Premier League: Leaders Arsenal host Hiddink’s Chelsea
By Ryan Moran
- Jose Mourinho’s struggling Blues won 2-0 in the first league meeting this season.
- Leicester return to league action after being knocked out of the FA Cup.
- West Ham United hoping to complete the double over Manchester City.
Guus Hiddink hopes to continue the trend of league victory over Arsenal, with the Blues unbeaten in the last eight league encounters.
Arsenal vs Chelsea
Arsenal gain a boost ahead of their clash with a fierce Premier League rival in the form of Chelsea, with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez returning. The Gunners have been on the wrong end of the result five times in the last eight league meetings, drawing the other three. With their game changers returning, Arsene Wenger will hope his side can buck that trend.
Of the last eight encounters, the three draws all came at the Emirates Stadium, and with the departure of Jose Mourinho, the pre-match talk has been toned down. Wenger doesn’t have a good record against Hiddink either, the Dutchman’s Chelsea side beating Arsenal 4-1 at the Emirates, their heaviest defeat.
The away side are likely to include Eden Hazard and Diego Costa who have recovered from their respective injuries. Costa suffered a bruised shin against Everton but is expected to play a part, while Hazard has trained this week after picking up a groin injury.
With Chelsea unbeaten in their last six, they prove a tough nut to crack under Hiddink, while the leaders need a win to hold of Leicester at the top, who face Stoke at the King Power Stadium.
Leicester City vs Stoke City
In a clash that sees seventh against second, this will prove a tough encounter for the higher placed side. The Potters mix of a solid set up and European flair players have served them well on many occasions, none more so than against Manchester United at Christmas time.
The two blocks of four proved hard to break down, allowing the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic to break on the counter with pace, claiming victory against a powerhouse of modern football.
While Leicester have had that same effect this season, a chink in their armour is starting to show. Jamie Vardy is without a goal in six league games and seemed to lack confidence in Wednesdays FA Cup replay, taking a chance early instead of running at the defence, unreminiscent of the Vardy of late 2015. Riyad Mahrez has missed two penalties in his last three games, two players key to the Foxes success are out of form at the same time.
With Arsenal playing Chelsea, the opportunity may arise for Leicester to climb back to the top, if they can turn draws into victories. With West Ham taking on Manchester City, a win for Stoke could see the Potters into sixth come the end of the weekend.
West Ham United vs Manchester City
Slaven Bilic’s West Ham go in search of the double over Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City. Early success in away games saw the Hammers claim a 100% away win record with Arsenal, Liverpool and City on their list of challengers.
Diafra Sakho, who scored the winner at the Etihad Stadium in September, is unavailable along with Andy Carroll and Manuel Lanzini, big losses for Bilic considering their impact at different times this season. New signing Sam Byram, signing from Leeds United this week, could make his debut against one of the modern heavyweights of English football.
Fernandinho returns for City, a player coming into fruition this season, opposition finding the Brazilian tricky to track coming from deep to assist in attack. The away side are close to a full strength side, albeit without Vincent Kompany, with David Silva and Sergio Aguero making their impact felt in a 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace last weekend, Aguero scoring two and assisting Silva for the fourth.
City are seeking revenge and will be keeping an eye on the Emirates Stadium, hoping Chelsea will emerge victorious, with victory over the Hammers potentially moving the Citizens into top spot. West Ham could leapfrog Manchester United with a win, dependant on results elsewhere.
Crystal Palace vs Tottenham
Crystal Palace have hit a rough patch in recent weeks and will be hoping to turn their form around with the visit of Tottenham to Selhurst Park. Spurs showed their strength in depth, recording a 2-0 win over Leicester at the King Power Stadium, Son Heung-min blasting his side into the lead in that game.
Key players such a Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane all started on the bench in that midweek encounter, with both Alli and Kane playing a bit part in the victory. With Palace winless in five and Yannick Bolasie injured, the Eagles face an uphill battle to prevent the away side leaving empty handed.
Alan Pardew’s side haven’t scored in five games with a striker probably top of Pardew’s wish list. The London side’s decline down the table could continue with another defeat, while their North London opponents cannot afford to lose with United hot on their heels in fifth place.
Manchester United vs Southampton
Southampton travel to Old Trafford ready to flaunt their new £4 million signing from Queens Park Rangers, in the form of Charlie Austin. A player that was linked with most clubs in the top flight has finally made the jump to the Premier League, moving to the South Coast.
With Graziano Pelle carrying a knee injury, it is likely the ex-QPR striker will start in Manchester on Saturday. United have injuries themselves with Ashley Young facing a long time out with a groin injury, the prospect of surgery likely to be needed.
Austin will have to be on top form to score against a side who have kept 11 clean sheets already this campaign, and a world class keeper in David De Gea between the posts. Down the other end, Wayne Rooney is finding his feet once again in the goal scoring department, scoring in his last four games, a fifth goal in as many games would match a record he made in 2010.
Two sides in the upper reaches of the league will be hoping to keep tabs on those around them, with neither having breathing space. Defeat for either side is likely to see other teams climbing above them.
Norwich vs Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp hailed the signing of Timm Klose from Wolfsburg to Norwich as his side travel to face the Carrow Road outfit this weekend, in the early kick off. Another player who could make his debut is Steven Naismith, the ex-Everton striker completing a long awaited transfer to the Canaries.
Norwich won’t want to remember previous encounters between the two sides, with Luis Suarez condemning the East Anglian outfit to demolitions in recent times. Times have been less fruitful since the Uruguayan’s departure, with his old strike partner Daniel Sturridge struggling with injury.
Norwich will be upbeat for the visit of the Reds having gone unbeaten in their last five home league games, however they are looking to avoid a third straight defeat. Klopp’s side are yet to win in the league in 2016, can they claim victory in Saturdays early kick off?
Everton vs Swansea
Francesco Guidolin had his first taste of the Premier League as the Italian watched from the stands as his Swansea side ended a three game winless run with victory over Watford. Goals have been an issue for the Swans while their opposition have struggled defensively, an interesting encounter at Goodison Park ensues.
Roberto Martinez’s side have undoubted quality in Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu as well as John Stones in defence. It is in their back line that the Toffees have struggled, failing to close out games, most notably in the 3-3 draw with Chelsea as John Terry grabbed a 98th minute equaliser.
Home fans will hope for a win against a struggling side but the Welsh outfit have a point to prove under a new manager, if Guidolin can get Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis firing, Swansea should be clear of trouble come the end of the season.
Completing the round of fixtures:
Watford vs Newcastle United
Sunderland vs AFC Bournemouth
West Bromwich Albion vs Aston Villa
Ex-Chelsea goal keeper Cech welcomes his old side to the Emirates Stadium in the pick of the fixtures on Sunday, 16:00 GMT, while Norwich host Liverpool to kick off the weekends action at 12:45 GMT.
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