Premier League preview – May 16-18

One point.

One point in two matches is all Manchester United must earn to claim the 2008-2009 Barclays Premiership title to its trophy case.

The Red Devils trot out Saturday for their first opportunity to claim the crown as struggling Arsenal come calling.

The Gunners have dropped two straight matches – a 4-1 drubbing to Chelsea last weekend and a 3-1 pasting against United back on May 5 in Champions League play.

Both matches were at home, so maybe Arsenal can reverse its poor form with a road trip.

“I am not happy where we ended up but I am pleased we are disappointed by it,” Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis told the team Web site. “’There are other clubs who would feel this is a good position. Or we could say in December if someone had said we’d have been in this position then we would have bitten their hands off. So why aren’t we feeling great about it? The answer is because we have higher expectations.”

With a spot in the Champions League qualifying pool already assured, the Gunners are playing for little more than pride, while Wayne Rooney and the Red Devils have silverware on their minds.

“One point will win the title for us,” Rooney told The Daily Mail “Hopefully that can come on Saturday. It would be brilliant to do it in front of our own fans and brilliant to win it against Arsenal, who are a great footballing team.”

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Middlesbrough vs. Aston Villa

Boro will try to put the sting of Monday’s loss to Newcastle behind them when they host sputtering Villa.

Looking for points – Middlesbrough are three points, and 11 goals worth of difference, away from safety after Monday’s defeat, so picking up three points would really help its chances of staying at the top of the English football pyramid. Aston Villa, once challenging for a spot in the top four, is laboring down the stretch after last week’s 3-1 whipping at Fulham. But Villa can still finish no worse than sixth in the league standings.

From the gaffer – “There is just no way of knowing, but I believe there will be,” Gareth Southgate told the team’s Web site when asked if there were any more twists and turns to the season. “Nothing is done and dusted until the very end and we have to maintain commitment to the very end. There was a lot of anger and anguish in the dressing room after Newcastle, as I’m sure there was with the fans as well.”

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Newcastle vs. Fulham

The Toon Army is in buoyant spirits after Monday’s win in the Tyne-Tees Derby, but an in-form Fulham side comes to town Saturday intent on spoiling the party.

Far from safe, part one – Newcastle is in the 17th spot over Hull based on a seven-goal edge in goal difference, but with the bottom three teams still trying to fight their way out, Newcastle still has some work to do to assure their Premier League survival.

Far from safe, part two – Fulham, on the other hand, is trying to hold on to a Europa League spot. The Whites are on 50 points in seventh, two better than Tottenham and West Ham and three ahead of City. So this is a big game for Roy Hodgson’s side as well.

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Stoke City vs Wigan

It’s not much more than a battle for 11th place as Wigan comes to visit the Potters.

Stuck in the middle – Both teams are on 42 points and both will be back in the top flight next season. Wigan will have to recover from a mid-week encounter with United, which saw Steve Bruce’s men fight hard before falling, 2-1, at the JJB Stadium.

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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City

One of the league’s best home teams squares off against one of its worst road sides in a game filled with Europa League intrigue.

No place like home – Spurs have picked up 32 points at White Hart Lane this season while City has managed just 11 points on its travels.

An eye on Europe – Both sides are still in the hunt for a spot in next year’s Europa League, so points are a must for both teams.

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Bolton Wanderers vs. Hull City

Has any team fallen farther than the Tigers? In sixth place at Christmas, Hull City is in serious danger of relegation as it travels to the Reebok Stadium to meet Bolton.

Alarm bells – The Tigers are winless in their last eight matches, and that loss of form finds them in 18th place, behind Newcastle on goal difference. Bolton hasn’t been playing much better, going five matches without a win, but the Wanderers are on 40 points, which is enough to guarantee safety.

Support away from home – Hull City will bring about 4,700 fans to the Reebok, according to the club’s Web site. Maybe it will be a good omen, since the Tigers’ last win was on the road against Fulham on March 4.

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Everton vs. West Ham

The Toffees are assured of a place in Europe. West Ham is still looking to join them there as these two sides clash Saturday.

A welcome return? – West Ham striker Carlton Cole could make his return from injury, bolstering boss Gianfranco Zola’s attack.

Defending the home turf – Everton has lost only twice to West Ham at Goodison Park since 1994.

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West Bromwich Albion vs. Liverpool

If United win or draw against Arsenal Saturday morning, only the pride of holding off Chelsea for second place will be at stake for the Reds on their trip to the Hawthorns to face the Baggies on Sunday.

Long shots – West Brom is still rooted to the bottom of the table on 31 points, behind Boro on goal difference. A loss, coupled with wins or draws by Newcastle and Hull, would doom West Brom to the Championship next season.

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Chelsea vs. Blackburn

The Blues will still be pushing for second place when they entertain Blackburn Sunday.

From the Chelsea captain – “In the Premiership we are close, we are in the FA Cup and the semis of the Champions League again,” John Terry told the team’s Web site. “As players and fans we want to win things and we have that chance with the FA Cup so we’ll be trying our utmost to win it and if we do it will be a good season for us.”

From the Rovers’ perspective – “I think we were something like five points from safety when he came in,” Morten Gamst Pedersen said of gaffer Sam Allardyce to Rovers World. “He has been doing loads of good things and the form of the team, and especially myself, has been getting better and better with every game we’ve played.”

Just one point – While it’s highly unlikely that Blackburn will go down, a draw on Sunday would assure their spot in the top flight next season.

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Portsmouth vs. Sunderland

Pompey can remove itself from the relegation scrum with a win over Sunderland at Fratton Park Monday.

Looking back – Both teams are still within shouting distance of the bottom three. Portsmouth is on 38 points in 15th place while the Black Cats are in 16th place on 36 points.

May blues – Both teams enter the match looking for their first wins since April.

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