Another Big Four match and the Merseyside Derby highlight this weekend’s slate, but really, the one key question is this:
Will Arsenal fall from title to contender to afterthought in a week’s time?
That may sound a bit drastic, but after falling to Manchester United last weekend the Gunners now have to cross London and face front-running Chelsea.
Arsenal is already six points adrift of the league lead and, should it fall at Stamford Bridge, closing a nine-point gap with 13 games to go would be a tall order.
Table watch: Chelsea is still in first place on 55 points while Arsenal is in third on 49 points.
Last time: Chelsea won the reverse fixture earlier this season by a 3-0 scoreline.
Seizing the moment: Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas knows how important this match is for his side. “We have to beat them to stay in the title race,” Fabregas told the Daily Mail. “It’s difficult but we have to bounce back straight away. We have massive games against Chelsea and Liverpool. It’s up to us to show what we can do.
“We have to be positive. It’s very easy to say, ‘We lost to Manchester United’ and to get down. That would be crazy. If you don’t believe, you don’t win things. We are still there, definitely.”
Now for the rest of the league’s action:
Liverpool vs. Everton
The 213th edition of the Merseyside Derby starts the weekend slate as Everton visit Anfield.
Table watch: Liverpool is in fifth place on 41 points while Everton resides in ninth spot on 32 points.
By the numbers: In league matches, Liverpool leads the series with a 69-56-56 record. The Reds also hold the overall series lead, 83-64-65. And Everton hasn’t tasted victory at Anfield since 1999.
Seeing red: In the last 26 league derby matches, 17 players have been shown red cards.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Fulham
On two days’ rest with as many of seven first-team players out of action, Fulham travels to the Reebok on Saturday.
Table watch: Bolton is in 16th place on 21 points while Fulham is in 10th place on 30 points.
They said it: “Our problem at the moment is all the injuries. It really is the worst injury crisis I think I’ve experienced as a manager. To lose six players from last year’s team, it’s so difficult to replace that. I think we are doing pretty well with all the injuries we’ve had.” – Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, to Sky Sports
That’s a “you” problem: Don’t look to Bolton’s Kevin Davies for any sympathy for Fulham’s injury concerns and heavy fixture list.
“It has been a tough month with us playing twice a week. Fulham have a game on Wednesday as well so we will look to use that to our advantage,” he told the team’s Web site.
Burnley vs. West Ham United
Two teams near the bottom of the table square off at Turf Moor Saturday.
Table watch: Burnley is in 19th place on 20 points while West Ham is in 15th place on 21 points.
The Benni watch: South African international Benni McCarthy could make his Hammers debut this weekend.
“This is a great club,” he told The Lancashire Telegraph. “The reason why I am happy that it has finally happened is because about five years ago I had a disappointing experience when I thought I was going to be a West Ham player until Porto pulled out and I had to go back.
“I would have loved this to be my first Premier League club. I went to Blackburn instead but West Ham kept on pursuing me and eventually I am here.”
No law and order: Clarets’ caretaker manager Brian Laws has dropped all three matches since he took over for the departed Owen Coyle.
He sees this weekend’s match as the start of a turnaround, telling The Sun that, “this game is a six-pointer, a big game for both football clubs. West Ham won’t want to lose it, we want to win it and it has all the ingredients to be an exciting game.”
Hull City vs. Manchester City
After forging a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at home in mid-week, the Tigers will look to keep their solid home form going against Manchester City.
Table watch: Hull City is in 18th place on 21 points while City is in sixth place on 41 points.
A bridge to somewhere: You may have seen Wayne Bridge’s name in the news this week, and it seems that he’ll make the papers again by returning from injury this weekend.
Manchester United vs. Portsmouth
I’m going to try to make it through the next few paragraphs without mentioning how tenuous the financial situation at Pompey is.
Table watch: United is in second place on 53 points while Portsmouth is in last place with 15 points.
“There’s a quality about the boy”: Red Devil striker Wayne Rooney is in blistering form with 20 goals (five clear of his closest rivals) to lead the league. And with six goals in his last three matches, Pompey better be ready.
On the road, again: Pompey will be hard pressed to get a result at Old Trafford, having picked up just five points in 11 road matches this season.
Stoke City vs. Blackburn Rovers
Neighbors in the table meet at the Britannia on Saturday.
Table watch: The Potters are in 12th place on 26 points while Rovers are one spot better with two more points.
A mixed bag: Blackburn has seven points from its last three games while Stoke City is unbeaten in its last five matches. The Potters, however, boast only one win in their last nine outings.
A word from Big Sam: “I’m very comfortable with the squad, we’re improving. We’ve put ourselves in a reasonable position in the league, but we have to go further than that and continue to pick the points up,” Rovers’ manager Sam Allardyce told the Lancashire Telegraph
Sunderland vs. Wigan Athletic
The Black Cats host Wigan as both clubs try to stay north of the drop zone.
Table watch: Sunderland is in 13th place on 24 points while the Latics are one spot and two points back.
Match facts: From our friends at Eurosport – Wigan have won five and lost only one of the seven Premier League meetings with Sunderland. … Wigan have won just one of their last eight Premier League matches. … The Latics have won one and lost five of their last seven away games in the league. … In his last eight league appearances for Crystal Palace, new Wigan signee Victor Moses had a hand in seven goals, scoring six and assisting one. … Wigan have kept just one clean sheet in their last 11 Premier League away matches and conceded 33 in this period at an average rate of exactly three per match. … Sunderland have won none of their last 10 Premier Legaue games since beating Arsenal at the Stadium of Light.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa
The chase for fourth place heats up as Spurs host Aston Villa in the late game Saturday.
Table watch: Spurs are in fourth place on 42 points while Aston Villa is in seventh place on 40 points.
They said it: “The boss has told us how important this game is and if we want to finish in the top four we’ve to put in a good performance and certainly not lose the game. In the next couple of weeks we have tough games like Spurs and Manchester United and after that we can really kick on.” – Aston Villa defender James Collins, to Sky Sports
They said it, part two: “It was a big win and the performance was excellent. Leeds are a good side and knocked out United at Old Trafford, so that says it all really. They play at a fast tempo, get after you, get tight, try to stop you playing and work so hard.
“It was a difficult game in a fantastic atmosphere and the lads deserve full credit for the performance. We’re all delighted we’re through to the next round.” – Spurs’ striker Jermain Defoe, who had all three goals in his team’s FA Cup win over Leeds United in mid-week.
Birmingham City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
The Second City side will look to keep its place in the top 10 with a result against Wolves on Sunday.
Table watch: Birmingham City is in eighth place on 34 points while Wolves are in 17th place on 21 points.
Magic number?: Birmingham has had the same starting 11 for the past 11 matches – a Premier League record.
A little toothless?: Wolves are winless in their last five matches and have failed to dent the scoreboard in four of those contests.