Arsenal can end Chelsea run to prove title credentials
Premier League preview: Terry, Cole and Hazard can expect a warm reception at the Emirates
THERE are some big games in the Premier League this weekend, but the biggest of the lot will be the first to kick off on Saturday lunchtime.
The clash between Arsenal and Chelsea, with both teams unbeaten so far this season, could be an outstanding game. Chelsea began the season in scintillating form and their two young attacking midfielders Eden Hazard and Oscar have both sparkled. They are top of the league after four wins and a draw in their first five games, but they face the toughest test of the season so far as they head to north London to take on the Gunners.
Arsenal got their campaign off to a slow start with two goalless draws, but since then they have sparked into life thanks to an inspirational attacking midfielder of their own, Santi Cazorla.
They have played the sort of passing football that was a hallmark of Wenger's most successful teams, while the Gunners have suddenly found solidity at the back, something that has been put down to the arrival of new assistant manager, Steve Bould.
The Gunners proved that they are a force to be reckoned with by visiting the champions Manchester City last week and coming back with a point. Fans who felt trepidation before the start of the season thanks to the departures of Robin van Persie and Alex Song are now dreaming of silverware. The fact that they were disappointed not to win the game at City shows how far they have come.
Both Arsenal and Chelsea hit six goals in the League Cup in midweek and the match will be a real test of their title credentials.
So that's the wider context, but there are plenty of other sub-plots that will make the game worth watching. The most obvious concerns John Terry, who was this week given a four-game ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in a match last season. He can play at the weekend as he has yet to decide whether to appear against the FA's punishment.
Terry is well used to being the target of opposition fans, but he can expect a torrid reception from the Emirates faithful after his latest troubles. So, too, can Ashley Cole, the former Gunner who left the club in 2006. Theo Walcott said this week that he was hoping to get the opportunity to play against his England team mate.
Eden Hazard, who was linked to a move to Arsenal for more than two years before joining Chelsea in the summer, can also expect a lively reception.
One final thing that could tip the balance in favour of Arsenal is the absence of Didier Drobga, who was a thorn in Arsene Wenger's side during his time with the Blues. Chelsea will be pleased if they leave the Emirates with a draw, and the clever money will be on an Arsenal win.
The evening match on Saturday sees Manchester United take on Spurs at Old Trafford, and Alex Ferguosn's men could go top if Chelsea fail to win at Arsenal. However, United will be without Nemanja Vidic, who has been ruled out for up to two months after knee surgery, and Antonio Valencia. With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones also out, United are short on defensive cover, so Fergie will be desperate for Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans to make it through the game unscathed.
Spurs have finally got their season going with back-to-back wins after a slow start, but they are unlikely to get any change out of United.
Liverpool are still without a league win this season, although they did overcome West Brom in the League Cup on Wednesday, and they take on Norwich, who have also yet to win a game this term. To make matters worse for Brendan Rodgers he is missing Daniel Agger and Martin Kelly in defence.
It will be interesting to see if the Liverpool boss gives some of his youngsters a run out after putting faith in 17-year-old Raheem Sterling earlier this season.
In Saturday's other games, impressive Everton take on hit-and-miss Southampton, champions Manchester City visit Fulham, bottom club Reading face Newcastle, Stoke entertain Swansea and Wigan travel to Sunderland.
On Sunday Aston Villa play West Brom in a midlands derby and there is an all-London affair on Monday night when West Ham come up against QPR at Loftus Road.