LONDON, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Following is a match-by-match look at this weekend’s English Premier League fixtures (all matches Dec. 26 unless stated):
Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion
Both sides lost their last games although Arsene Wenger will be the more worried manager after suffering two defeats from winning positions in what he called a “horrible week”. With questions being asked about the Gunners’ toughness, Albion are not the sort of opponents he will relish, particularly with Arsenal’s grasp on fourth place down to a single point. Wenger knows six points over Christmas are a must.
Burnley v Middlesbrough
New Burnley signing Joey Barton is unable to play until January and will miss the visit of Middlesbrough, one of the sides the Clarets may need to finish above to avoid relegation. Only Hull and Sunderland have scored fewer goals than the 16 these two sides have each managed, although Boro’s 3-0 win over Swansea last time out was their best of the season.
Chelsea v Bournemouth
Chelsea are without the suspended Diego Costa and N‘Golo Kante as they seek a club-record 12th successive league win. In Costa’s absence, Michy Batshuayi is expected to make his first Premier League start up front while Bournemouth must also make at least one change from the side who lost 3-1 to Southampton because Dutch loanee Nathan Ake cannot play against his parent club.
Leicester City v Everton
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy begins his three-match ban after losing his appeal against his sending-off against Stoke City. Islam Slimani is favourite to replace him although Leicester, who have won just one of their last six games in all competitions, have several options. Everton will be looking to bounce back from the crushing disappointment of conceding a stoppage-time winner in the Merseyside derby.
Manchester United v Sunderland
Returning to Old Trafford was always likely to be problematic for former United manager David Moyes, whose strugglers face a resurgent team eager to increase their four-match winning streak in all competitions. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has led the charge with three goals in his last two games after Jose Mourinho seemed to finally settle on United’s best lineup. But Sunderland, who are likely to field ex-United defender Donald Love, have also been in good form with four wins in seven games.
Swansea v West Ham United
Swansea manager Bob Bradley has lost six of his first 10 games in charge. Local media say his position is safe but another loss to fellow relegation strugglers West Ham, who arrive on the back of successive wins and with Andy Carroll leading the attack, could prompt a rethink. Another win would could propel West Ham, for whom Pedro Obiang is suspended, into the top half for the first time this season.
Hull City v Manchester City
One player back but another out for Manchester City as Fernandinho returns from suspension and Pablo Zabaleta begins a spell out with a knee injury. Sergio Aguero is also still banned for the trip to bottom side Hull, who are without a league win since Nov. 6, the day their main goal threat Abel Hernandez got injured. The Uruguayan is still not fit but Hull have no new injury concerns.
Watford v Crystal Palace
Former England manager Sam Allardyce is being linked with Alan Pardew’s job and Palace’s under pressure boss desperately needs to improve their dismal recent record of one win in 11 games. Statistics showed this week that 17th-placed Palace are actually in the top 10 in terms of possession this season, but they struggle to do anything with it. Although Watford have lost four of their last six games, they won two out of three that were played at Vicarage Road.
Liverpool v Stoke City (Dec. 27)
Liverpool will be confident of extending a run of five victories in six league games against Stoke City particularly now that striker Daniel Sturridge is fit. But Divock Origi, who scored twice in this fixture last season, will not surrender his place easily. Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri will be hoping for a recall, particularly after revealing this week that Liverpool tried to sign him in 2014.
Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur (Dec. 28)
Southampton seem to welcome back ex-employees almost every week, with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino and midfielder Victor Wanyama the latest to make the trek back to St Mary‘s. Although Spurs sit just one point and place off a Champions League spot, they must improve their away form to qualify for a second successive season and have not won on their travels in their last eight games in all competitions. The Saints have risen steadily up the table to seventh and Jay Rodriguez’s double last time out suggests they may have found the answer to the continued absence of top scorer Charlie Austin. (Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Toby Davis)