Can Theo Walcott star again as Arsenal face Swansea game?
Premier League preview: Swans oddly confident - but then so is Rafa Benitez about Chelsea's chances
Arsenal versus Swansea: it is not a fixture inherently steeped in evocative history, but for the Gunners this is a potentially epochal 90 minutes.
Victory could propel them into fifth place and hand them the chance to move into the familiar and crucial terrain of the top four at the halfway point of the season. Defeat, though, could sink them into the doldrums of mid-table and see the under-fire Wenger face yet more uncomfortable questions about his future.
The Frenchman hopes that Theo Walcott can continue his impressive run of form. Walcott, who scored the opener at Everton in mid-week, says he is feeling "deadly" in front of goal. With 10 goals under his belt this campaign, as opposed to just 11 in the entirety of last season, his confidence is justified. "When given a little sniff I am able to take it now,” he says. "The goals show that."
Swansea City have struggled on the road this season, winning just two of their 10 ties away from home. Yet manager Michael Laudrup was all smiles following their 3-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion this week, setting an upbeat mood for the weekend. "It is not often as a manager you can sit and enjoy your team playing," he said of the win that lifted the Welsh side to eighth place.
Two doubts for the Gunners are Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny, both of whom were injured in the mid-week draw at Everton. For Swansea, talismanic Spanish winger Pablo Hernandez is likely to miss out after picking up an injury in mid-week. Despite that potential dent to the Swans' forward line, Laudrup feels cavalier as he anticipates the Arsenal match: "It's against a big club and an away game where we have not so much to lose and we can just go and play our game with 20 points in our pocket - it's nice," he said.
Happy, confident and relaxed; Laudrup is currently everything Wenger is not. Could an upset be on the cards?
There is confidence and there is bluster. Many felt that interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez strayed into the latter territory when he declared that his side can still win the Premier League this season. Having been four points clear at the top in October, the Blues are now seven points off the summit with the Manchester sides setting the pace, yet Benitez is still backing them to be in contention come May.
"Why can't we?" he replied when asked if Chelsea can win the league. "It's still a long way to go. We have to keep going. We'll have chances." The next chance comes in the lunchtime kick-off at West Ham on Saturday.
Benitez, who faced calls for his head from Chelsea fans before his first match in charge had even kicked off, can take solace from his side's fine form in the capital: they are unbeaten in their last six London derbies in the league.
Influential in Chelsea's poor November was a lack of goals. Dare the Stamford Bridge faithful believe that this could be the tie in which Fernando Torres strikes gold? The hapless striker has form against the Hammers, having scored six goals in six Premier League appearances against them; more than against any other opponent in the competition. With Olympic sprint champion Darren Campbell offering to "fix" Torres, the Spaniard urgently needs to answer his critics.
West Ham sense weakness in their opponent and would delight in putting another dent into the visitors' title hopes. "We don't have to hide because we have the opportunity to win the game," said Guy Demel. Having made four changes for the mid-week trip to Old Trafford, boss Sam Allardyce will be short of cards to shuffle, due to suspensions and injuries, including long-term casualties Ricardo Vaz Te and Alou Diarra.
The early evening kick-off sees leaders Manchester United take on Reading. Alex Ferguson will hope that the mid-week 1-0 win over West Ham marks the end of his team's tendency to fall behind in games. With the current phase of the Champions League nearly over and no international matches on the horizon, the Scot sees the weeks ahead as crucial to the Premier League campaign, saying: "It's a big moment for us."
By the time United kick-off in Berkshire, rivals Manchester City, only a point behind them at the top of the table, will have played at Everton. City boss Roberto Mancini has dismissed talk of this season's Premier League title race being a two-horse, all-Mancunian affair. All eyes will be on the Italian's team selection, and whether it includes the flamboyant Mario Balotelli, who returned to the team with a goal at Wigan during the week.
Following that tie, Mancini insisted he will not sell the controversial Balotelli in January, despite their shaky relationship and incessant reports linking the striker with a return to Serie A. Meanwhile, Everton boss David Moyes has his own selection headaches, with defender Leighton Baines and striker Nikica Jelavic both doubtful.
The capital's other derby of the weekend sees Tottenham travel west to take on Fulham. The Lillywhites arrive in fine fettle having brushed aside Liverpool 2-1 in a magnificent midweek encounter. If former Cottager Clint Dempsey and Welshman Gareth Bale are on form for the visitors, Fulham, who have lost just three of their last 16 league matches at Craven Cottage, will find it hard to compete.
Andre Villas-Boas's side will probably be without Scott Parker, while Fulham will definitely be without Brede Hangeland. Bryan Ruiz and Alexander Kačaniklić are also likely to miss out.
Can Liverpool finally turnaround their fortunes as they face struggling Southampton? As far as manager Brendan Rogers is concerned, their only hope of a bright future rests on them becoming less dependent on captain Steven Gerrard. "He's carried this club for nearly 13 years and it's about time there was more than Steven picking up the baton of responsibility," said Rodgers. "There are others that we want to step up to the plate and get the goals."
Having often meddled with the starting line-up in search of a win - including the eyebrow-raising selection of winger Stewart Downing in defence - Rogers will welcome the return to contention of Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva, who was injured in August. Saints boss Nigel Adkins insists he will stick with under-fire Paulo Gazzaniga, despite the keeper's mid-week blunder against Norwich.
Harry Redknapp takes charge of his first home match as QPR manager when Aston Villa arrive at Loftus Road. The west Londoners remain rooted to the bottom of the table, but the wily Redknapp is hoping the introduction of his trademark chirpiness could yet save them. "We need to play as a team and be a team," said the new boss, looking ahead to the Villa tie. "If we can put them [the players] together and get them to work together, we have got a chance."
West Bromwich Albion aim to solidify their unlikely fourth-placed position against mid-table lingerers Stoke. Having watched his side convincingly beaten at Swansea, Baggies manager Steve Clarke is demanding a clear "response" on Saturday, to avoid their exciting opening half of the season fading away. West Brom have lost all three Barclays Premier League encounters with the Potters on home turf and failed to score in any of the ties.
Despite the rumours that swept Twitter last weekend, Martin O'Neill remains in charge of Sunderland for Sunday's trip to Norwich. However, having won only two of their last 21 Premier League games, his team is in urgent need of a victory as the first anniversary of his appointment looms. They face a Norwich side depleted by injury, with John Ruddy and Michael Turner both likely to miss out. ·