Man Utd in last chance saloon as Arsenal push on for glory
Gunners looking to the future as fallen champions must face the ghost of Christmas past
THE dust is still settling on the high-scoring midweek games, which saw this season's title contenders all win and the reigning champions lose more ground, but the Premier League bandwagon rolls on and a new round of fixtures looms.
Wednesday night's matches raised as many questions as they answered: how deep is the malaise at Man United? Can anyone stop Luis Suarez? What's happened to Chelsea's defence? And, will Nicklas Bendtner ever win over the Arsenal fans?
We can expect answers to those and many other questions over the next few days. Here's what to watch out for this weekend:
Manchester United v Newcastle United
This Saturday lunchtime clash is a big game for United and their new manager David Moyes. Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Everton, United's first home defeat to the Toffees for 21 years, has set alarm bells ringing at Old Trafford. Moyes's old club, Everton, have improved without him, and his new club, United, have declined. Unfortunately for him, he will be without Wayne Rooney, who is suspended, while Robin van Persie is struggling to be fit. Newcastle will arrive in Manchester in good spirits, having won four of their last five matches and scalped Chelsea and Spurs in the process. They are also above Manchester United in both the points table and the form table, and they will fancy their chances at a stadium where, under Moyes, Man Utd have taken just 11 points out of a possible 21 and scored just eight goals in the process. The Theatre of Dreams is in danger of becoming a theatre of nightmares for Man Utd fans, but they will need to get behind their team on Saturday if they are to prevail.
Arsenal v Everton
If the first match of the weekend is haunted by the ghosts of the past, then the final match, on Sunday evening, involves two clubs for whom the future looks bright. Arsenal are undeniably in the title race, whatever the pundits on Match of the Day think, but what about Everton? They lie fifth in the table, three points behind Chelsea and have lost only once this season. In Romelu Lukaku they have a monster of a centre forward, who will give Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny a proper workout on Sunday. And there is talent all over the park, for example, the Old Trafford winner came from Bryan Oviedo, who is only the understudy to Leighton Baines. As for Arsenal, they are about to enter a crucial phase of the season. After Everton come Napoli and Man City in quick succession and then a London derby with Chelsea. Olivier Giroud is sure to return to the Gunners line up after sitting out the Hull match, and Theo Walcott could also get his first start since September. This will not be an easy test for Arsenal, but they will be confident of the win, although they know that defeat could throw the title race wide open.
Southampton v Man City
This is a game that could reveal a lot about where these two sides are. Southampton enjoyed an incredible start to the season, but there are signs that the magic is starting to wear off. The Saints have conceded eight goals in their last three games, having shipped just five in the previous 11. They are also without keeper Artur Boruc and midfield rock Morgan Schneiderlin. After three defeats in a row and a leaky defence the last team they will want to see arrive in town is Man City, with 40 goals to their name already this season. They may have the deadliest striker in the division in Sergio Aguero (although Luis Suarez may beg to differ), but it appeared that Man City were vulnerable away from home. However, there are signs that they are starting to turn the corner on their travels, and this looks like a case of reality bites and a fourth consecutive defeat for the Saints.
Liverpool v West Ham
No prizes for guessing who will be the centre of attention at Anfield on Saturday. After his four-goal masterclass against Norwich on Wednesday all eyes will be on Luis Suarez, although a few pairs of peepers from east London may be watching though fingers. The Uruguayan goal machine has been in spectacular form since returning from suspension and proved he does not need partner Daniel Sturridge to find the back of the net. The Hammers are in relegation trouble, with three wins all season and only one, against fellow strugglers Fulham last weekend, in the last seven. Only Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Sunderland have scored fewer goals this season, and although they do not concede many it’s hard to see them leaving Merseyside with anything.
Stoke v Chelsea
The Blues lie second in the table and will be determined to keep up the pressure on Arsenal. They may have conceded three against Sunderland in midweek, but the brilliance of Eden Hazard ensured they took home all three points. It might be a similar story on Saturday, with Stoke unlikely to be able to match Chelsea for creativity in midfield despite the best efforts of Mark Hughes. The Potters are not as strong defensively as they once were and have also struggled for goals, so it would be something of a shock if they were to emerge with a point against a Jose Mourinho team that would have been given a rocket after failing to kill off Sunderland.
The weekend's other fixtures:
Crystal Palace v Cardiff
West Brom v Norwich
Sunderland v Tottenham
Fulham v Aston Villa
Swansea v Hull ·