5 talking points: Prolific crossers Kieran Trippier and Ivan Perišić to go head-to-head at St James' Park

2PKKMEJ Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, UK. 8th Apr, 2023. Premier League Football, Tottenham Hotspur versus Brighton and Hove Albion; Ivan Perisic of Tottenham Hotspur reacts as the linesman gives a corner Credit: Action Plus Sports/Alamy Live News

• Chance for Magpies to open up the gap to Spurs: Newcastle United's Kieran Trippier and Tottenham's Ivan Perišić rank highly amongst PFF's top-graded crossers.

• Clash between top and bottom: Arsenal host Southampton with Rob Holding likely to start again in the stead of injured William Saliba.

• On a roll: Unai Emery's Aston Villa travel to Brentford aiming for a sixth-straight win.

Arsenal v Southampton – Friday 20:00 GMT

In the build up to Friday night’s game, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta revealed that William Saliba is progressing slower than they had hoped in his recovery from injury.

As we approach the final stages of the season and the huge, potential title deciding, fixture with Manchester City next Wednesday night, this isn’t the news Arsenal fans wanted to hear.

Rob Holding has filled in at centre back for the past four league games. Beginning with two 4-1 wins, it looked like Arsenal would continue their form without Saliba, but after giving up 2-0 leads to draw 2-2 in the past two games, they would have been keen to get Saliba back in time for the game against City.

Holding has been up and down in his four starts since replacing Saliba. In the first of those games, the 4-1 win over Crystal Palace, Holding had the second highest PFF challenge grade for any player in that week with 86.7. Backing that up the following week against Leeds with a PFF challenge grade of 84.0. However, his challenge grades have fallen off in the past two games, recording a 76.1 against Liverpool and a 63.8 against West Ham.

Whilst Arsenal will be heavy favourites and hoping not to be reliant on their defence to beat Southampton, Holding and the rest of the backline will need to be at their best when they come up against City in their next outing.

Liverpool v Nottingham Forest – Saturday 15:00 GMT

Liverpool have been hovering just below the European places, within touching distance, for most of the season now. In 8th place, they are three points behind Aston Villa in 6th and six behind Tottenham in 5th with a game in hand on both.

The 6-1 away win at Leeds last week was described as their best game of the season by manager Jürgen Klopp. The win also saw the first goals of the season for Diogo Jota, who has missed a chunk of the season with injury and has struggled in front of goal since his return.

The table below shows the struggles Jota has had in finding the target with his shots this season. The former Wolves man ranks the lowest in terms of % shots on target of Liverpool’s main attacking threats. The hope for Klopp and Liverpool fans is that getting off the mark with two goals last week will relieve any pressure on Jota and he can be another goal scoring option in their chase to finish the season on a high with European qualification.

Player name Shots on target % Shots on target PFF shooting grade
Roberto Firmino 22 73% 88.4
Luis Diaz 8 57% 74.7
Darwin Nunez 32 52% 76
Mohamed Salah 38 51% 68.2
Cody Gakpo 7 44% 69.3
Diogo Jota 5 36% 65.3

Liverpool may also be close to welcoming back Luis Diaz into the starting line up after a long injury lay off. If they are able to have all their attacking threats available for the run in, a European position feels well within reach.

Brentford v Aston Villa – Saturday 15:00 GMT

Villa’s incredible run under Unai Emery continued last weekend with a comfortable win against Newcastle United.

Ollie Watkins scored twice more to make it 11 goals in his last 12 games. He was joined by three other Villa players in the PFF Team of the Week from last weekend’s games. Alex Moreno, Leander Dendoncker and Jacob Ramsey all had excellent performances against Newcastle to earn their spots in that team.

Moreno has impressed since replacing Lucas Digne in the left-back role and has recorded three assists this season, whilst Digne has so far failed to register an assist. Moreno also has a PFF pass grade of 74.5 for the season which ranks 11th of all full-backs in the league.

Ramsey is only one of three Villa players with a better PFF pass grade than Moreno on the season, at 76.4. With five assists so far this season, Ramsey has been a key player in the Villa attack. Only Watkins has more assists for Villa with six on the season, with Douglas Luiz also managing five so far.

In contrast to the red-hot Villa, Brentford have now failed to win in five league games, losing three in a row. Key man Ivan Toney has gone on a run of scoring in one game and then blanking in the next in the last ten Brentford games. After failing to score last time out, that run would suggest he is likely to get back on the scoresheet this weekend.

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur – Sunday 14:00 GMT

Newcastle’s five-game win streak ended abruptly at Aston Villa last weekend, and they now face another big game against a team just below them in the table as Tottenham visit on Sunday. Just three points separate the two in 4th and 5th.

Both teams have two of the league’s most regular and accurate crossers of the ball in Kieran Trippier and Ivan Perišić, two full backs who love to get forward and contribute in attack. Trippier has played by far the most crosses of any player in the league this season with 321. The second most being Kevin De Bruyne with 252.

Whilst high volume doesn’t always translate to success, Trippier also has the second best PFF crossing grade for any player in the league at 90.2, showing that he does it a lot because he is effective when he does.

In comparison, Perišić has played a total of 188 crosses so far this season. Whilst this is not much more than half of the volume of Trippier's, it is still the seventh most of any player in the league. Similarly with Trippier, his high volume also comes with high effectiveness. Perišić ranks sixth best in the league for PFF crossing grade with 83.8.

Both are their respective team’s assist leaders on the season; Trippier with six assists and Perisic with seven. The only other full backs to match them for assists are the two Liverpool players Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, both with six assists each.

For both teams, it will be important to look to try and limit the opportunities for Trippier and Perisic to provide deliveries into the box on Sunday. It could be the team that does this the best comes out on top.

Bournemouth v West Ham United – Sunday 14:00 GMT

Both sides have managed to move themselves away from the Premier League drop zone in recent weeks. Three wins in their last four have seen Bournemouth up to 14th and six points clear of the drop. Whilst West Ham have lost just once in their last five games and are now in 15th, four points clear of danger.

A win for either side on Sunday will leave them in a very strong position to secure their Premier League status for next season.

West Ham may well end up losing Declan Rice in the summer, but their star midfielder continues to be key to their hopes of survival. Rice has the best PFF passing grade of any West Ham player this season at 82.5, being the only West Ham player to rank inside to the top 50 for pass grading. Rice also has the best PFF challenge grade for any Hammer, ranking 12th in the league with a grade of 83.3. Kurt Zouma is the team's next best with a PFF challenge grade of 80.6 to join Rice in the top 50 in the league.

In Philip Billing, Bournemouth have a player with an impressive PFF shooting grade of 89.9. This is the fourth best of any player in the Premier League, behind Ollie Watkins, Alexander Isak and Erling Haaland. Billing’s seven goals is the most by a Bournemouth player this season and West Ham will need to be aware of his threat from midfield.

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