The Premier League is nearing its halfway point, which more or less aligns with Christmas. Being top of the league at this point means something must have been done right so far – but it can also weigh a team down heavily. So who will take the early mantle?
Although just 18 matchdays (as opposed to 19, the actual mid-point) will be played by Christmas this season, the table is still looked at on December 25th. Manchester City will not have played as many games as others due to their Club World Cup commitments, but a run of six points from their last five games ruled them out of contention anyway. They will be playing catch-up once again.
With just one game to go, Arsenal tops the league with 39 points; Liverpool and Aston Villa are one behind. Liverpool will host Arsenal, so it is first and foremost up to them, but it also gives Villa a reasonable shout. However, history suggests all three would be better off in second or third.
Since the Premier League era began in 1992/93, 31 champions have been crowned, and just 16 of them led the league at Christmas time. Chelsea (5/5) have perfected being the front-runners while the Manchester clubs have solid records as well (7/5 for United, 3/3 for City). Both Blackburn and Leicester led the league during their historic title seasons. As for our current hopefuls, their record is dismal.
Liverpool has led at Christmas six times since 1993 but managed to hold on just once (in 2019/20, the Covid-disturbed season). They have not won as the chasing team either, so what would be the preferred option? Arsenal has led three times, most recently last season, but never gone all the way. Their three triumphs have come from behind. And Aston Villa put together a fantastic start to the 1998/99 season, only to fall off completely and finish sixth.
So, who will it be, and which other games to enjoy over the Christmas period?
All times listed below are in Eastern European Standard Time (GMT+2).
Liverpool – Arsenal
Anfield has not been welcoming for the opponents, with Liverpool maintaining a near-perfect record at home. After winning their first seven, they could not solve Manchester United last time out despite 34 total shots. Arsenal has not won at Anfield since September 2012, when head coach Mikel Arteta was still playing for the team.
Arteta has not solved Liverpool’s attack yet, as Arsenal last kept a clean sheet against Liverpool in August 2015. They have not had success in 15 straight games, shipping 43 goals in the process. This game could easily be described as attack vs defense: Liverpool has had more shots than anyone while Arsenal faced the fewest shots in the Premier League so far.
Surprisingly the two teams meet regularly before Christmas. This will be their seventh such game, with the last three ending level in 2008/09 (1-1), 2014/15 (2-2) and 2017/18 (3-3). Their last head-to-head ended in a draw as well (2-2 in April).
Manchester United – Aston Villa
Manchester United meets Aston Villa at the best possible time: they are unbeaten in their last 19 Boxing Day home games with 16 wins and three draws, going back all the way to 1978. They have made it a habit to defeat Aston Villa too, having won 38 of their 56 Premier League games (68%).
Two of the last four head-to-head games have ended in a victory for Villa though, with one of them also a draw. United is in shambles, having lost seven of their last twelve home games in all competitions.
They are missing a spark. United has scored just ten goals at home in the Premier League, with four of them coming from tireless midfielder Scott McTominay. To compare, Aston Villa has had plenty of return from Ollie Watkins, who has been involved in eight goals in his nine away games this season.
Everton – Manchester City
Everton has been fantastic recently, with four straight wins and no goals conceded to start December (vs Nottingham, vs Newcastle, vs Chelsea, vs Burnley). But their recent record against City is equally horrible, as they are winless since January 2017 (two draws, ten losses).
City has won on their last six trips to Goodison Park and scored at least three times in four of those games. Their defence has not been up to scratch too, as they have conceded at least once in their last seven Premier League games. They return from a trip to Club World Cup over Christmas too.
Brighton – Tottenham
Tottenham has quite a good record against Brighton, but a lot of it was down to the prowess of Harry Kane – the London club has scored in six of the last eight meetings between the pair, with Kane always finding the net at least once. The Englishman is now ripping up nets for Bayern Munich of course.
Goals should be expected even without him in this game, as Brighton has scored in their last 17 Premier League home games and conceded in their last twelve. Tottenham meanwhile left an away game without a goal just once in 2023 so far (from 20 attempts).
Arsenal – West Ham
West Ham is safely in the top ten for Christmas with a real chance of finishing in European places but should be cautious before a visit to the Emirates. Their manager David Moyes has never won an away game against Arsenal (four draws, 18 losses), and they usually do not do too well against them with just two wins from their last 30 head-to-head games.
Arsenal have also been exemplary at home this season, going unbeaten in 13 games (11 wins, two draws) with an aggregate score of 21-2. Bukayo Saka has been involved in 18 goals in his last 17 home games, scoring eleven and assisting a further seven