Premier League talking points: Man City worries, Spurs 'wake-up call', Ferguson drought

We pick out the big issues ahead of this weekend's English top-flight fixtures

A frustrated Son Heung-min during Tottenham Hotspur's Premier League defeat at Fulham before the international break. Getty Images
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Could walking wounded stall Man City title push?

A huge game at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday as third-place Manchester City tackle table-topping Arsenal, with only one point and Liverpool dividing the two teams.

This will be the third of four matches in a row where City have faced top-six opposition after defeating local rivals Manchester United 3-1, drawing 1-1 with Liverpool, before the Arsenal clash and then Aston Villa four days later.

All Premier League managers head into an international break hoping their players emerge unscathed. “I will not watch the games,” said City coach Pep Guardiola beforehand. “I will rest and when they arrive [back] we will see which players survive and not survive.”

Sadly for the Spaniard, all did not go to plan. Kyle Walker, John Stones and Manuel Akanji all picked up injuries while away with their respective countries, leaving Guardiola with a potential defensive headache.

Goalkeeper Ederson, playmaker Kevin de Bruyne, who both missed City's FA Cup win over Newcastle, plus midfielders Jack Grealish and Matheus Nunes are also fitness concerns although all four – and Akanji – did train on Thursday.

Can Arsenal continue goal glut against champions?

If there is one game when City really need all their defensive hands on deck, it is taking on Mikel Arteta's free-scoring Arsenal.

In their eight league wins at the start of 2024, Arsenal have notched an impressive 33 goals – including six away to Sheffield United and West Ham United, five against Crystal Palace and Burnley, plus four versus Newcastle United.

But in their last victory – a narrow 2-1 win at home to struggling Brentford – the North London club showed they can dig in and scrap their way to victory when required.

“You have to win every game with the level of Manchester City and Liverpool,” said Arteta after the match. “There is no space for slip ups. We really had to respond to the challenge in the second half and show our maturity.

“Sometimes these games make you even stronger than winning four or 6-0,” added German forward Kai Havertz, who scored the late winner. “Everyone is in this together – the players, the staff and the fans.”

Will Spurs react to Fulham 'wake-up call'?

One of the surprise results during the last weekend of Premier League action before the break was Tottenham Hotspur's 3-0 capitulation at Fulham.

What made it all the more eyebrow-raising was the fact Ange Postecoglou's side had demolished top-four rivals Aston Villa 4-0 away from home the previous week.

“It is unacceptable, including me it was unacceptable,” said captain Son Heung-min at Craven Cottage. “Everybody has to look in the mirror and say 'it is my fault'.

“The performance, the attitude was not good enough. Everyone has to make a big wake-up call.”

There would have been some relief, though, that 24 hours after Spurs' loss against their London rivals, Villa could only draw at West Ham.

It means Tottenham go into Saturday's game at home to Luton Town one place and three points behind fourth-place Villa – who take on Wolves later that night – while the North London club also have a game in hand.

Will Newcastle's injury curse cost them Euro spot?

It pretty well sums up Newcastle's season that one of the players who has stepped into the fray during the club's relentless injury crisis could now miss the rest of the campaign himself.

Teenage midfielder Lewis Miley has become a key player for the Magpies this season – having started 14 of Newcastle's past 17 league games – but picked up a back injury while away with England Under-20s and is now expected to be out for around six weeks.

Newcastle are already without the services of midfielders Sandro Tonali, who is suspended until August, and Joelinton, unlikely to play again this season after undergoing thigh surgery in January. Defender Sven Botman has also just gone under the surgeon's knife after suffering a knee injury that will rule him out for up to nine months.

“You can handle one or two, but it has been three of four months for five, six, eight players. There has been no light at the end of the tunnel,” admitted manager Eddie Howe, who still has hopes of securing European football for next season, back in February.

Newcastle, currently 10th in the table, face seventh-placed West Ham at St James' Park on Saturday with the London club four points clear, albeit having played a game more.

When will Ferguson end his Brighton goal drought?

The woes of Brighton & Hove Albion striker Evan Ferguson continued while the teenager was away on international duty with the Republic of Ireland.

Ferguson missed a first-half penalty during his country's goalless friendly draw with Belgium meaning the 19-year-old has now gone 21 games without a goal for club or country, dating back to November.

“It’s one of those things,” said Ireland coach John O’Shea. “He’ll have another spell five, six years down the line of a couple of months without a goal. It happens with top strikers. As soon as he gets on the goal trail again, he’ll be back on a run again.”

It's all a far cry from the first half of a season that saw Ferguson score six goals – including a hat-trick against Newcastle – while also signing a new six-year contract with the Seagulls, acutely aware that rival Premier League big clubs were already circling their young striker.

But after February's draw with Everton, Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi admitted: "[Ferguson] is not having the best period of his time but we can help him and we can understand him because he is very young. The team needs Evan but the true Evan, Evan at his 100 per cent of his physical condition and mental condition.”

If Ferguson is going to drag himself back on to the goals trail this weekend, he will have to do it the hard way: Brighton take on second-placed Liverpool at Anfield.

Updated: March 29, 2024, 3:33 AM