Arsenal will look to finish the year on a high when the Premier League leaders visit Brighton for their final match of 2022 this weekend.
In the race to catch Arsenal, champions Manchester City have no margin for error when they host struggling Everton, while Newcastle aim to extend their hot streak against Leeds.
Nketiah key to Arsenal charge
With Gabriel Jesus ruled out for several months, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was relieved to see Eddie Nketiah get on the scoresheet in the 3-1 win against West Ham on Boxing Day.
In his first start this season, Nketiah bagged the third goal in the London derby as the 23-year-old proved he can be an able deputy for Brazil striker Jesus, who suffered a knee injury at the World Cup.
While some fans felt Nketiah might struggle to replace the impressive impact made by Jesus since his close-season move from Manchester City, Arteta was confident his young forward could cope with the added scrutiny.
“He’s a really confident boy,” Arteta said. “But hopefully the goal can give him, if he had any doubts, more confidence about what he is capable of doing.”
A win at Brighton on Saturday would ensure Arsenal go into 2023 at least five points clear at the top.
But Arteta knows prolonging their shock title challenge will require Nketiah to continue to flourish.
“His performance was really good. For Eddie and for the team I think it was really important,” Arteta said.
Lewis gives new dimension to Man City
Manchester City’s teenage starlet Rico Lewis could provide a new dimension to the champions’ bid to retain the title after a dazzling full debut in the Premier League.
The modest Lewis insisted he still did not feel like a member of City star-studded team despite impressing in City’s 3-1 win at Leeds on Wednesday.
But the 18-year-old full-back’s performance repaid the faith of City manager Pep Guardiola, who selected him instead of England right-back Kyle Walker and Portugal’s Joao Cancelo.
Bury-born Lewis belied his tender age with the kind of confident defending and dynamic movement that could make him ideal for the Guardiola system, which allows full-backs to wreak havoc with attacking surges.
Speaking ahead of second placed City’s clash with Everton on Saturday, Lewis, who also started in last week’s League Cup win against Liverpool, said: “I don’t feel like a first-team player.
“I’m doing my best to keep up with them and put in the best performance to help them win.
“I don’t know when I will feel like a first-team player. It will just slowly become natural, I don’t think there will be a turning point.”
Trippier rewarded by rampant Newcastle
Kieran Trippier believes his decision to join Newcastle has been vindicated by the Magpies’ remarkable climb to third place.
When Trippier swapped Atletico Madrid for a Newcastle team then mired in the thick of a relegation battle last January, the England right-back was accused of lacking ambition.
But Eddie Howe’s men stayed up and have improved dramatically this term, reeling off six successive league victories to gate-crash the title race as they prepare to face Leeds on Saturday.
“I came when they were 19th in the league and got questioned about that, but I believed and have believed throughout my whole career,” Trippier said.
“I believed that I could help them stay up – not just me, of course. But it is about building. We are high up at the moment but the Premier League is relentless so you’ve got to keep your feet on the ground.”
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
West Ham v Brentford (1945), Liverpool v Leicester (2000)
Wolves v Man Utd (1230), Bournemouth v Crystal Palace, Fulham v Southampton, Manchester City v Everton, Newcastle v Leeds, Brighton v Arsenal (1730)
Tottenham v Aston Villa (1400), Nottingham Forest v Chelsea (1630)