Premier League 2012, Week 18 preview and fixtures: Big games, unexpected participants

Mark Thompson

There are always a few big games each week, and this one is no exception. What makes things unique this time around is some of the names involved. Anyone that says they thought a mid-season clash between Norwich and West Brom could have Champions League implications back in August is lying and not to be trusted. Or possibly Robbie Savage, he says all kinds of crazy things.

Wigan vs. Arsenal

DW Stadium; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET

Without a win since November 24th and having taken just 10 points from the last 30, Wigan's positive start has been all but erased and they find themselves in the bottom three once again. Arsenal's struggles this season have been rather well documented, but they're won their last two impressively and sit just two points behind Spurs, comfortably within reach of their Champions League goal. There's little doubt this game will be fairly nice to watch, but it shouldn't really be close. If it is, expect the chorus of dissatisfied Arsenal fans (and those that delight in their misery) to grow louder.

Pick: Arsenal, 3-1

Manchester City vs. Reading

Etihad Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Is playing this game really necessary? It just doesn't seem to be in keeping with the holiday spirit. Unless of course City find some way to not win, in which case it will be a gift that reflects the meaning of the season.

Pick: City, 3-0

Newcastle vs. Queens Park Rangers

St. James' Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Queens Park Rangers won a game last week, and they did it against a pretty decent team in a derby no less. Harry Redknapp still has a massive hill to climb if he wants to guide his new club to safety, but now the we have proof of concept that QPR can actually take three points from a game, it's slightly less daunting of a climb than it once was. And really, if you don't think they're capable of giving Newcastle a game, you haven't been watching Newcastle this season.

Pick: Newcastle, 3-2

Southampton vs. Sunderland

St. Mary's Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Sunderland managed three goals a few weeks back, but it's important to remember that they did so against Reading. It was back to normal in last week's 3-1 thrashing at the hands of United, a game that very easily could have been significantly more lopsided. Southampton has plenty of issues of their own, but if Martin O'Neill's side can't at the very least take a point from a game against the team currently just below them in the table, things could begin to get quite ugly on Wearside.

Pick: Southampton, 2-1

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City

White Hart Lane; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

As much as most people seem to detest the way Stoke goes about their business, it's getting to be impossible to ignore the fact that it's been working really well for them so far this year. Nearing the halfway point of the season, Stoke have put themselves right in the middle of the Europa League chase and they haven't lost a game since the third of November. Facing a Spurs team that's been quite good on the balance but prone to the odd shocking performance, there's every reason to think the Potters are capable of an upset .

Pick: Draw, 1-1

West Bromwich Albion vs. Norwich City

The Hawthorns; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Well here's an interesting one; two teams that have significantly outperformed all expectations, with a win for either side keeping (yes, yes, incredibly slim hopes, you killjoy) Champions League dreams alive. Both sides like to get after games and attack, and this is pretty easily Saturday's game to watch for the neutral fan.

Pick: Draw, 3-3

West Ham United vs. Everton

Upton Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Injuries to a few key players have taken a bit of the wind out of the Hammers sails, but so far it's been a very successful return to the Premier League for Sam Allardyce's men. There's never a sense that any game is beyond them, and though Everton currently reside in sixth place their recent form has been far from encouraging. It's not likely to be an especially pretty affair, but it's almost certain to be a close one, and those are three big points for both sides.

Pick: Draw, 1-1

Liverpool vs. Fulham

Anfield; Saturday, 17:30 GMT/12:30 PM ET

What looked like it might be the start of a nice little run for Liverpool was brought to a screeching halt by Aston Villa last weekend, and the Reds continue to tread water in the bottom half of the table. Fulham suffered perhaps an even more embarrassing defeat than Liverpool, giving London rivals QPR their first win of the season in a rather poor display at Loftus Road. A bounceback would do wonders for both sides, but if I'd just lost to either Villa or QPR I'm not even sure I'd show up for my next game.

Pick: Liverpool, 1-0

Swansea City vs. Manchester United

Liberty Stadium; Sunday, 13:30 GMT/8:30 AM ET

In yet another game that looks much more important now than it did when the fixture list was first announced, Swansea look to shake off their recent slip in quality and put themselves back into the upper-mid-table mixer. Unfortunately, United has won five in a row and won 27 of their last 30 points. So, good luck and all, Swans!

Pick: United, 3-1

Chelsea vs. Aston Villa

Stamford Bridge; Sunday 16:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET

Aston Villa appears to have turned a corner and many people were alerted to the arrival of Christian Benteke after a tremendous performance last weekend against Liverpool. Paul Lambert's side has certainly had their struggles, but their improvement over the past month or so looks very much like a very young team gaining experience, cohesiveness and confidence and looking primed for a run up the table. But recent "struggles" aside, Chelsea is still Chelsea; the talent gap is enormous, and barring some kind of complete tactical breakdown they're still likely to coast.

Pick: Draw, 1-1

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