Arsenal go into Sunday’s north London derby on the back of a five-game unbeaten run in the Premier League and FA Cup – but will that revival survive the weekend?
BBC football expert Mark Lawrenson is not convinced by their upturn in form, saying: “I still don’t trust Arsenal.
“Some people have got excited about their recent results and, yes, there has been some improvement – but it still feels like a bad performance is just around the corner.”
Lawro is making predictions for all 380 top-flight matches this season, against a variety of guests.
This week he is up against The Manor’s Scotty Stacks, whose latest track ‘All Goes Cold’ is out now.
Stacks is a Crystal Palace fan who was dreaming of Europe when he was part of the MOTDx Watchalong for the win at Bournemouth on 20 June, in what was their first game back as the Premier League restarted following the coronavirus shutdown.
That win sent the Eagles ninth, and at that stage they were just four points behind fifth-placed Manchester United, but Roy Hodgson’s side have lost all four of their games since, and it is safe to say Stacks is no longer looking up the table and thinking about midweek trips to Azerbaijan.
“What’s gone wrong? How long have you got!?!” Stacks told BBC Sport. “We’ve got the job done this season when we’ve needed to, but our league position has never really told the full story.
“I think the Premier League been a pretty poor standard on the whole this year. There have been a few success stories – teams such as Wolves, Sheffield United and Burnley who have over-achieved and are pushing for Europe, but Liverpool have won it at a canter.
“There are a lot of teams with decent squads who haven’t played as well as expected. So while it has been a pretty decent year for us to have an off-season, because we have never been in danger of going down, as a Palace fan it does feel like a missed opportunity for a European tour, when teams such as Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton have been in upper mid-table most of the time.
“It feels as if a couple more goals at different times and we could have been right in the mixer for the Europa League.
“At the same time, I don’t think we’d have the squad to cope with that anyway. But would you risk a rainy Thursday night in Azerbaijan for a relegation dog-fight? I probably would, to be honest!
“It is frustrating because we are capable of it, but being a typical, cynical and pessimistic Palace fan, we’re probably just as capable of getting relegated as we are getting into Europe.
|Premier League predictions – week 35|
|Norwich v West Ham||x-x||1-1||0-2|
|Watford v Newcastle||x-x||2-0||2-2|
|Liverpool v Burnley||x-x||2-0||2-1|
|Sheff Utd v Chelsea||x-x||1-1||1-3|
|Brighton v Man City||x-x||0-3||0-3|
|Wolves v Everton||x-x||2-0||1-0|
|Aston Villa v Crystal Palace||x-x||1-1||1-1|
|Tottenham v Arsenal||x-x||2-0||3-3|
|Bournemouth v Leicester||x-x||0-2||0-3|
|Man Utd v Southampton||x-x||3-0||3-1|
A correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth 10 points. The exact score earns 40 points.
Norwich v West Ham (12:30 BST)
Both of these sides actually played all right in midweek, but neither of them have anything to show for it.
Norwich’s defeat at Watford means they have lost six league games in a row and it is just a matter of time until their relegation is confirmed.
West Ham lost at home to Burnley but they created enough chances to win that game and it still feels as if they are in better shape than the sides below them.
A win at Carrow Road would be massive for the Hammers, but even a point would edge them closer to safety.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-1
Scotty’s prediction: Norwich had a bit about them at the start of the season, but not any more. West Ham have had a couple of massive results against Chelsea and Newcastle and I think they will get the win here. 0-2
Watford v Newcastle (12:30 BST)
For whatever reason, Newcastle did not show up at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday and were basically beaten from the start.
It is hard to know what to expect from the Magpies this time – they are safe so have nothing to play for, unlike Watford who are fighting for their lives.
I’d have to back the Hornets here, but I’m expecting more of a fight from Newcastle. They won’t get battered again.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Scotty’s prediction: Newcastle are one of the teams who seem to be thriving without fans putting pressure on them, when there can be a pretty toxic atmosphere at St James’ Park because of the way their supporters view their owner. The Magpies got a good win on the road too, over Bournemouth, and I think they will get something from this one. 2-2
Liverpool v Burnley (15:00 BST)
With three wins and a draw from their past four games, Burnley are doing brilliantly, especially when you consider how depleted Sean Dyche’s squad is.
