Leaders Chelsea travel to Swansea, Manchester City visit West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur host Wigan as the battle intensifies at both ends of the table.
Old rivals Manchester United and Arsenal are pitted together in the Saturday lunchtime encounter, live on Sky Sports 2HD, and all the signs suggest there will be an abundance of goals. The Gunners came from behind to beat Reading 7-5 in an extraordinary Capital One Cup tie in midweek, while Manchester United’s 5-4 defeat by Chelsea was only marginally less dramatic. It was also 8-2 to the Red Devils in the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford last season and another victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men would lift them, perhaps only temporarily, above Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. Arsenal will be determined not to let that happen and stay in touch with the leading pack, but it will be a tough task against a formidable attacking line-up almost certain to include former Emirates Stadium favourite Robin van Persie.
While Chelsea were able to get the better of United in the League Cup, their loss to the same opponents last Sunday left them with just a one-point advantage in the title race and the fallout from the controversial clash has dominated the week’s headlines, with a formal complaint made to the Football Association over referee Mark Clattenburg’s alleged racist comment to John Obi Mikel. Roberto Di Matteo’s Blues will now be looking to get back to top form by beating a Swansea City side buoyed by their own passage to the Capital One Cup quarter-finals.
Manchester City are now the only unbeaten side in the division and if Chelsea slip up there is a chance they could move into first place with a win in Saturday’s late kick-off. Roberto Mancini has had to contend with criticism during the early part of the campaign but last weekend’s victory over Swansea was their fourth in a row in the league. West Ham United will be trying to stop it becoming five at Upton Park, and Sam Allardyce’s team have competed well so far on their return to the top flight to occupy a mid-table berth.
Reading have not fared so well since earning promotion and are without a win in their eight league games, while Tuesday’s incredible loss to Arsenal will also be difficult to recover from. The Royals will have to bounce back quickly, though, as they prepare to do battle with fellow strugglers Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, in a match that can be seen live on Sky Sports 1HD from 1pm. QPR are currently bottom of the table with just three points and owner Tony Fernandes has again had to give his backing to manager Mark Hughes this week following reports he will be axed if Reading are not beaten.
Sunday’s second match, also live on Sky Sports 1HD, sees Liverpool entertain Newcastle United at Anfield. It is a contest that traditionally produces plenty of excitement but neither side have been performing at their best this season, with the Reds lying 12th and knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Brendan Rodgers’ former club Swansea this week. Newcastle are just a couple of places higher up the standings after Papiss Cisse’s fortunate late winner against West Bromwich Albion last time out.
Tottenham Hotspur are currently fourth, five points adrift of Chelsea, after holding on for a 2-1 victory at Southampton in their most recent Premier League outing. Andre Villas-Boas’ men have since bowed out of the Capital One Cup at the hands of Norwich City, and will be aiming to get back on track against a Wigan Athletic side knocked out on penalties by Bradford City. The Latics have a four-point cushion above the relegation zone and will hope to push into mid-table, although they have not always excelled at White Hart Lane and were thrashed 9-1 three years ago.
Everton are a point behind Spurs in fifth but have just started to lose ground on the leading group after three straight draws, and next face a difficult trip to Fulham. The Cottagers have made a quietly impressive start to the season and can overtake the Toffees if they continue their fine home form and pick up three points.
Martin O’Neill will come up against his former club at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland face Aston Villa in a meeting between two sides struggling to find the net. The Black Cats, who have netted just six times in the league, have at least proved difficult to beat and will be confident of surging up the table once their attacking players click into gear and take the burden off Steven Fletcher. Paul Lambert’s Villa are just a couple of points ahead of the bottom three and need a win to take the pressure off their manager.
An upturn in form has eased the scrutiny on Chris Hughton at Norwich, with the Canaries apparently heading in the right direction after a run of three games unbeaten in all competitions. Stoke City are the visitors to Carrow Road on Saturday, and Tony Pulis will be looking for just a second victory of the season after a tough start when the Potters have had to face most of the top sides.