What's the Mata?
Daniel Storey looks ahead to some of the major talking points in this weekend's Premier League action...
By Daniel Storey - @danielstorey85
Last Updated: 28/03/14 10:09am
Time for the special Juan
At first he was quiet, and Manchester United supporters consoled themselves that this was because he was new.
Then he was ineffective, and United supporters persuaded each other that things would improve in time.
Now Juan Mata just looks stagnant, shown up by the impressive David Silva on Tuesday evening and in desperate need of a display containing vibrancy and creativity.
The primary concern is that David Moyes bought the Spaniard not because he met United's demands, but simply to make a statement that he could attract the best players to Old Trafford. That is all very well, but if he then demonstrates a complete inability to manage such a talent, it only reflects badly ahead of a summer of potential spending.
In exactly the same manner as his manager, an impressive performance against Aston Villa on Saturday lunchtime would not make everything (or even anything) right, but it would help to persuade fans that this is not another high-profile error of the Moyes era.
From riches to ruin
Less than two months ago, Arsenal were top of the league. They had just beaten Crystal Palace at home, their sixth victory in seven matches, and travelled to Anfield in their next game hopeful of maintaining their lead at the summit. Four goals conceded in the first half, and an implosion that set the tone for the rest of the season.
From riches to ruin within eight short weeks, this is a collapse of entirely predictable making. Once injuries set in and Olivier Giroud dropped out of early-season form, there was nowhere else for Arsenal to go. Four more first-half goals conceded at Chelsea last week, and the last embers of a title bid extinguished with a bucket of cold water ahead of meeting Manchester City on Saturday Night Football.
The expectation is surely that Arsenal will simply continue their big-game dysfunction that seems to haunt the club like a bad conscience, whispering "you can't do it, you never do it" repeatedly into the ears of players and manager. Arsenal conceded as many league goals in 90 minutes last Saturday as City have since Boxing Day.
On a roll
We could talk all day about how exciting the title race promises to be, but the suspicion must surely be that if City can beat Arsenal and Everton away from home and avoid defeat at Anfield, the title will probably be theirs.
A draw against Liverpool would leave City needing victories in their other matches to guarantee finishing top, but with Southampton, Aston Villa, West Ham United, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion to play at home and only Crystal Palace away, it is a perfectly plausible eventuality. The majority view was that City's run-in was tricky in the extreme, but these suddenly seem to be battles far tougher on paper than in reality.
Such a positive denouement for City relies on Manuel Pellegrini's side taking three points from the Emirates on Saturday evening, but it would take a brave soul to suggest otherwise. City have won 12 of their last 14 league games, and six of seven away from home. One only has to think about the strength of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho against Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta to start wincing on Arsenal's behalf.
City had little need to get out of third gear in beating United on Tuesday, and Moyes' side have taken four points from Arsenal this season. Play at a level anywhere approaching their best, and there is only one likely victor at the Emirates.
Cardiff's survival this season effectively depends on their performance against the teams around them. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have just four points from their last eight games, the only victory coming against the also-doomed Fulham - their only away win of the season came against the same opposition.
In fact, it is even more pronounced than that. In total, 40 per cent of the club's points have been taken from just five matches against the rest of the teams in the bottom quarter of the Premier League. That indicates a return of just 15 points from their other 26 games, a woeful return.
The one positive for Cardiff is that three of their remaining seven fixtures come against similar opposition, starting with West Brom away on Saturday. It does rather increase the importance of such matches, however.