Arsenal and Everton trade early blows in race for top four

Jack Wilshere and Leighton Baines go shoulder-to-shoulder at the Emirates

Premier League preview: plenty to enjoy ahead of Man City v Liverpool on Monday

LAST UPDATED AT 13:01 ON Fri 22 Aug 2014

With last season's top four all collecting three points on the opening weekend it looks like business as usual in the Premier League. And even though its very early days, the league table certainly has a familiar look to it with the main contenders already gathering at the top.

Chelsea and Manchester City showed impressive form on the road last week, while Liverpool and Arsenal dug out narrow home wins at Anfield and the Emirates. The pick of this week's action sees two of the early pace-setters go head-to-head at the Etihad as Manchester City throw down the gauntlet for Liverpool.

Unfortunately you'll have to wait until after the Bank Holiday barbeque to see the champions and last season's runners-up in action, and Mario Balotelli will not be available to make his Liverpool debut against his former club.

But before then there's still plenty to savour. Here’s the pick of the weekend action: 

Everton vs Arsenal

The Toffees pushed Arsenal to the wire last season in the race for fourth and Roberto Martinez has signalled his intent to go one better this campaign after signing Romelu Lukaku for a club record fee of £28m.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have made a host of summer signings themselves, and although Arsene Wenger has again favoured flair over power, the gutsy performance against Palace shows they may finally have "the intestinal fortitude to dig out a result", according to Bleacher Report.  

Everton away, however, will pose a far tougher test than Crystal Palace at home. A fact Wenger well knows given his side's embarrassing 3-0 defeat in last season's visit to Goodison Park. In-fact the north Londoners are now four games without a win against Everton, their worst run of form against any opponent in the Premier League.

Both sides play an attacking, if defensively vulnerable, style of football and with both teams chasing a top four finish once again, Saturday's encounter has all the makings of a Premiership blockbuster.

Prediction: Score draw

Chelsea vs Leicester

Jose Mourinho's men had the swagger of champions-elect on Monday night as they cruised to victory over Burnley and Stamford Bridge will expect something similar in tomorrow's clash against Leicester.

Form suggests the tie is destined go Chelsea's way with the west Londoners coming out on top in their last six encounters with the visitors, scoring an impressive 20 goals along the way.

But the Foxes will go into the game full of confidence after Chris Wood rescued a late point against Everton on the opening day of the season. Leicester's status as overwhelming underdogs should also take some of the pressure off, allowing Nigel Pearson's side to have a go at the title favourites. 

On paper, however, the result looks like a foregone conclusion. Leicester have only spent £7m on new acquisitions since gaining re-entry to England's top tier and all of that went on a single player: Brighton's Leonardo Ulloa.

Chelsea have, as always, spent big this summer, shelling out £62m on Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas alone. Of course that'll look like good business if the Spaniards help Mourinho regain the title, and judging by their debut performances for the Blues that looks like a strong possibility.

Prediction: Easy home win

Sunderland vs Manchester United

Has there ever been a better time to face Man United? The Red Devils stumbled against Swansea on the opening weekend with Louis van Gaal suffering defeat in his first competitive match in charge at Old Trafford. The Dutchman will be keen to redress the balance with an away win at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, but as even he admitted, last week's match left his side "shattered".

Sunderland, by contrast, put in a strong performance at the Hawthorns last week as they look to build on their impressive end-of-season form. Under Gus Poyet the Black Cats have gone from strength to strength winning four of their last six in the league, a run which included a notable away win at the Theatre of Dreams in May.

The return of Robin van Persie, back at full fitness after a post World Cup break, will undoubtedly boost United's chances, but given their current defensive woes, fans would probably be more excited by a scintillating debut from Marcos Rojo. 

Prediction: Away win – any other result would put Van Gaal under real pressure

Tottenham v QPR

Harry Redknapp and Glenn Hoddle return to White Hart Lane on Saturday hoping to get one over on Mauricio Pochettino, the man who now finds himself in the Spurs hotseat. The two former managers have teamed up at newly-promoted QPR and their presence in the away dugout will add a certain frisson to the match.

Spurs won their London derby against West Ham on the opening day of the season and will be confident of doing the same against a team from the other side of the capital this week.

But Redknapp, in particular, will be desperate for a result. Talking to the Evening Standard this week he denied having the "raging hump" over his dismissal in 2012, but he is still unable to explain why he was sacked by Spurs after finishing fourth in the table. "I have my own ideas why it happened but perhaps you should ask the club why as they are in a better position than me to answer that question," he said.

Personal issues aside, QPR are in need of some points after losing to Hull on the opening day of the season, after Charlie Austin missed a penalty. The optimism around Loftus Road will be short-lived if they don't get some points on the board soon, but they may have to wait.

Prediction: Home win

This weekend's other fixtures:

SATURDAY

Aston Villa v Newcastle

Crystal Palace v West Ham

Southampton v West Brom

Swansea v Burnley

SUNDAY

Hull v Stoke

MONDAY

Man City v Liverpool · 

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