Five talking points ahead of the weekend's Premier League action
The leading four clubs in the Premier League all have a chance of finishing the weekend top of the table. At the other end, the contest to stay clear of the relegation dogfight remains just as close, while Aston Villa battle not to be cut adrift.
Here, we take a look at five talking points ahead of the weekend's games.
VILLA NEED A WIN - AND FAST
Any notion of a honeymoon period for Remi Garde is well and truly over before it even got started following successive defeats. The 3-2 home reverse by Watford offered few signs of hope for the beleaguered Holte End faithful and Villa appear resigned to a long, harsh winter. However, get things right away to a Southampton side reeling from their midweek Capital One Cup thrashing by Liverpool and with a bit of luck elsewhere, the gap could be down to just two points. Okay, so it is a long shot, but in this game, you just never know....
WILL McCLAREN BE SET FOR THE KLOPP CHOP?
Just what you don't want when your team is producing tepid display after tepid display is the visit of a squad rejuvenated by a new manager. All the extra training and McClaren's tactics boards will count for nothing if Newcastle do not to show up again when Liverpool roll into town on Sunday afternoon. Fail to produce against Jurgen Klopp's well-drilled side and you fear the Toon Army will, quite rightly, just about have had enough. Question is, though, will Mike Ashley?
CAN THE PATCHED-UP GUNNERS GET BACK ON SONG?
Arsene Wenger must have been left wondering whether Arsenal's bad luck on injuries will ever end after seeing Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla added to a packed treatment room at London Colney. The good news, though, is Aaron Ramsey should be back in action against Sunderland, while Theo Walcott is also closing in on full match fitness. There is no doubt when the Gunners have everyone firing, they are a Premier League force to be reckoned with. When you have little option but to stick 17-year-old Jeff Reine Adelaide on the bench as one of the last-men standing, maybe not so much.
ARE CHELSEA ON THE UP AGAIN?
Whisper it quietly, but Chelsea might slowly be moving in the right direction again. Three clean sheets in a row and even time for a Christmas party before attentions turned to getting back to business with the visit of Bournemouth. Blues boss Jose Mourinho has certainly had enough of unwanted headlines, so perhaps the visit of a Bournemouth team which has not won since mid-September will provide a welcome tonic, although remember, it is never over until the final whistle, whenever that comes, as Everton found out to their cost last weekend.
WILL JAMIE VARDY EVER STOP SCORING?
The remarkable achievement of the Leicester frontman, who has taken the Premier League record with 11 goals in as many games, could end up with the one-time non-league player seeing his rags-to-riches story on the big screen, it emerged in the wake of his strike against Manchester United. However, we all know you are only as good as your last game and Vardy knows full well just how hard it is to stay at the top of his game. He will also no doubt now get more frequent gentle reminders from Premier League defenders, starting at Swansea on Saturday - of course they have to catch him first.