But I see their good run ending when they go to Anfield. Liverpool will find it far harder to break Burnley down than it was against Brighton in midweek, but I think the end result will be the same – a Reds win.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Scotty’s prediction: Liverpool will win, but Burnley are a stubborn, stubborn side. Their manager Sean Dyche has been touted to take over at Palace a couple of times and I have no idea why anyone would say no to him getting the job. Look what he has done at Burnley with a net spend of about £4.50 since he has been there. 2-1
Sheff Utd v Chelsea (17:30 BST)
What a great result Sheffield United got at home to Wolves on Wednesday, thanks to John Egan’s last-gasp winner.
The Blades have certainly responded in the past few days when it looked like they might start to fall away – and it shows just how well Chris Wilder runs that team.
He has had so many of those players for so long, he knows exactly what they are capable of and he also knows how to get the best out of them. They know he knows that too, which is just as important.
Chelsea’s performance against Crystal Palace on Tuesday sort of summed them up for me at the moment – they were good going forward, and they were very average at the back.
That is just the way Frank Lampard’s side are right now. As dangerous as they look in attack, you can get at them too.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-1
Scotty’s prediction: I’ve never seen a team overachieve as much as Sheffield United have done this season. People were a little bit patronising them when they came up, almost mocking Wilder’s progressive tactics and his over-lapping centre-halves. He has proved them all wrong.
I am backing Chelsea to take the points, because they are getting better and better under Frank Lampard, but the Blades have had a fantastic season that no-one expected. 1-3
Brighton v Man City (20:00 BST)
This is a tough little spell for Brighton. They were naive early on against Liverpool on Wednesday – will their manager Graham Potter make the same mistake against Manchester City?
Yes, it’s great to play out from the back but, against Liverpool, the Seagulls knew they were playing a team who press you so well, so why take so many chances? Maybe just concentrate on keeping it at 0-0 for the first 15 minutes or so, put the ball in the channels, and ensure you clear your lines properly until you see how the game is going.
Instead, they made it too easy for Liverpool, and I can see the same thing happening to them again against City. If they overdo it in their own half, they will play themselves into trouble.
And, once you’ve gifted these top teams a couple of goals, good luck getting back into the game.
Lawro’s prediction: 0-3
Scotty’s prediction: Brighton always seem to do enough at the end of the season to get out of trouble. They are another team, like Burnley, who look as if they are in a scrap but they are never down there when it matters.
City, meanwhile, have been so up and down, and I don’t think Pep Guardiola knows why, which must be annoying for him. I think they need a different sort of striker – like Edin Dzeko in the past – to throw on when teams dig in against them. I wonder if that has been one of the reasons they’ve fallen short this season. They will win on Saturday, mind you. 0-3
Wolves v Everton (12:00 BST)
Wolves have had a bit of a hiccup with defeats in their past two matches, but they won’t change the way they play.
I don’t think they have suddenly hit a wall, even though their season started almost a full 12 months ago, in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, so I’d be surprised if they were below par again here.
My main worry for Wolves would be about Adama Traore, who has dislocated his shoulder again – the fourth time it has gone since December.
Traore has played through the pain barrier before but I know from experience it is a horrible injury until you have an operation to sort it out – it happened to me three times in one season before I went for surgery.
But, whether or not Traore decides to carry on for now, I still think Nuno Espirito Santo’s side will have enough quality to break Everton down.
The Toffees have improved a lot under Carlo Ancelotti, but Wolves are much further down the road than they are in terms of building a team that can crack the top six.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Scotty’s prediction: Wolves are still in Europe now, which is a massive testament to how good they’ve been this season, despite not having the biggest squad. It does look like they are running out of gas a little bit now, just at the wrong time. I have got a bet on them to make the top six, which I am a little bit worried about because they are having a wobble – I watched both their defeats and their level of performance has dropped – but I am going to back them in this one. 1-0
Aston Villa v Crystal Palace (14:15 BST)
Palace are on a horrible run of four straight defeats, but I don’t think they are playing that badly.
Aston Villa badly need a win, but I don’t think they will get it. They also look as if they could do with a bit of a break, but they are not going to get that either.
Lawro’s prediction: 1-1
Scotty’s prediction: We have got nothing to play for but I still don’t see us losing to Villa. I don’t think either of us will keep a clean sheet. They have shown flashes of what they can do, mainly from Jack Grealish, but he can’t do it on his own. 1-1
Scotty on Palace’s future prospects: At Palace we have got three players who are earning over £100,000 per week – Mamadou Sakho, Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha – and in my opinion, I don’t think any of them should still be with us come the start of next season.
