Who makes way for Sanchez?
With a goal and an assist in Manchester United’s 3-0 victory against Stoke on Monday, Anthony Martial delivered a timely reminder of his quality as Jose Mourinho presses ahead in his pursuit of Alexis Sanchez. United’s forwards have a final opportunity to impress against Burnley, with one unlucky candidate set to be immediately sacrificed when Sanchez’s move from Arsenal is confirmed.
It seems likely that Martial, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford will continue to be rotated after the Chilean’s arrival, with Jesse Lingard’s recent form elevating him above that trio for the time being. But no one is guaranteed a starting spot under Mourinho, and Sanchez’s versatility means that even Romelu Lukaku — who scored once in 12 appearances between mid-October and December — will be kept on his toes.
Burnley are a stubborn outfit who have performed above all expectations but, with Sean Dyche’s side failing to win any of their past six matches, United are strong favourites to leave Turf Moor with all three points. For the five incumbent attackers at the club, it is time to rise to the challenge.
Can Lacazette help Arsenal forget Sanchez?
With one win in their past seven matches in all competitions, it has been a miserable month for Arsenal. The Gunners’ sorrows have been exacerbated by Alexis Sanchez’s inevitable departure, and recent defeats to Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth in the Chilean’s absence have offered little reassurance about the future.
Amid the ongoing distraction, Alexandre Lacazette’s form has been called into question. It has not been an easy debut season for the striker, given the tumultuous episode unfolding at the Emirates Stadium, but a return of eight goals so far is still disappointing. Having failed to find the net in any of his past nine appearances, Lacazette is on his worst drought since the 2012-13 season at Lyon when he was still a youngster breaking into the first team.
Although Saturday’s opponents, Crystal Palace, have been much improved under Roy Hodgson, Arsenal’s only win during the festive period came in a 3-2 victory at Selhurst Park. Sanchez scored twice that evening to secure three points; Lacazette must now show he can take on the mantle in the Gunners’ attack.
Chelsea’s goal-scoring crisis
All eyes were on Alvaro Morata in Chelsea’s 2-2 draw away to Arsenal on Jan. 3, the striker missing a host of chances to raise concerns over his recent form. But it isn’t only Morata who has been out of sorts for the Blues in 2018. It appears the Spaniard’s affliction is contagious, with Chelsea failing to find the net in their next three fixtures against Norwich, Arsenal in the EFL Cup, and Leicester, before Michy Batshuayi ended a five-and-a-half hour goal drought in the FA Cup replay against Norwich.
One might think the responsibility will fall on Batshuayi’s shoulders again at the weekend when Antonio Conte’s side travel to Brighton for Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff. With Morata’s woes compounded by his red card on Wednesday, and Pedro also receiving his marching orders against the Canaries, suspensions will force Conte to shake up his misfiring forward line.
The Italian clearly lacks faith in Batshuayi’s ability, however, handing the striker just three starts in the Premier League since his £33 million switch from Marseille in 2016. He has previously preferred Eden Hazard as a false nine in Morata’s absence and it is likely the Belgian will fulfill the role again at Brighton, flanked by Willian and either Victor Moses or Marcos Alonso — who has scored six goals already this season — in a more advanced role.
The Batshuayi poser neatly highlights the frustrations that have paved the way for Conte’s expected departure in the summer. Recruited by committee rather than being the manager’s first choice, the 24-year-old has been linked with an exit to Sevilla and West Ham in January. Andy Carroll’s ankle injury appears to have nixed a part-exchange deal with the Hammers, but the sense that Batshuayi is unwanted continues to linger as Peter Crouch becomes the latest name backed for a move to Stamford Bridge.
It is vital that Conte finds a striker he does have faith in this month if Chelsea are to maintain a challenge on four fronts. Should they fail to strengthen, the three-point lead over Spurs in the race for fourth will begin to look increasingly fragile — as will the chances of Conte staying for another campaign.
Only six teams have conceded fewer goals than Brighton this season, and so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Chelsea’s struggles rumble on for another week.
Expect Walcott to be rusty
Cenk Tosun’s debut for Everton could hardly have gone much worse last week, with the Toffees losing 3-0 to Spurs by the time he was substituted shortly after the hour mark. The £27 million hitman failed to find the target with his two efforts on goal and was largely isolated in another abject performance from Sam Allardyce’s side.
Theo Walcott will be hoping for greater fortune this weekend as he prepares to make his debut at Goodison Park. The England international is exactly the sort of player Everton have been missing, possessing the pace to run beyond the opposition and stretch the back line.
At first glance, a home match against West Brom is the perfect encounter for Walcott to kick-start the next chapter in his career. He has only played 64 minutes for Arsenal in the Premier League this season, though, and expectations should be tempered accordingly.
Benitez on the edge
Takeover talks hanging in the balance, no transfer budget for January, three points above the relegation zone and two wins in the past 14 Premier League fixtures — all is not well at Newcastle. If runaway leaders Manchester City hand out a thrashing at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, then it could push an understandably frustrated Rafa Benitez even closer to the exit door.