Premier League preview
Arsenal travel to Aston Villa to meet a familiar face before the weekend action concludes with Tottenham's clash against Liverpool.
By James Dall
Last Updated: 26/11/10 8:55pm
Arsenal travel to Aston Villa on Saturday lunchtime to meet a familiar face before the weekend action concludes with Tottenham Hotspur's clash against Liverpool.
Sky Sports HD2 brings you live coverage of Aston Villa versus Arsenal with the Gunners heading into the match with morale low. Arsene Wenger's men let slip a two-goal lead against North London rivals Tottenham before being beaten late on in the UEFA Champions League by Braga. Yet, the club could go top, if only temporarily, of the table should they emerge victorious at Villa Park. Gerard Houllier now boasts a Gunners legend in his ranks having signed Robert Pires on a free transfer only recently. The 37-year-old Pires would surely relish an appearance versus his former club, while Houllier will be more concerned about landing only a second win in nine attempts. Arsenal will look to continue their impressive away record, which has seen them pick up 14 points on their travels - the best in the division.
Manchester United, who booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions League during midweek, welcome Sam Allardyce's Blackburn Rovers to Old Trafford. The Red Devils are locked level on points with leaders Chelsea and are still unbeaten in the league this campaign. Despite being without defeat, United have still to fire on all cylinders this term, although the return of Wayne Rooney could serve as a boost to their usual swagger. Rovers occupy 11th in the division having notched three successes in their past four matches. Allardyce, who famously gets on well with managerial counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson, faces a tough test on Saturday with his club failing to beat their opponents in their previous eight attempts.
Manchester City also play out a 3pm kick-off, with the club boosted by their showing against Fulham last time out. Following criticism of head coach Roberto Mancini's lack of attacking ambition, City turned on the style versus their former manager Mark Hughes. The club remain fourth, just three points behind the pace-setters. City's next examination is a trip to Stoke City, who are in excellent form. Indeed, the Potters are up to eighth after winning three consecutive games for the first time since they arrived in the Premier League, following four straight losses - how quickly a side's fortunes can change. It will be interesting to see how City, no shrinking violets themselves, cope with Stoke's combative nature.
The pressure continues to weigh down heavy on West Ham United boss Avram Grant's shoulders, and the Israeli faces a crunch, and potentially decisive with regards his future, game versus fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic at Upton Park. The Hammers sit at the foot of the table, where they have not left since September, and are five points from safety having garnered just one league triumph all season. Wigan are placed 18th in the standings, the club typically inconsistent. There is hope for Grant, who saw his assistant depart during midweek, and West Ham, as the Latics have won only one of their last 14 Premier League away games. However, a performance resembling anything like that of the loss at Liverpool will surely result in an eighth reverse of the term.
Wolverhampton Wanderers are another team enduring a tough time of things at present, with Mick McCarthy's men level on points with bottom-of-the-table West Ham. Wolves lock horns with Sunderland at Molineux seeking to avoid a fifth defeat on the bounce. Furthermore, Wolves are the only Premier League team yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Sunderland's fortunes, meanwhile, are positive, with the Black Cats having lost just twice all campaign while they sit seventh in the division. Their position is in part down to the improvement of form on the road, as Steve Bruce's men have have suffered defeat in only one of their last six away encounters in the league.
Bolton Wanderers are presently in the lofty heights of fifth in the table following their superb start to the campaign. And the Trotters will be aiming to put in another swashbuckling display when they host Blackpool at the Reebok Stadium. Owen Coyle's men thrashed Newcastle 5-1 last weekend and the Seasiders will be wary of receiving a hiding just like their newly-promoted counterparts. Furthermore, the Trotters are unbeaten in four matches, winning three of those fixtures. For Blackpool, the club landed a first win in four attempts to take them up to 12th in the standings. Johan Elmander is again the man to look out for, with the striker netting eight league goals this term.
Fulham are in need of a pick-me-up with the club slipping down the standings to 17th. Indeed, the Cottagers' convincing defeat versus City means they have now won just one of their last 10 league encounters. Hughes and his charges have a chance to put that right at home to Birmingham City, who battled and held on to record a scalp of Chelsea last Saturday. The Blues have now lost just once in their previous six games, but just two points separate them and their weekend opponents. Fulham will take heart from a decent record at home to Birmingham, while the Blues are infamously poor on their travels, having failed to triumph in their last 12 attempts.
Off the boil
Lastly on Saturday, Everton entertain West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park. The Toffees have gone off the boil a little since their upturn in form, with just the one success gained in six outings. However, that run can also be looked at from another angle: just one loss in six outings. West Brom have also slid down the table and are now on the same points total as Everton. The Baggies have suffered four losses in five matches heading into their trip to Merseyside. It is feasible that one of these sides could finish the weekend in the drop zone, while, staggeringly, eighth place is also achievable.
On Sunday lunchtime, Newcastle United do battle with champions Chelsea, live on Sky Sports HD1 at St James' Park. The latter returned to winning ways on Tuesday and now their league form needs addressing, with three losses in their previous four games seeing Carlo Ancelotti's men go from almost runaway leaders to a team well involved in a title battle. They top the standings only on goal difference and will be wary of their opponents, who triumphed at Stamford Bridge in the Carling Cup earlier this season. The Magpies are currently bang mid-table, with three successive successes followed by two losses and a draw. Chelsea have not lost three successive league matches since October 1999, while the match-up could be a tale of two powerful strikers as Andy Carroll and Didier Drogba go toe-to-toe.
Tottenham and Liverpool play out the weekend's final game, live on Sky Sports HD1 & also in 3D. Spurs made club history during the week as they booked their place in the knockout stage of the Champions League, while Liverpool enjoyed a week on the training pitch. In Spurs' last league outing the club made it back-to-back wins to climb to sixth in the table. Liverpool, meanwhile, got back on track with a scalp of West Ham. Victory for Liverpool on Sunday would see them go level on points with Tottenham, who will be looking to banish their habit of starting games slowly, in particular after a European week.