We are entering that time of year again. As the holiday season reaches its heights, so too does the Barclays Premier League. Each team will play four times between now and January 1. When the snow settles on New Years Day, the Premiership table will have a new look to go with the new year. Here are the four games that deserve your attention. Remember, all games can be found on either NBC Sports Network, NBC or online with NBC Sports Live Extra.
Chelsea at Arsenal, Monday, December 23
Despite a 6-3 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City, Arsenal still holds a two-point lead in the title race over Liverpool and third place, on goal differential, Chelsea. On Monday, the Gunners host their London rivals in what has turned into a must-win affair. Should Arsenal take all three points, they will reestablish themselves as legitimate title contenders. If they falter again, the groans of a restless crowd will rise as the thought of another trophy-less season passes through the mind. We have seen the best of Arsenal this season. We know what they can do. On the other side, Chelsea remains a bit of a mystery. Jose Mourinho's side has won 10 games despite a paltry five goals from his collection of strikers. And yet Chelsea is in the thick of things. Monday's result could flip the fortunes of these two teams.
Liverpool at Manchester City, Thursday, December 26
Ah, Boxing Day, an English tradition. Ten games are on the docket for the quasi-holiday. None are bigger than the match at the Etihad Arena. So far in 2013, the Citizens have displayed the hospitality of Walder Frey, carving their visitors apart with little regard for human life. 4-1 over Manchester United. 6-0 over Tottenham Hotspur. 6-3 over Arsenal. In total, Manchester City has outscored opponents an absurd 35-5 at home. Liverpool, though, is ahead of City in the table. And while City's lead striker, the effervescent Kun Aguero, is hurt, Liverpool's Luis Suarez is fast becoming the most feared man in the league. The Reds' recent 5-0 victory over the Spurs ended the Andre Villas-Boas era in North London. Can they find a similarly stunning result in Manchester?
Southampton at Everton, Sunday, December 29
Arguably the two biggest surprises of this Barclays Premier League season clash at Everton's Goodison Park to close their 2013 year. Southampton was as high as third in the table mere weeks ago, but faltered at the hands of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. They're winless in their last five matches, but a solid holiday stretch could give the Saints a permanent place in the top half — unthinkable a year ago. Everton, on the other hand, has lost just once so far, a 3-1 away defeat at City. Unfortunately, seven draws keep the Toffees out of the top four. Maximum points out of a manageable holiday period — Everton will play Swansea City, Stoke City and bottom dwellers Sunderland in addition to Southampton- —could see the Merseyside Club challenge for a Champions League place.
Tottenham Hotspur at Manchester United, Wednesday, January 1
It's hard to believe that these clubs sit in seventh and eighth place, respectfully. United has failed to ease into the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. As it stands, the Red Devils are seven points back of a Champions League place and 10 from leaders Arsenal. David Moyes has endured the scrutiny, but frankly, he doesn't have the same team that Ferguson had all of those title-winning seasons. Like Everton, though, United faces a fairly easy holiday schedule. They host West Ham United and travel to newly promoted Hull City and relegation contenders Norwich City. Nine points should be in the bag by the time the Spurs get to Old Trafford. As for the visitors, they'll move on from much maligned manager AVB into unknown territory (Could they use this guy?). Tottenham has the talent, it seems, but lacks the direction. Will a new boss get them on track? A win in Manchester would certainly help.
Your Thursday links:
SI.com's Media Awards: Best, worst from 2013- SI.com
The Case for Randy Orton- Grantland
Another Aaron Hernandez Associate Dies Under Unusual Circumstances- Black Sports Online
No. 83: Gaylord Perry- JoePosnanski.com (Posnanski is counting down the 100 greatest baseball players. I highly recommend checking it out.)
Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding on IR while adjusting MS treatment- Home Ice
It's time to make a stand against fighting in the NHL- Winnipeg Sun (Agreed here)
Coatesville coach donates liver to his father- Philly.com
Finding Gillooly: What Happened To Figure Skating's Infamous Villain?- Deadspin
Philadelphia born. Raised in God's country aka Duluth, Minnesota. Give me a frozen pond and an open pitch and I'll be happy. Follow me on twitter @noclassfriday