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Gunners enter firing line again on key weekend
A huge schedule of Premier League football awaits this weekend, with major title implications on the agenda as Arsenal revisit the site of their 8-2 horror show at Manchester United last season. Defeat would surely rule the Gunners out of the title race, while victory would - momentarily at least - lift United top.
Hoping to capitalise on dropped points will be Chelsea and Manchester City, the latter of whom travel to West Ham in front of the ESPN cameras. Meanwhile, on Sunday, the inevitable memories of 4-3 thrillers will spring to mind as Liverpool host Newcastle in the battle for 10th (sorry, Europe).
For talking points and predictions for every fixture this weekend, check out ESPN's take on the forthcoming action.
Manchester United v ArsenalForm: Both teams were involved in crazy midweek fixtures in the Capital One Cup, United losing 5-4 at Chelsea and Arsenal coming back from the dead to beat Reading 7-5. Neither side will be happy with their recent defensive efforts, but United got their title push back on track by winning at Stamford Bridge last weekend, while Arsenal snapped a losing run by scraping past QPR.
Key battle: If Arsenal are to have any chance in the fixture, they need to win the midfield battle - which, on paper, they have a good chance of doing after the return of Jack Wilshere to first-team action against QPR. If Santi Cazorla can sneak into a bit of space between the lines, the United defence could be in for a torrid time.
Player to watch: Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's United's Robin van Persie, up against his former employers for the first time. He has maintained his goalscoring knack since moving to Old Trafford and is likely to be fired up for the occasion, with the visiting fans tipped to give him a frosty reception - even though Arsene Wenger has asked them not to. Arsenal clearly miss the Dutchman, and expect him to remind them just how much.
Talking point: The Gunners were discussed as title contenders after the win at Liverpool earlier in the season - but how quickly it all changes. A defeat against United leaves their top-four hopes in jeopardy. After the feisty AGM last month, how much longer before the dissent around Wenger reaches boiling point?
Bet of the day: Arsenal HT/Manchester United FT, 18/1 with bet365
West Ham v Manchester City - Live on ESPNForm: The champions are in decent form, undefeated in the last six league contests with four successive victories to their credit - indeed, they are yet to taste defeat this term as they look to defend the crown they won in such dramatic circumstances. West Ham have a more mixed record befitting of a newly promoted side, with two wins, two draws and, yes, two defeats in their last six.
Key battle: It will be interesting to see how Kevin Nolan enjoys his midfield battle with Yaya Toure - an old-school Premier League central midfielder against the prototypical modern allrounder.
Player to watch: Against a former club he still professes to love, Carlos Tevez will no doubt get a hero's welcome at Upton Park - and his day may get better from there as he looks to add to his goalscoring tally.
Talking point: After recent revelations about Roberto Mancini's dalliances with Monaco last season, coupled with the club's poor Champions League form, could some untimely results in the league - starting at Upton Park - lead to his dismissal? Or has that title win earned him more time than we usually expect from billionaire owners?
Bet of the day: Vincent Kompany has had an uncharacteristically difficult couple of weeks, and we expect Andy Carroll to take advantage and net at some point at 11/5 with bet365 - even if it ultimately proves little more than a consolation.
Fulham v EvertonForm: Two sides challenging for the top four right now, with Fulham three points adrift of Tottenham, while Everton are only a point shy of the current incumbents. Both teams are coming off thrilling draws, against Reading and Liverpool respectively, and the Cottagers have won three of four home league games this season.
Key battle: Bryan Ruiz brings a touch of class to the Fulham attack and will look to repeat the stunning strike he notched at Reading. Phil Jagielka has been immense for Everton this season but may not enjoy the sight of the Fulham man dropping into spaces in front of the Everton defence.
Player to watch: Kevin Mirallas gave Andre Wisdom a nightmare for 45 minutes before being forced off in the Merseyside derby. He is expected to return at Fulham, and provides a real threat from the left wing.
Talking point: Can either side put up a genuine challenge for Champions League places this season? On paper their starting XIs don't rival the likes of Spurs and Arsenal, but the collective result has been impressive so far.
Bet of the day: Make things interesting with an own goal at 7/1 with bet365
Norwich v StokeForm: Norwich may be concerned with their recent run of results - they have won just one of their last six Premier League encounters (although that was against Arsenal), with two draws ensuring a relatively meagre return of five points. Stoke have hardly fared much better - claiming six points over the same period, with three draws aiding their tally - while they have yet to pick up a win on the road this season
Key battle: Wes Hoolahan has been employed as Norwich's main creative threat in behind Grant Holt in recent weeks, but he will need to be on form if he is to make an impact against a packed Stoke midfield that could well include the dogged Glenn Whelan and the combative Steven Nzonzi - not to mention, in Charlie Adam, a player as creative as Hoolahan can be.
Player to watch: Alexander Tettey has emerged as a positive presence for the Canaries since joining the club from Rennes in the summer, and could add to his burgeoning reputation with a resilient performance in a game that is sure to be a tough battle throughout.
Talking point: Win, lose or draw, will Norwich boss Chris Hughton accuse Stoke of 'playing like Everton' in the aftermath of this one? That's the big question.
Bet of the day: Stoke get a bad press for their physical style (something they are actually trying to rectify this season), but Norwich know how to put a foot in too. Over 3.5 cards in this game seems a shoo-in at 10/11 with bet365
Sunderland v Aston VillaForm: Sunderland have won one of eight games this season, registering the lowest total of shots on target in the division. Villa are doing even worse, with one victory in nine, and Darren Bent still can't get in the team.
