Premier League midweek preview: What will and won't happen
Arsenal vs West Ham (Wed, 7.45pm)
- No team has scored more headed goals than Arsenal in the Premier League this season (14, level with West Brom).
The big talking point: Ignoring the obvious (the biggest, most-discussed issue in English football), it's time to worry about West Ham. They've lost four games in a row, look outmatched in this fixture, and are not quite safe from relegation. Slaven Bilic and his players seem suspicious that they'll be parting ways in the summer, and that resignation has started to bleed into performances. With the sides beneath them all looking frisky, West Ham really do need the season to end.
What will happen: Some gentle Arsenal catharsis. Some of the defending against Manchester City was scandalous, but - in relative terms - that was still a performance of note: recovering twice against a side of that power is usually a sign of health. Alexis Sanchez seemed properly engaged and, before the game descended into error-strewn reticence, Arsenal had played with real menace. Wednesday night will given them the opportunity to blow away some cobwebs and appease an increasingly restless fanbase - an opportunity they'll likely take given West Ham's form and injury list.
What won't happen: The rumours to stop. Bilic has to take some responsibility for his team's performance this season, but it's still difficult to manage under such uncertainty. He's received public criticism from his employers this season and, now, has effectively been reduced to a caretaker by leaked reports about the identity of his successor. West Ham will surely lose at the Emirates, which will only deepen the innuendo.
Hull vs Middlesbrough (Wed, 7.45pm)
- Stewart Downing could make his 400th Premier League appearance in this match – 202 of those previous 399 games have been for Boro.
The big talking point: 18th vs 19th: relegation, of course. It's not quite definitive, but the loser of this game will likely find themselves in an unrecoverable death spiral towards the Football League. As usual, it's also worth mentioning that Marco Silva remains unbeaten at home in league competition for over three years (39 games) and that Hull have not lost at the KCOM since late 2016.
What will happen: Hull to move out of the relegation zone. As proven by Andy Robertson's goal at the weekend, Silva's team are capable of playing the fast, intricate football that Middlesbrough can struggle with. Aitor Karanka built - and Steve Agnew inherited - a defensively impressive side, but they're better equipped to repel aerial bombardment than they are to coping with teams who move the ball quickly inside the attacking zones. That's the overlooked detail with this improved Hull: their technical development has been a big part of their revival.
What won't happen: A Hull clean sheet. Middlesbrough have only scored once in their last six Premier League games, but there was signs of life against Swansea. They created a couple of early chances at the Liberty Stadium, Rudy Gestede squandered a wonderful opportunity in stoppage time and, though definitely still offensively shy, that was reflective of a change in emphasis. No, they haven't suddenly evovled into 1970s Brazil, but they are at least trying to play on the other side of the halfway line – because they know they now need to. And Hull don't really keep clean sheets, either: they haven't nilled an opponent since early February (vs Liverpool) and have conceded at least once in every other league game in 2017.
Southampton vs Crystal Palace (Wed, 7.45pm)
- Southampton haven’t lost both league games in a season against Crystal Palace since 1990/91, when the Eagles finished third in the old First Division.
The big talking point: Are there any? Palace's unlikely win at Stamford Bridge simultaneously saved and ended their season and Southampton, though comfortable in mid-table, look rather lost without Manolo Gabbiadini. One potential point of interest lies in how well Sam Allardyce's players cope with the post-Chelsea comedown. He'll demand that they maintain their standards (Palace have won their last four), but there's usually an emotional cost to pay after that kind of win - and, given the short turnaround, that's especially likely in this case.
What will happen: Another Palace clean sheet. Whether the visitors will take as much verve to St Mary's as they displayed at Stamford Bridge is a different issue, but Allardyce's defensive regimen seems so well drilled as to now be habit. Tally that with Southampton's lack of an attacking focal point, either in the physical or creative sense, and Palace should feel confident in their ability to smother the threat.
What won't happen: Goals. As ever, Allardyce's priority will be not to lose and Southampton themselves aren't charged with any particular urgency.