“Benteke’s confidence is shot – the other day I was talking to a mate who is a bit of a casual football fan and he said ‘there are a couple of Bentekes, aren’t there?’ and he was obviously talking about the Benteke who was at Villa and the Benteke who was at Palace now. They might as well be different people because he just doesn’t look like the same player.
“When he was on loan with us at the end of the 2016-17 season, Sakho was trying to earn a contract with us and get into the France squad before the 2018 World Cup and he was absolutely sensational. I don’t know where that player is either, though, because we’ve never seen him again. For me, that just shows how drastically a player’s performance levels can fall when their head is not right.
“And Wilf, I love him to pieces and, selfishly, I would love him to spend his whole career with us but, thinking of him, I have watched him right from the start when he made his debut for us and I would love to see him go somewhere else and achieve everything he can at the very highest level. I’d love to see what he is capable of with world-class players around him. I do wonder which clubs will be able to afford him this summer, though, and where he could go.”
Tottenham v Arsenal (16:30 BST)
Both of these teams are in mid-table, and only on the fringes of the race for the Champions League spots – who would have thought that at the start of the season?
I think that says it all about where they are at right now. They both have flaws, but I’d still say Spurs are more solid.
Lawro’s prediction: 2-0
Scotty’s prediction: I like Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta; I think he has got some good ideas. He just needs a couple of transfer windows to implement them, but if I were him I would be spending every penny I’ve got to keep hold of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang because they are never going to attract another player as good as him. 3-3
Bournemouth v Leicester (19:00 BST)
I know Bournemouth kept a clean sheet against Spurs on Thursday but I don’t see that as a turning point for them. Leicester have got their mojo back in attack, so the Foxes have to be big favourites here.
Having Jamie Vardy back in the goals is huge for Brendan Rodgers in terms of making the top four – and Vardy is also going for the Golden Boot as the Premier League’s top scorer, so he has plenty to play for.
Lawro’s prediction: 0-2
Scotty’s prediction: I don’t see Bournemouth staying up now. They have overachieved for the past few seasons and what is happening to them now is almost a correction. 0-3
Man Utd v Southampton (20:00 BST)
Southampton’s away form has been excellent but this is the biggest test they have faced for a while on the road.
Manchester United are just hot at the moment and it is going to be extremely hard to stop them because they have several players who look like scoring every time they play.
Lawro’s prediction: 3-0
Scotty’s prediction: United at the moment remind me of Atalanta, who have been playing all-out attack all season in Italy and have outscored Serie A leaders Juventus by 20 goals.
United are looking good aren’t they? Mason Greenwood looks sensational – there is talk of Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho going to Old Trafford, and it would be great to see him in the Premier League, but I really hope it doesn’t come to the detriment of Greenwood’s opportunities and progress. 3-1
Lawro was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
How did Lawro do last time?
From the midweek fixtures, Lawro got five correct results, including one exact score, for a total of 80 points.
He was beaten by DJ Joel Corry, who ended up with 90 points, thanks to six correct results, including one exact score.
|+/- DENOTE POSITION DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAWRO’S TABLE AND ACTUAL POSITION|
GUEST LEADERBOARD 2019-20
|110||Aitch, Daisy May and Charlie Cooper|
|90||Avelino, Joel Corry, Helen Housby, Jo Harten, Bobby Seagull, Geraint Thomas|
|80||Tom Davis, Andy Murray, Stephen Graham|
|76||Lawro (average after 34 weeks)|
|70||David Baddiel, Richard Hawley, Kojo, Michael Johnson, Craig Mitch, Alex Scott|
|60||Sonny Bill Williams, Georgia, Al Greenwood, Katie Ormerod, Serge from Kasabian, Stefan Ratchford|
|50||Chelcee Grimes, Alex Horne, Reece Parkinson, Sam Warburton|
|40||Big Zuu, Stephen Fry, Hugh Grant, Tom Grennan, Neil Jones, Simon Neil, Tommy O’Dell, Steve Queralt|
|30||Sam Bird, Matthew McConaughey, Seth Rollins|
|Total scores after week 34|
|Lawro v Guests|