of the drain for another season though, and if that’s not motivation enough then denying Liverpool the title in Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour ought to do it.

Liverpool looked to have some of their spark back in the 3-1 over Fulham as Jurgen Klopp made significant changes to his starting XI. The pressing was back to somewhere near its best and those who came in to the team – Ryan Gravenberch, Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota – looked hungry to impress, and did so.

The question Klopp will be asking himself right now is whether he continues without Mohamed Salah, who will almost certainly finish the season as Liverpool’s top scorer, but has looked well off it in recent weeks, certainly compared to his other options in attack.

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Player(s) to watch: Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze
Is there a more entertaining pair to watch in the Premier League? Todd Boehly, Sir Jim Ratcliffe or whoever else wanting to steal Olise away from Selhurst Park this summer needs to realise that he and Eberechi come as a pair. To be clear, we’re by no means advocating for one of the big boys to poach either of them, but we simply will not accept a double act split to rival Simon and Garfunkel.

They both scored and assisted in the thumping of West Ham and were outstanding behind Jean-Philippe Mateta, who’s also been brilliant under Oliver Glasner. Clearly very good mates off the pitch and that’s evident as they swap positions, look for one another continuously and celebrate the other’s goals as if they’ve scored themselves.

There’s little doubt Palace will receive offers for one or both of them this summer, and while the lure of European football and greater riches will likely prove too tempting to ignore, it’s hard to imagine either of them having as much fun on a football pitch as they’re having right now. The grass isn’t always greener.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Should Eze and Olise look to move on this summer or sit tight at Palace? Join the debate here

EFL game to watch: Leicester v Southampton
The Championship promotion race is turning into a belter but if the Saints fancy themselves as anything more than play-off hopefuls then they have to win at leaders Leicester. We suggest you go and read the excellent Championship winners and losers for more.


European game to watch: Monaco v Lille
There’s no title race in Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain 11 points clear with five games to play, but there’s quite the battle for the Champions League spots. Brest are the surprise package, sitting in the third qualification spot having never competed in Europe before, but just three points separates Monaco above them in second and Lille in fourth.

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