Crunch time for Wenger and new-look Arsenal
Premier League preview: Can the Gunners bounce back? Will the Manchester teams win again?
EVEN THOUGH the Rugby World Cup is stealing the limelight this weekend, there is still plenty for football fans to look forward to as the Premier League returns after the international break.
How will Arsenal respond to their drubbing at the hands of Manchester United? Will Wayne Rooney and co pick up where they left off a fortnight ago? Can Manchester City and the rest of the chasing pack keep up the pressure on Fergie's men? And will Spurs, West Brom and Blackburn be able to pick up their first points of the season.
Here's The First Post's guide to the best of the weekend's action.
Arsenal v Swansea
When the fixture list came out at the start of the season few people would have picked Swansea's trip to the Emirates as one of the biggest games in Arsenal's recent history and a make-or-break match for Arsene Wenger. It looked for all the world like a routine home win and a nice day out for the Swans' support.
But after their astonishing 8-2 mauling at the hands of Manchester United, the Gunners are staring into the abyss. They have one point from three games and the worst goal difference in the division. This game marks the start of a new era.
The Old Trafford humiliation prompted Wenger to spend and new arrivals Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos and Mikel Arteta could all start for the new-look Gunners. Yossi Benayoun and Korean striker Park Chu Young could come off the bench. However, Jack Wilshere is still injured and Gervinho suspended.
In some ways newly-promoted Swansea are the worst possible opponents for Arsenal. Anything less than a thumping win will be seen as a failure. But with skillful and pacy players like Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge up front they could give the Gunners a run for their money. That said anything other than an Arsenal win seems inconceivable. But so did 8-2.
Bolton v Manchester United
Saturday's evening kick-off sees league leaders United make the short trip to Bolton to take on their Lancashire rivals. So far this season United's youthful side have put all-comers to the sword, and after that famous victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford last time out they will not be short on confidence.
Their one weak link so far has appeared to be keeper David De Gea who has not adapted to English football quite as well as Alex Ferguson would have liked. But to his credit the player has accepted the criticism of his early season performances and vowed to get better.
Exploiting De Gea's weaknesses could be Bolton's best chance of getting anything from the game. If Kevin Davies can bully the young Spanish stopper then they could put United under pressure. It will be interesting to see if Ferguson decides to try and counter the aerial threat by bringing back Rio Ferdinand or sticking with the young centre-back pairing of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans. Whatever Bolton throw at them United have looked so assured that it is hard to see the Trotters causing an upset.
Manchester City v Wigan
This could get ugly. City have put at least three past every team they've faced in the league so far – including five goals against Tottenham – and taken maximum points. The fact that Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli have so far failed to make it into the starting 11 tells you all you need to know about the strength of City's attack. You'd be a bold man to bet against Mancini's men getting another bucket of goals at the Ethiad.
Wigan's hopes may lie in the fact that the majority of City's players have been on international duty and may be fatigued. Roberto Martinez's side have made a solid start to the season so far – five points in three games is not the kind of form that saw them stuck in the relegation zone for most of last season – but those performances came against the three Premier League new boys. Wigan are likely to fall at the first big hurdle of the campaign this Saturday.
Stoke v Liverpool
Liverpool have been touted as serious contenders for the top four this season and manager Kenny Dalglish will be looking for his team to continue their impressive form as they travel to Stoke. Should the free-scoring Luis Suarez be on song, it could be three wins in three for the Reds. Keep an eye out for Andy Carroll, who may feature from the bench – the young striker should be keen to repay his manager's vocal support after Fabio Capello criticised his fitness.
Don't underestimate Stoke's attacking line, however. Tony Pulis spent big on a hectic final day of the transfer window, signing Peter Crouch for a club record fee of £10m and splashing out a further £12m on fellow Spurs midfielder Wilson Palacios and Birmingham striker Cameron Jerome. Add to that the return of Kenwyne Jones, who was injured for much of last season , and there's little doubt the Potters have the resources to cause a couple of upsets this season. Pulis will hope Dalglish's high-flyers can become Stoke's first major scalp of the campaign.
Sunderland v Chelsea
Andre Villas-Boas has announced that he will have no qualms about dropping £50m man Fernando Torres if he does not produce the goods, and it appears that his warning amounts to an ultimatum to the misfiring Spaniard that he must take advantage of Didier Drogba's absence through concussion or face being relegated to the role of reserve striker. So it will be interesting to see how Torres responds and the Stadium of Light.
Chelsea could also unveil new signing Raul Meireles, who joined on a season-long loan from Liverpool.
If Torres is suffering from a crisis of confidence, Sunderland's new marksman Nicklas Bentner is unlikely to be in the same boat. The striker will be out to impress at his new club and as usual will have no doubts about his ability to do so.
Elsewhere, in-form Wolves currently in fifth place entertain Spurs, who are without a point although they have only played two games. Another intriguing clash comes with the visit of Aston Villa to Everton.
In the other games Norwich entertain West Brom, who, like Spurs, are pointless so far this season. Blackburn, also on nil points, travel to Fulham and on Monday night Joey Barton takes centre stage when QPR host Newcastle. ·