May 4, 2014, 4:13 AM EDT
Coming off last week’s win at Anfield, Chelsea can go top of the Premier League on Sunday when relegation-embattled Norwich City visits Stamford Bridge. Two points behind both Manchester City and Liverpool, the Blues can vault from third to first with a win over the Canaries, all but confirming Norwich’s relegation in the process. Though a loss will keep Neil Adams’ team three back of Sunderland, a huge goal difference disadvantage will leave the Canaries all but mathematically relegated, with the club left hoping the courts can provide a loophole that will keep it in the Premier League.
Before that match, however, West Bromwich Albion will try to get its third straight result from Arsenal when it visits the Emirates for the day’s opener. Only four points above the drop, Pepe Mel’s team still have a mathematic chance of being relegated, one that disappears with two points in its last three games. With Arsenal having confirmed its top four finish with Everton’s Saturday loss, the Gunners have little to play for, even though they could still catch Chelsea for third.
Those are the implications. Here are more details on Sunday’s action in the Premier League:
Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion, 8:30 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra
- Manager Pepe Mel with 15 points in 15 games since taking over at West Brom.
- Baggies have earned 1-1 draws in each of the teams’ last two meetings.
- Arsenal’s lost once at home all season.
With a top four (and, UEFA Champions League) spot sewn up, Arsenal can focus on the season’s last major objective: Winning the FA Cup. While that doesn’t necessarily mean Arsène Wenger will preserve his regulars, he is likely to approach his league season’s last two games asking How does this help us win the FA Cup?
Need playing time ahead of the final? You’re in. Feeling a little bit tired? Sit this one out. Wenger won’t want to take any chances, but he also won’t want a rusty team taking the field on the 17th against Hull City. For most of his squad, playing will be the best way to stay in shape ahead of the final.
If Wenger subscribes to that view, expect Arsenal to be without Bacary Sagna, who is struggling with a knee injury. Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere have already been ruled out for another week, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott are out for the season.
Those absences leave an obvious area for West Brom to exploit. Without two of his fullbacks, Wenger will be forced to start Nacho Monreal at left back. With Morgan Amalfitano likely to get the call at right wing in its 4-2-3-1, West Brom has a player who can take advantage of Arsenal’s weakest defender.
Chelsea vs. Norwich City, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra
- Norwich have lost eight in a row on the road.
- Chelsea have the league’s best defense, having conceded only 26 goals.
- The Canaries are tied for the league’s worst attack, having scored only 28 times.
Norwich needs at least four points from its last two games to survive, a task that’s highly improbable for a team that’s claimed only 32 points all season. Add in the quality of their competition, and the Canaries look destined to go down. The miraculous can happen (as Sunderland’s shown), but closing the season with Chelsea and Arsenal, Norwich may be beyond help.
Against a Chelsea team looking to climb to the top spot in the table, Canaries supporters should get quick answers. Either Chelsea will come out, play to its talent-level, and immediately move beyond the midweek disappointment of having been eliminated from UEFA Champions League, or the team will start low, again play down to its competition, and give Norwich a chance to replicate Sunderland’s success at Stamford Bridge.
If the teams’ first meeting of the season is any indication, there’s a small chance Norwich could have that kind of success, though Eden Hazard blew that match open with two late goals. This week, however Hazard has been the target of his manager’s ire, while fellow attacking midfielder Óscar is currently out of favor. Even so, the fresh legs players like Frank Lampard, Nemanja Matic, and Mohamed Salah carry into this match should help Chelsea avoid any Champions League hangover.
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