Premier League Preview: Will Arsenal’s title challenge unravel against Man United?

Premier League Preview: Will Arsenal’s title challenge unravel against Man United?

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Arsenal v Manchester United, Sun 4, 16:00, Emirates Stadium

This is a huge top of the table clash between two of English football’s giants.

Arsenal have performed a tad bizarrely over the season’s course. Following a shocking opening day defeat at home to West Ham, Arsene Wenger’s men have won four and drawn one with Chelsea the only other team domestically to take all the points from the Gunners. So while the league start has been fairly solid if unspectacular, performances in the Champions League have left plenty to be desired. Shambolic displays against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos have left Arsenal staring down the end of a barrel in their bid to escape what looked like a fairly routine group stage.

United meanwhile have seemingly laboured over the entirety of the season thus far but have picked up the necessary points in that time. Barring the Swansea loss, United have won five and drawn once which has seen them recently leapfrog Manchester City to the top of the table. It should also be noted that they edged out an impressive Wolfsburg team in midweek in a season so far where the English teams have really flattered to deceive in the continental competition.

It’s a difficult match to call because neither team has really looked groundbreaking, despite the fact United sit top of the tree. At home, Arsenal really should have the quality to win this match but as shown in their loss to Olympiakos in midweek, defensively they are horribly lacking. In context, the hosts wouldn’t mind a point here, nor would the visitors, and it looks like the most probably outcome.

Merseyside Derby

Everton v Liverpool, Sun 4, 13:30, Goodison Park

What a match this looks set to be with the added intensity of a full-blooded derby to go with it.

Everton come into this one full of confidence on the back of their remarkable turnaround at The Hawthornes on Monday night. The character shown to turn the tables on a match away from home when you’re 2-0 down in the second half will help push the confidence gained over the course of the season on further. The Toffees have taken points from every league game this season barring the loss at home to Manchester City. Certainly with a spine of Tim Howard, John Stones, James McCarthy, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, Everton are capable of beating anyone on their home turf and their togetherness and team spirit is also very high it would seem.

By contrast Liverpool are a rather bizarre outfit. Boasting the likes of Christian Benteke, Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho they are more than capable in an attacking sense to create things on their day but it’s not always clicking for them. That appears to be down to tactics and the way in which Brendan Rodgers doesn’t really seem to know his best formation or the best way in which to play. At the back however is where the real issues lie with there being no real holding midfielder to support a backline whereby you could only really single out Martin Skrtel as being half decent. There seems a real top-heavy structure at Liverpool and if the guys at the top of that tree aren’t doing the business regularly enough then they could be struggling.

It’s always a fiery derby the Merseyside derby and this should be no different. Both teams like the passing philosophy and see the best form of defence as attack in general so there could be a danger that both teams cancel each other out here. It’s a tough one to call but both teams should be pumped for the occasion so a share of the spoils would be my bet.

Round up of the rest

Crystal Palace v West Brom, Sat 3, 12:45, Selhurst Park

Tony Pulis visits his stomping ground to tackle the ambitious Eagles yet he should be going there with optimism. Palace are a counter-attacking team and that’s why they perform better on the road and this is the kind of match which they might not perform as well in. Having said that, they have many danger men and a fairly stingy defence so I’d say the home side should just nick this.

Aston Villa v Stoke, Sat 3, 15:00, Villa Park

Stoke got their first win of the season last week against Bournemouth and that should be a little catalyst for them to push on from here. Aston Villa meanwhile haven’t won since the opening day and things are looking bleak for them at the moment. However Stoke aren’t suddenly going to start smashing teams at the drop of a hat and will no doubt be satisfied with an away point.

Bournemouth v Watford, Sat 3, 15:00, Dean Court

That late defeat away at Stoke will have hurt Eddie Howe and the supporters but not as much as the expected six-month absence of talisman Callum Wilson. Wilson had been the Cherries main source of goals and attacking magic so they will have to replace that somehow with a collective team effort. Tight game this between two of the newly promoted teams but I’d favour the hosts to win this one.

Manchester City v Newcastle, Sat 3, 15:00, Etihad Stadium

City have had a mini-breakdown of sorts in the league having lost back-to-back games following a superb five game winning streak. Some of that could be laid towards the door of Vincent Kompany who has been injured for the past few weeks and the replacements just aren’t at his level. Newcastle showed desire and spirit against Chelsea last week but the home side should comfortably win this.

