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Liverpool's Diogo Jota scores their first goal against Arsenal on March 16 2022. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID KLEIN
Liverpool's Diogo Jota scores their first goal against Arsenal on March 16 2022. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID KLEIN

London — The Premier League title race takes a breather at the weekend as the FA Cup moves to centre stage, but the scrap for fourth place continues with Arsenal still in the box seat despite Wednesday’s home defeat by Liverpool.

Fourth-placed Arsenal travel to Aston Villa on Saturday while a day later London rivals West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur, who are sixth and seventh respectively, meet in a derby that has taken on huge significance.

Arsenal’s five-match winning run in the league ended in the 2-0 defeat by title-chasing Liverpool, but their form since the turn of the year has given them a great chance of a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2017.

Mikel Arteta’s side have 51 points from 27 games, one ahead of Manchester United, who have played two games more. West Ham have 48 points from 29 games while Tottenham also have 48 from 28 with Wolverhampton Wanderers, who host Leeds United on Friday, on 46 from 29.

It is intriguingly poised and this weekend could prove pivotal for the hopes of West Ham and Tottenham.

For much of the season West Ham have looked the best bet to claim a top-four finish in the Premier League for the first time and achieve their best top-flight finish since 1986. They have been reeled in by Arsenal, however, and defeat at Tottenham on Sunday would be a hammer blow to their hopes of welcoming Europe’s elite at the London Stadium.

They also have the distraction of a Europa League clash at home to Sevilla later on Thursday.

Unpredictable Tottenham, on the other hand, have revived their hopes with four wins in their last six league games and despite the suspicion that a bad performance is never far away, they are back in the mix.

Antonio Conte, who took charge in November, has spent much of his short reign playing down expectations and questioning his squad’s quality, but the Italian has got Tottenham ticking with striker Harry Kane appearing back to his best.

“We are showing great improvement and this is good for the present and the future,” Conte said after Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Brighton and Hove Albion.

“On Sunday we will have a crucial game against West Ham. They have the same target and we are talking about a team that in the last season they arrived before us, they are playing Europa League.

“To get three points on Sunday will be very important to continue to have a hope to reach fourth place.”

Arsenal still have a cushion, but a trip to a dangerous Villa so soon after an intense battle with Liverpool will be a big test of their resilience.

“Don’t worry, on Saturday the players will be there with energy. They will sleep, eat well. But thank you so much to the Premier League for putting the fixtures like this,” Arteta said sarcastically on Wednesday.

In the weekend’s only other Premier League fixture Brentford can take a huge step towards securing top-flight survival when they travel to Leicester City on Sunday. Victory would put them 11 points clear of the drop zone.

Reuters

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