Paul Merson had to be quickly shut down by Sky Sports presenter Kelly Cates when he suggested that the TV schedule could decide the winner of the Premier League. On Sunday, the Arsenal legend suggested his former side were at a disadvantage by continuing to play after title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
The Gunners stormed to a 6-0 win against West Ham United at the London Stadium earlier in the day but remained in third behind the two powerhouses.
City beat Everton 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the early kick-off on Saturday before Liverpool won 3-1 against Burnley at Anfield at 3pm the same day.
Arsenal’s thrashing in the London derby propelled their goal difference level with City’s +31 and one behind Liverpool’s +32.
But despite fumbling the title, having led for most of last season, there would surely be a greater sense of comfort knowing they were playing to retain the top spot rather than to stay in touch.
And Merson brought the point up as he appeared as a pundit alongside Roy Keane and Gary Neville after Manchester United’s 2-1 win against Aston Villa on Sunday evening.
“I think it will come down to who starts playing first at the weekend. I really do. I think it’s a massive thing. Arsenal played today,” Merson explained at Villa Park.
The 55-year-old was halted there by Cates, who, in defence of Sky Sports’ TV schedule, jokingly remarked: “Don’t start people blaming us!”
Merson continued: “I’m not saying that… but they’ve had to win today just to stay where they are. It takes its toll.
“I saw with Tottenham a few years back when Leicester won [the league in 2015/16]. They kept on playing second, kept on playing second…
“If you talk to Tiger Woods, who plays matchplay, he wants to put his ball on the green first and then put pressure on. It makes a difference.
“When it comes down to it, I want to play first. I want to play on Saturday morning. I want to play at 12:30pm. I want to… bang, get my three points and sit and watch.”
Cates added an extra joke to keep the discussion light-hearted at the end, stressing to “not tell Jurgen Klopp that” due to the Liverpool manager’s public disliking of the number of his side’s early Saturday kick-offs.
Arsenal trail leaders Liverpool by two points but are level on 52 points with City, although Mikel Arteta’s men have played one more game than Pep Guardiola’s defending champions.
The Gunners are in action after Liverpool – who occupy the 12:30pm slot at Brentford on Saturday – this weekend, travelling to Burnley at 3pm. City host Chelsea in the evening kick-off shortly after.