LONDON (Reuters) - Arsenal and Chelsea fill two of the Premier League’s top three spots but will be hoping to shrug off indifferent form as they get the busy Christmas period underway when they clash on Monday (2000 GMT).
The feelgood factor around Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal was dented following their 6-3 battering at the hands of Manchester City on Saturday, a result that trimmed their advantage at the top to two points.
That loss came on the back of a 2-0 Champions League defeat by Napoli, a result that knocked them into second place in the group and a resulting last 16 match-up with European champions Bayern Munich.
Wenger pointed the finger at a congested schedule for recent results, rather than any longer-term malaise, but was hoping for a tighter defensive effort after coughing up eight goals in two matches.
“We didn’t defend well from up front and did not show enough solidarity defensively,” Wenger said after the City loss.
“That’s too easy going. We had the best defense until now in the league and to give six goals like we did is just difficult to accept because we lost our discipline and in the big games and you pay for that.
“The schedule didn’t help us, let’s be fair as well,” he added. “You could see that the legs were tired and you play Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday morning, it’s too difficult.”
Arsenal could be without Jack Wilshere, who faces a two-game suspension for making an offensive gesture towards City fans at the Etihad Stadium.
Chelsea will also be hoping to pick up momentum, having lost in extra-time to struggling Sunderland in the League Cup on Tuesday, and having put in an unconvincing performance in battling past Crystal Palace 2-1 last weekend.
They managed 17 shots on target against Sunderland, and manager Jose Mourinho said they were paying the price for failing to be ruthless in front of goal.
“It is the same story of Stoke, of Everton, of every match we lost,” the Portuguese said.
“We never lost a match because the opponent is stronger than us.
“We don’t kill the opponent, we give them life. It’s always the same.”
Having won all eight home matches and scored 35 goals in the process, fourth-placed Manchester City will head to Fulham on Saturday (1500) hoping to translate that dominance to their travels.
Sergio Aguero, who has scored 13 league goals this season, could be out for up to two months with a calf injury, while fellow Argentina international Pablo Zabaleta is doubtful after hurting a hamstring in the 3-1 League Cup win over Championship side Leicester City.
Second-placed Liverpool, level with Chelsea on 33 points and fresh from their Luis Suarez-inspired 5-0 mauling of Tottenham Hotspur - a result that cost Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas his job - will look to put pressure on Arsenal and Chelsea with a victory over Cardiff City on Saturday (1245).
French defender Mamadou Sakho said they were determined to prove they deserved their place back among the top echelon of English football.
“I think it’s a very strong message that we’ve sent, and while our main aim is to be in the places for the Champions League, we will see how things stand towards the end of the season to see if we are in the running for the title itself,” he told the club’s website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
Saturday’s other matches see Crystal Palace host Newcastle, champions Manchester United host West Ham, Aston Villa travel to Stoke, Sunderland play Norwich and West Bromwich Albion, who sacked head coach Steve Clarke on Saturday, host Hull (all 1500).
Southampton host Spurs on Sunday (1330), hoping to take advantage of the upheaval at the north London club and arrest a slide that has seen them fail to win in five league matches.
Tim Sherwood will be in the dug-out for Spurs for his first league match in charge since replacing Villas-Boas on a temporary basis, having led them to a 2-1 defeat by West Ham in the League Cup quarter-final on Wednesday.
Sunday’s other match sees in-form Everton travel to Swansea City (1600).
editing by Justin Palmer