D-day for Arsenal and Liverpool as title challenges fade
Premier League preview: the Gunners and the Reds must win local derbies to keep dreams alive
It's the first big derby weekend of the season as Livepool entertain Everton and Arsenal face Spurs on Saturday, and the outcome of the games could determine how the clubs approach the rest of the season.
Arsenal and Liverpool, tipped as title challengers, cannot afford to slip up. If things go badly for Liverpool they could find themselves ten points behind Chelsea, and Arsenal could finish the weekend seven points off the pace.
The other title favourites, Chelsea and Man City, will certainly be hoping that their rivals damage each other. For their part, they should pick up maximum points in what look on paper to be relatively easy fixtures.
Man United on the other hand, will be desperate to avoid another disaster as they take on West Ham at Old Trafford.
Here's the best of the weekend action:
Arsenal v Spurs:
Both London clubs are in the top ten, which gives them higher billing over their Merseyside equivalents. However, neither side has looked particularly impressive in recent weeks. The Gunners lost to Borussia Dortmund in Europe last week and then surrendered to Southampton in the Capital One Cup, although they did overcome Aston Villa in the league. Spurs, meanwhile, have won only one of their last five games, against Nottingham Forest in the cup.
Arsenal, who beat Spurs three times last season, will begin as favourites, but their defence has looked shaky this season. With Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy out they are down to the bare bones, with only four senior defenders available. Selling Thomas Vermaelen and sending Carl Jenkinson out on loan may not have been Arsene Wenger's greatest move.
Up front, though, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez should be a handful for Spurs, while Emmanuel Adebayor will be looking for a record 11th north London derby goal. Given the curious form of both sides this might not be a classic, but it could be tight.
Liverpool v Everton
The weekend begins with Everton's visit to Anfield on Saturday lunchtime. The Toffees have had a poor start to the campaign and are languishing in 14th place with just five points from five games. Their problems would appear to be at the back after conceding 13 goals, more than any other club, so far this season.
With Ross Barkley still out Everton are lacking a spark, although strikers Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku have both been among the goals. That is more than can be said for Mario Balotelli, who has yet to open his league account for the Reds. With Luis Suarez long gone and Daniel Sturridge unlikely to be fit they need something special from Super Mario, who does seem to enjoy the drama of a derby.
After three league defeats in four games the Reds are only one point above Man United and they cannot afford to slip up at home if they want to maintain the aura of title contenders. A defeat is unlikely, but Everton could come away with a point, which would do neither team's aspirations of glory much good.
Man United v West Ham
While Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Everton are dreaming of glory, its a fair assumption that Man United fans are simply dreaming of avoiding another humiliation. After losing 5-3 to Leicester last week Old Trafford will expect a response.
On paper, a team containing Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Wayne Rooney should wipe the floor with West Ham. However, Louis van Gaal is in the grip of a defensive injury crisis that makes Arsenal's look trivial, and the team's confidence will be shot after the events of last weekend.
Meanwhile, West Ham have been playing with some uncharacteristic verve, so this could turn into a high-scoring shoot-out at Old Trafford. United fans have been put through the ringer recently, but surely their team will have enough firepower to outgun the Hammers on Saturday afternoon.
Chelsea v Aston Villa
The season is only five games old but already Chelsea look as though they could walk away with the title. They have a three point lead over Southampton and their opponents on Saturday, Villa, and are already five points clear of Man City, the side expected to challenge them hardest.
Villa started the season well, but had their bubble burst by the Gunners last weekend, and it is hard to see Paul Lambert's men getting much change out of the Blue Machine at Stamford Bridge. The visitors will be free of the bug that decimated their squad last week, but Chelsea are a team in form, even if they slipped up in Europe last week.
If things go according to plan at the Bridge on Saturday, the fans' main concern will be results elsewhere. If all goes well they could be six points clear at the top by 5pm, and seven points in front of their title rivals.
Hull v Man City
The Champions' last league win came back in August and after two draws and a defeat they must get back to winning ways at Hull. Frank Lampard saved City's bacon with a goal against Chelsea on Sunday, and the seven-goal Capital One Cup romp against Sheffield Wednesday could indicate that Manuel Pellegrini has reinvigorated his troops. Sergio Aguero and David Silva will both be fit and Yaya Toure is due a big game.
Hull did some good business in the transfer window but they have not won since the opening day of the season and will need to go some to get anything out of City. If they do, it might say more about City than it does about Hull.
The weekend's other games:
Crystal Palace v LeicesterSouthampton v QPRSunderland v Swansea
West Brom v Burnley
Stoke v Newcastle