Arsenal to maintain their mojo as Man Utd face soaring Saints
Premier League preview: how will the international break affect the form of the top teams this weekend?
IT'S back to the day job for the Premier League's international stars this weekend, as the dust settles on the World Cup qualifying campaigns. Will the feel-good factor generated by England's qualification for the tournament make itself felt at grounds up and down the country?
None of the big clubs collide this week, but there are plenty of intriguing clashes, and there's even the possibility that Southampton could be top of the table next week.
Arsenal v Norwich League leaders Arsenal welcome the Canaries to the Emirates full of confidence and hoping to extend an 11-game unbeaten run that stretches back to August. Although Arsene Wenger could be forgiven for wishing that there had been no international break, as head Gunner Mesut Ozil picked up a knock on duty for Germany, although he should be available to play. More of a concern will the fear that some of the wind may have gone out of the squad's sails during their fortnight apart. But provided the Gunners have not completely lost their mojo then Norwich should not prove too much of an obstacle, even if Theo Walcott is not fit. On the plus side Santi Cazorla could return to midfield, although it's not entirely clear where the Spaniard will fit in. As for Norwich, they have just five goals so far this term, and will be pleased to emerge with a point.
Man Utd v Southampton In August if you said that one of these teams would be four points above the other in mid-October, the obvious response would have been to praise Southampton for keeping pace with United. Surely no-one would have forseen a situation in which the Saints were fourth in the table, with a chance of going top, and United languished down in ninth. What's more Southampton have conceded only two goals all season. But an international break can have strange consequences and David Moyes will hope that his array of international stars will reconvene with added purpose after representing their countries. Certainly the English contingent played well in the Wembley games. One player who will have enjoyed a rest during the break is teen starlet Adnan Januzaj, and all eyes will be on him if he gets a start. Southampton, for their part, will be hoping they have not lost the momentum that carried them to the upper reaches of the table, but the clever money must be on United to secure the points.
Newcastle v Liverpool It's no surprise that the clash between these two sides has been chosen for the Saturday lunchtime TV slot. This is a fixture that has provided some of the Premier League's finest moments - who could forget Liverpool's two 4-3 wins in 1996 and '97. There was more misery for Newcastle last season when the Reds won 6-0 St James' Park in April. Newcastle have gelled as a team since then, but with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez in scintillating form up front for Liverpool the home side will have a tough game on their hands. Safe to say that a 0-0 stalemate is unlikely, with Liverpool the most likely winners.
Chelsea v Cardiff Jose Mourinho has cut a frustrated figure during the international break by all accounts, and will be raring to get his players going against Cardiff. The Blues have not had a great start to the season, but Mourinho appears to be figuring out his first choice team, with Juan Mata back in the fold. The problem remains goals, and with Fernando Torres out, the Special One will be relying on Demba Ba or Samuel Eto'o, who have been far from special in front of goal this season. As for Cardiff, they have performed admirably on the field, but the decision of owner Vincent Tan to sack head of recruitment Iain Moody has set alarm bells ringing off the pitch. Manager Malky Mackay may now have a problem on his hands convincing players, fans and staff that the club is not heading for a crisis. Against that backdrop it would be a shock if Chelsea did not take the points.
Aston Villa v Tottenham The Sunday afternoon game at Villa Park could be a humdinger, with high-flying Spurs unleashing new England star Andros Townsend on the Aston Villa defence. Spurs were stunned by West Ham last time out and will not want to let a team in claret and blue catch them out again. That defeat left Spurs down in sixth place, illustrating how tight it is at the top of the Premier League this season - two weeks prior to that they were level on points with Arsenal at the top of the table. Aston Villa re expected to welcome Christian Benteke back to the side and, after beating Man City last month, the Villans will be out to avenge their Capital One Cup defeat at the hands of the Lilywhites.
This week's other fixtures:
SATURDAY: Everton v Hull
Stoke v West Brom
Swansea v Sunderland
West Ham v Man City
MONDAY: Crystal Palace v Fulham ·