Key battle: Steven Fletcher is almost the sole source of goals for Sunderland, but he comes up against just about the only player in the Villa team to have earned credit this season. Ron Vlaar has impressed since his summer move and will aim to keep the Scotland international quiet to guarantee a clean sheet.
Player to watch: Brad Guzan. Likened to Peter Schmeichel after his heroics against Norwich last week, Guzan may not be needed against Sunderland's impotent attack, but if he is he will more than likely be up to the challenge.
Talking point: Should Premier League clubs be fined for failing to register a single shot on target in a game, as Sunderland did at Stoke? Fans pay good money for their tickets, and that's just embarrassing.
Bet of the day: In a match featuring two hugely uninspiring teams, back the 0-0 draw at 7/1 with bet365
Swansea v ChelseaForm: After an encouraging start, Swansea have only managed to claim four points from a possible 18 in recent league encounters - although Michael Laudrup has tasted defeat at the Liberty Stadium once so far in the league. For Chelsea, meanwhile, recent weeks have been somewhat overshadowed by off-the-pitch distractions but where it counts the Blues have been prolific - claiming four wins and a solitary draw before last weekend's controversial home defeat to Manchester United.
Key battle: Jonathan de Guzman has shown enough to suggest he will be a very shrewd signing for Laudrup this season, but the former Villarreal loanee faces an altogether tougher opponent than he might be used to this week, as the effervescent Ramires shows him what running really is.
Player to watch: Too indispensible to rest in midweek, Chelsea could well be forced to cope without Juan Mata for this one - placing extra pressure on Eden Hazard to create gilt-edged chances for himself and his team-mates.
Talking point: The Blues are built for goals, and the last few games have only proven that to be case. With Swansea also set out to play an attacking game - could we see another multi-goal fest in this one?
Bet of the day: We are going out on something of a limb and predicting more than 2.5 goals in the first half of the match, a punt you can get for 11/2 with bet365
Tottenham v WiganForm: Tottenham have been quietly going about their business in the last few weeks, rising to second in the form table with five wins from their last six games. Defeat to Chelsea, the early season pace-setters, is their only recent blip. Wigan, perhaps unsurprisingly, can only dream of such productive times - they've lost four of their last six, with a win against West Ham in their most recent outing offering cause for optimism.
Key battle: This fixture was 9-1 not so long ago, something Ali Al-Habsi will be eager to ensure does not happen again. Jermain Defoe, meanwhile, would love to score a couple in a similarly one-sided contest - if only to ensure the frustrated Emmanuel Adebayor isn't handed reason to expect an imminent return to the starting line-up.
Player to watch: After being called up to Argentina's international squad, Franco di Santo will want to put in a performance that silences the doubters who are convinced it is all a horrible, horrible mistake.
Talking point: Andre Villas-Boas insists that he has no concerns about playing Steven Caulker, even as the young defender faces attempted charges from Serbian police after getting caught up in a ruckus at the end of an Under-21 match. Surely the uncertainty of the situation will have an effect on the former Swansea loanee, though?
Bet of the day: For whatever reason, we fancy Tottenham to win - and convert - a penalty, at 9/2 with bet365
QPR v ReadingForm: QPR have the somewhat dubious honour of being rock bottom of the current form table, having acquired a paltry two points from their last six games - with draws against Chelsea and Everton providing the glimmers of hope. Reading haven't exactly done much better, however, their three points coming from the same period - Newcastle, Swansea and Fulham the sides held.
Key battle: Julio Cesar has shown his quality with some amazing saves already this season, but that has yet to translate into points for his side. The imposing Pavel Pogrebnyak - fresh off a Capital One Cup goal against Arsenal - will look to ensure that continues.
Player to watch: While far too soon to call it a relegation six-pointer, the recent form of the two sides lends this game an extra air of importance. On such occasions, it's the mercurial Adel Taarabt who QPR usually turn to for some much-needed inspiration.
Talking point: QPR owner Tony Fernandes has given manager Mark Hughes his backing so often in recent times that it is almost a case of 'the Malaysian billionaire doth protest too much'. Would a defeat in this scrap lead to a change of heart?
Bet of the day: Reading won 3-2 when the two sides met in the Carling Cup, but this will be a different atmosphere. A draw at half-time with QPR winning at full-time is 15/4 with bet365
Liverpool v NewcastleForm: In a battle of 12th v 10th, Liverpool are actually unbeaten in their last four league games, although they come into Sunday's encounter off the back of a dire loss to Swansea in the Capital One Cup. The outlook seems brighter for Newcastle, who fluked a win over West Brom last time out, but they are only three points ahead in the table.
Key battle: Luis Suarez carries nearly all responsibility for Liverpool's goalscoring hopes at the moment, but his finishing is as reliable as the studs that occasionally fail to keep him on two feet. If Tim Krul can frustrate the Uruguayan, another scoreless afternoon may beckon for the Reds at Anfield.
Player to watch: Papiss Cisse. Rumoured to be unhappy with his lack of first-team action at times this season, the forward has been linked with a January move to Liverpool. There's no better way to put yourself in the shop window, or earn your starting spot back, than by scoring.
Talking point: How much would Liverpool be able to raise if they sold Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson - as reported in several of Friday's papers. Would a cumulative £30 million be ambitious?
Bet of the day: Very simply, there are times when you have to let the odds pick you. Newcastle to win is 5/1 with bet365