Norwich v Leicester, Sat 3, 15:00, Carrow Rd

It’s a good time for Norwich to play Leiecster I feel with the Foxes on the back of a 5-2 mauling at the hands of Arsenal. So far this season they have been brilliant but against the Gunners their defensive frailties were fully exposed and it highlighted that most of their form has been indebted to their attacking talents. Norwich are looking impressive and I fancy them handing Leicester a further loss.

Sunderland v West Ham, Sat 3, 15:00, Stadium of Light

Sunderland are struggling there is no doubt regarding that but they should feel confident here if they can pull their socks up. West Ham have performed fabulously against the big-teams away from home but will they have that same motivation travelling to Wearside? It remains to be seen. Neither team are great defensively so there will be goals so an entertaining draw wouldn’t surprise me.

 

Chelsea v Southampton, Sat 3, 17:30, Stamford Bridge

People thought they would immediately turn it on after the Arsenal win but then Newcastle outplayed them at St James’ Park and Chelsea were lucky to snatch a late point. Southampton battered Swansea last week but they still lack that consistency which made them such a brutal force last season. It’s a difficult tie to predict but you have to fancy Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to deliver.

Swansea v Tottenham, Sun 4, 16:00, Liberty Stadium

Swansea haven’t really pushed on from an excellent opening to their campaign and have been bogged down by draws and defeats to Watford, Everton and Southampton respectively. It’s no coincidence that the goals of Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew have dried up a tad. Tottenham have had a huge upturn in their form but on the back of their trip to Monaco, a point a piece may elapse.

Team to watch this week

GK: Tim Krul (Newcastle): Will have to be on the top of his game no doubt if his team are to shock City at the Etihad. He will feel hard done by last Saturday night because he literally had nothing to do other than pick the ball out of the net. He should expect a tougher game this Saturday afternoon.

RB: Russell Martin (Norwich): Quite incredible really for the defender that he’s already on three goals in his seven Premier League appearances this season. For Norwich, if he can provide a goal threat as well as a presence at the back they will be more than happy. Leicester’s defence was ripped apart by Arsenal last week so Martin will look to capitalise on the obvious frailties there.

CB: Nicholas Otamendi (Manchester City): The jury’s still out on City’s expensive £31 million singing from Valencia. A well struck shot for the equaliser against Monchengladbach yet questionable defending before the goal marred his overall performance. Much like Eliaquim Mangala, he may need a while to settle to English football and he’ll be hoping for no slip-ups against Newcastle.

CB: John Stones (Everton): His invaluable link between the defence and the midfield really helps Everton to push on with their attacks. You really can see why Chelsea were bidding £30 million and then some for this guy in the window with the issues they’re currently posed with. He will be looking to neutralise the threats particularly of Daniel Sturridge in the Sunday derby.

LB: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea): He’s a one to watch because in a defence that reeks of calamity, he stands out as the only one with a calm head. The Spaniard has carried his consistency from last season into this and is one of the few Chelsea players that can claim he is earning his corn on a weekly basis.

CDM: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United): He really controlled the midfield against Wolfsburg in midweek and when he left the field, the Germans began to get into the game significantly more. The German isn’t really anything flashy but he just does all the little things so well and if United are to dominate the very feeble Arsenal middle men, they will need his influence.

CDM: Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace): Scored the winner last week for his side in a tight clash against Watford but Alan Pardew didn’t really sign him for his goals – he signed him to be that dominant midfielder. Palace will be on form when this man is spraying the balls out wide to the wingers and in to his front men.

RM: Jeremain Lens (Sunderland): One of the few bright sparks in the Black Cats team the signing from the Eredivise has made a real contribution for his team in terms of goals and assists. You can’t help but feel annoyed with him for the lack of help he is getting in the final third in terms of sharing out those goals and goal assists.

LM: Sadio Mane (Southampton): A little menace in the Southampton ranks with his rapid acceleration and quick feet. He’s perhaps the last person Chelsea want to see running at their defence following what the speedy Porto players did to them on Tuesday night.

ST: Theo Walcott (Arsenal): He’s been demanding for as long as you can remember his desire to play as the front man but opinions are polarised as to whether it should be he or Olivier Giroud leading the attack. He will certainly shut the critics up if he nabs the winner against United as it has been questioned whether he performs on the big occasions.

ST: Jamie Vardy (Leicester): He’s been on fire this season under Claudio Ranieri this season and has made critics who perhaps said his finishing needed work a tad foolish. If Leicester are to beat Norwich they’ll need this fox-in-the-box to be as lethal as he has been thus far.