Big Weekend: Manchester United v Arsenal, Haaland, Chelsea, Ten Hag, play-offs, Old Firm

Dave Tickner
Manchester City striker Erling Haaland, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, Chelsea forward Cole Palmer, Leeds coach Daniel Farke and Arsenal player Bukayo Saka
The race for the title and Europe continues this weekend

Even with only three televised Premier League games it’s a cracking schedule. Manchester United v Arsenal is an obvious headliner with a great undercard.


Game to watch: Manchester United v Arsenal
Impossible to look at this game without coming at it with a ‘how far we done fell’ vibe about Manchester United, a proud and great club reduced here to the status of enormously unlikely but potential party-poopers against their old title-fight sparring partners from the Barclays Origin stories.

Now they can’t even take particular pleasure in pooping Arsenal’s party because it would only hand the title to Manchester City anyway. What a grimness.

And it’s worth considering just how grim a state Manchester United find themselves in when assessing Arsenal. It remains likely that they will come up short in the title again whatever unpleasantness they wreak on United on Sunday afternoon, but this really is a team and a club going places.

They have proved this season they are here to stay. Last season’s late collapse to hand the title to City was met with ‘When will this chance come again?’ concern (often, admittedly, very faux concern). Nobody is saying that this time around. Nothing is inevitable in sport but it seems only a matter of time before this Arsenal team completes its Liverpool-esque journey from challenger to conqueror. In giving City a proper fight two years running, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have already done more than anyone other than Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have managed in the last six years.

As for this match itself, it really could get horribly ugly. Whatever weird magic United deploy to avoid getting spangled by Liverpool surely won’t be able to work against the Gunners. Not with Casemiro at centre-back again, anyway.

Bruno Fernandes returns after missing the 4-0 capitulation at Palace, of course, but he is still just one man and Arsenal’s livewire attack running at Jonny Evans, Casemiro and an out-of-position Aaron Wan-Bissaka feels like it should only be allowed on TV after the watershed.


Player to watch: Erling Haaland
Oh yeah, we’re really thinking outside the box with this one. Might not have thought to watch him if we hadn’t pointed it out, yeah? Still, though.

He scored four goals last weekend in a 5-1 win over Wolves and now faces a Fulham side against whom he scored a mere three in a 5-1 win earlier this season.

Fulham have been a wonderfully mercurial side, and their Craven Cottage wins against Arsenal and Spurs (stop laughing) mean there is just enough reason to think Man City might drop points here before they definitely don’t drop points and in fact win 5-1 again.

City have an impeccable record against the Cottagers going back an awful long way, and Haaland has five goals in three Premier League games against them.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he doesn’t add to that tally against a side who aren’t quite on the beach but have been glancing at the flip-flops and board shorts for a little while now, have won only once since the start of April, and have been preparing for this game by flying kites in training. A fact that was met with the kind of quiet, detached calm for which Arsenal’s terminally online supporters have grown rightly famous.

The only disappointment, really, is that the game is on TNT and thus we will have to wait to hear how furious Roy Keane is about Haaland’s inevitable penalty-laden stat-padding.


Team to watch: Chelsea
Because, quite frankly, they are the most watchable team in the division right now. Nine of their last 10 Premier League games have featured at least four goals, and it was hardly their fault Spurs were so unbelievably wretched going forward in the other.

Just in the space of their last five head-spinning games, Chelsea have won 5-0 and 6-0, lost 5-0, and drawn 2-2 in a game where they trailed 2-0 after an hour.

They have four 2-2 draws in their last 10 games, against a magnificent list of opponents: Brentford, Burnley, Sheffield United and Aston Villa.

The 5-0 defeat to Arsenal is also somehow the only Premier League defeat they’ve suffered since February despite it still not being remotely clear whether they are actually any good or not, and the shamblings of others – Spurs and Manchester United we are looking squarely at you here – mean they are right in European contention after a season that looked for the longest time like being every bit as bleak as the last.

And, depending how Saturday’s earlier games have gone, Chelsea might find themselves up against a Forest team that is effectively safe from relegation (barring unlikely mathematical or points penalty chicanery) which should only add to the sense of freewheeling silliness on offer.


Manager to watch: Erik Ten Hag
Only three televised Premier League games this weekend means we can cheat. You can insist Monday night counts as the weekend if you like, but it doesn’t, and in any case a once-tantalising Aston Villa v Liverpool fixture is now the deadest of rubbers between teams who will definitely finish fourth and third respectively. It might well be fun to watch, but it carries no deeper meaning.

Ten Hag is unlikely to have any fun at all on a Sunday afternoon riddled with deeper meaning. The absence of any other Premier League action on the day doesn’t help him either, but let’s be honest even if there were any other games the spotlight would fall heavily on this one.

Genuinely, what is he supposed to do here? The man has made many, many mistakes and absolutely doesn’t deserve to keep his job beyond the end of the season, but it’s hard not to feel a smidgeon of sympathy for him here. Looking at Sunday and how it might well go, there is a clear argument that sacking him now would have been an act of kindness, putting him out of our misery.

He must sense the game is up, and he now has almost no choice but to take on Arsenal – 13 goals scored in four straight wins since going out of the Champions League – with the same patched-up, and alarmingly ponderous defence that shipped four at Palace on Monday night.

Astonishing as it is to say about any game at Old Trafford, it doesn’t even feel like United’s main goal is to avoid defeat here but rather to avoid (further) humiliation. A narrow defeat can be swallowed if there is sufficient pride and endeavour on display, especially with the knock-on effect of making Man City’s life that bit harder.

But do Ten Hag and his injury-ravaged squad have even that kind of most-minor-win-imaginable fight left in them?

👉 Tuchel still favourite for Man Utd job after inevitable Ten Hag sack despite CL cock-up
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Football League game to watch: Norwich v Leeds
No 2pm Premier League game on Sunday means that both Championship play-off semi-final first legs can be enjoyed in full before The Small Matter of Manchester United v Arsenal on a lovely afternoon of football that should really get that sofa arse groove in good shape.

There are, broadly, two types of play-off story. The prospect of a Premier League chance for someone a bit new and exciting and different (your Brentfords, your Lutons); or welcoming back the familiar for another crack at the Barclays. This year is definitely going to be the latter with Norwich, Leeds, Southampton and West Brom the four teams involved.

Norwich v Leeds is the pick if you’re only going to watch one of the games, though, purely because of the fascination in watching two teams wildly out of form fight for such a potentially enormous prize. Both stumbled dismally over the regular-season line, Leeds losing their way in the automatic promotion battle and Norwich just about clinging on to sixth.

Both sides picked up just two wins in their last seven league matches going back to the start of April so neither side will be approaching this with any kind of confidence. Which is absolutely ideal for any of us with no particular skin in the game.


European game to watch: Celtic v Rangers
Most of the Big Leagues are sorted and settled now, but even if they weren’t this would still be the pick. We’ve wrestled previously with whether it is within the spirit of ‘European game’ to watch but Scotland is not England and it is in Europe, so we’ve decided it counts and there is frankly little you can do about it.

We would in any case highly recommend sidelining all that pedantic semantic concern and instead simply settle in to enjoy the nonsense that is very likely to flow given that Celtic currently hold a three-point lead at the top of the SPL, while the last Old Firm derby was a) barely a month ago and b) a completely batsh*t 3-3 draw featuring a first-minute goal, two penalties, and three goals in the last five minutes.