European leagues preview: Arsenal, United in unlikely PL title clash; Milan look to end winless run

REUTERS – Very few thought either Arsenal or Manchester United would be in the Premier League title race at the halfway point of the season, but the fallen giants meet at the Emirates on Sunday with the trophy very much in their sights.
United are without a top-flight title in a decade and registered their worst-ever Premier League points total last term. Arsenal’s last league triumph was in 2003, and they have not finished higher than fifth in the previous six seasons.
This time around, however, both have turned things around – especially the Gunners, who hold a surprising five-point lead over nearest challengers, champions Manchester City, at the top of the standings going into the weekend’s matches.
Earlier in the Premier League era, clashes between Arsenal and United were often blockbuster occasions between title chasers. Tempers boiled over on many occasions, including the infamous ‘pizzagate’ tussle in 2004.
Sunday’s encounter at the Emirates is the third time Arsenal are hosting United in a Premier League match while top of the table, but the first since a 2-2 draw in Nov. 2007.
United missed the chance to close the gap to Arsenal to six points on Wednesday after Michael Olise’s last-gasp leveller earned Crystal Palace a 1-1 draw against Erik ten Hag’s in-form side, the first time they had been denied victory in 10 games in all competitions.
The late equaliser was not the only setback United encountered on Wednesday. Instrumental midfielder Casemiro picked up his fifth caution of the season, meaning he will be suspended for the encounter.
two teams with contrasting fortunes to Arsenal and United meet at Anfield on Saturday as Liverpool, in ninth, host 10th-placed Chelsea with both desperate for a victory to resurrect their faltering campaigns.
Liverpool’s dismal performance in the weekend’s 3-0 loss at Brighton & Hove Albion meant Liverpool lost back-to-back Premier League games for a second time this season.
Big things were expected of Chelsea after they spent big in the close season. But after replacing Thomas Tuchel as the Blues boss in September, Graham Potter has failed to inspire his new side.
The new signings have continued to arrive in January, but their form remains below par. Chelsea have won just two of their last 10 league games, though they did beat Crystal Palace 1-0 last time out.
Away from home, the Blues are winless in five league matches, their longest run since September-December 2015.
It had appeared City’s chances of a fifth league title in six seasons were slipping away from them on Thursday night as goals from Dejan Kulusevski and Emerson Royal gave Tottenham Hotspur a 2-0 half-time lead at the Etihad Stadium.
However, the champions were a different team after the break, with three goals in 12 second-half minutes turning the match on its head. Riyad Mahrez added a late fourth to put the seal on a win that moved City to five points below Arsenal.

Seeking relief in Rome

Meanwhile in Seire A, coach Stefano Pioli will be hoping the slump AC Milan are going through on all fronts is a mere blip rather than an ominous sign that the champions’ grip on the title is all but over when they take on Lazio in Rome on Tuesday.
Defeats in the Coppa Italia and Italian Supercup in the space of eight days, along with two successive draws in Serie A, means the club has been on a four-match winless run in all competitions, which Pioli hopes has not dented his team’s confidence as they look to close the nine-point gap with leaders Napoli.
The last time Milan had endured such a lean patch was almost two years ago when they ended up finishing a distant runner-up to champions Inter Milan.
After waiting 11 years to win the league title last May, Pioli is determined that his second-placed team do not surrender their championship hopes by simply rolling over.
“We are certainly not going through our best period mentally but we must do better and do more,” Pioli said after the Supercup final.
Lazio’s chances of ending their 23-year wait for a third Serie A title may seem like a pipe dream as they sit fifth in the standings, 13 points behind the leaders, but they are in a six-way scrap to secure a spot in next season’s Champions League.
With only four points separating second-placed Milan from seventh-placed AS Roma, the race to secure one of the four spots available for playing in Europe’s premier club competition is very much on.
Leaders Napoli travel to Salernitana on Saturday, while Inter, tied on 37 points with Juventus, host mid-table Empoli on Monday and Roma will be in action against Spezia on Sunday.
On Sunday, Juventus will have their work cut out against an on-fire Atalanta, who have scored 13 goals in their last two games, following up their 8-2 Serie A thrashing of Salernitana with a 5-2 hammering of Spezia in the Coppa Italia.