D-Day for Gunners, Soldado needs support

Friday 8th November 2013 19:12

Man United's epic battle with Arsenal, Man City's poor away form, and the prospect of Defoe partnering Soldado feature in our weekend preview.

Arsenal, this is the one...

This is the reason why Arsenal fans have refused to get excited, to hope, believe and dream. It is the 8-2 in 2011. It is the 3-1 in the UEFA Champions League in 2009. It is the 2-0 in 2004 to break the Invincibles and it is the 6-1 in 2001 - five goals conceded in the first 40 minutes. Whatever Arsenal's level of performance up to now, until they have done it against United, at Old Trafford, doubts will still remain.

It might just be three points but if they lose on Sunday it will mean so much more psychologically. Win, and they should immediately be installed as title favourites, because they will have no more psychological hoops through which to jump. Arsenal no longer have a reason to be afraid of United but that does not mean supporters will not have fear. Football supporters never forget.

Beat the big boys

David Moyes can be optimistic about his side's resurgence in the Premier League, if three wins and a draw in four games does indeed warrant such a description. But Sunderland, Stoke City and Fulham are teams any United fan simply would presume will be beaten. That is not a sign of arrogance or complacency, simply an expectancy borne through past experience.

Therefore, the success of a manager at Old Trafford depends on performance in the highest-profile games, because these are the 'want to win' matches, when reputations can be enhanced, rather than 'expect to win' matches, when they can only be preserved. In Manchester United's three biggest fixtures this season (Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City) they are yet to turn in more than 30 continuous minutes of energetic, positive football.

On Sunday against Arsenal, live on Sky Sports 1HD and 3D, Moyes has his fourth opportunity to genuinely impress. If they play as poorly as they did against City and Liverpool, Arsenal in this form will overrun them in midfield, and they will swarm over a defence that has just two league clean sheets this season.

Failing to beat Arsenal at home, establishing the normality of beating the weaker teams while rarely beating those around them - it has echoes of Everton under David Moyes.

Travel sickness

Manchester City may have been hugely impressive in the Champions League win over CSKA Moscow and last weekend's hammering of Norwich City but, in truth, they told us very little more than we already knew - Sergio Arguero is brilliant.

However, for a side with City's quality, their away form is appalling ahead of visiting Sunderland, live on Sky Sports 1HD on Sunday. Four points have been taken from five games thanks to a victory at West Ham and a dreary point at Stoke, with defeats at Aston Villa, Cardiff City and Chelsea. Even if City win every single home game, that away form would only be enough to gain 72 points, enough for fifth place last season - something has to give.

Few grounds should provide greater appeal than the Stadium of Light but it has not been a happy hunting ground for City of late. A record of three consecutive 1-0 defeats needs to be banished rather quickly. A repeat could leave then below United come Sunday evening, a distant thought following the derby victory in September.

Defoe or Soldado?

Ahead of Sunday's hosting of Newcastle United, which can be seen live on Sky Sports 1HD, Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas of course has a decision to make. Does he stick with goal-shy Roberto Soldado in his starting line-up, bring in Jermain Defoe after his Europa League heroics, or perhaps even both?

With Spurs having infamously scored only nine goals this season and the White Hart Lane faithful clamouring for more entertainment, maybe Villas-Boas even needs to look elsewhere. The lack of service from his inverted wingers is considered by many to be the biggest problem.

Hull of a job

Ten games in and Hull City have three fewer points than Manchester United and have already played Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton away from home. It is a start that celebrates the transcendent potential of sport in all its glory and yet the platitudes afforded to Steve Bruce and his team appear more transient, fleeting praise drafted in pencil not pen. Bruce is pragmatic enough not to be overly concerned about the failure of hardened hacks to effusively resurface predictions of a season akin to slow death on Humberside but it would be remiss not to at least attempt to redress the balance when visit Southampton among Saturday's 3pm kick-offs.

A man under pressure

Football management is ever a case of when, rather than if, your employment becomes untenable. But Norwich boss Hughton is now under big pressure. It seems mightily unfair to judge his performance against the Manchester clubs but 11 goals conceded in those two games is merely indicative of the club's current slump.

In their last five matches, Norwich have conceded a goal every 25 minutes and scored one every 225 minutes on average. A game against West Ham United on Sky Sports 1HD's Saturday Night Football is crucial if Hughton is to save himself.

Swansea slump

There is not yet room for any real panic for Swansea City but supporters will have been concerned to see their side drop below derby rivals Cardiff City in the table last weekend. Whilst last season's ninth-place finish was always going to be difficult to better, sitting just three points ahead of the bottom three is not acceptable ahead of hosting Stoke City on Sunday.

Furthermore, whilst Swansea's Europa League participation has not seemingly adversely affected the club's form (seven points from five games directly following Thursday matches is actually a better points-per-game than in alternative matches), this week provides the toughest test so far, a 2000-mile trip to Krasnodar, from which the squad will only return on Friday afternoon.

Playing this current Stoke side at home (Asmir Begovic is their joint top scorer) should be the perfect tonic for such fatigue. But Michael Laudrup will be keen to ensure a response follows the disappointment of derby defeat. The home win against Sunderland in October is their sole win in five Premier League games.

Southampton's priorities

Whilst 'concentrating on the league' is seen as perfectly valid reasoning for naming understrength sides in the Capital One Cup, there was something inherently disappointing about a club such as Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton effectively sacrificing an attempt to reach a cup quarter-final in midweek.

Ten changes for a defeat by Sunderland is not a phrase that stirs the footballing soul but it will pale into insignificance should they see off Hull with any modicum of comfort on Saturday. Should Southampton slip, their fans could see the cup exit as a huge shame.

Praise for Palace pair

Yes, yes, managerless Crystal Palace have had more than a few serious problems this season and last season's Championship play-off winners look like they could almost be relegated back to the second tier by Christmas. But that is not to say absolutely everything is wrong at Selhurst Park.

Keep an eye on captain Mile Jedinak and right-back Joel Ward when Palace host Everton this weekend. Central midfielder Jedinak has long been established as Palace's best player but Ward, a £400,000 signing from Bournemouth in May 2012, has also proved he can play in the Premier League. The pair have had the highest number of touches of the ball and passes of any Palace player in their last three games.

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