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By Ryan Moran

  • Liverpool sign Steven Caulker to boost defensive numbers because of injury.
  • White Hart Lane welcomes Leicester for the second time in three days.
  • Valuable three points at the Liberty Stadium, Sunderland the visitors.

Liverpool, UK – With only a matter of days to recover from the toil and torture of the FA Cup, league actions returns, Arsenal travel to Liverpool and Leicester take on fourth placed Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Liverpool vs Arsenal

The cruel nature of the FA Cup nearly took its first major casualty as Liverpool twice came from behind against League Two Exeter. Arsenal recorded a routine victory over a struggling Sunderland side, but both sides have injury concerns, one side has dealt with theirs slightly better than the other.

In a long season, these two sides have been hit hard early with an ever growing list of injuries, testing the strength and depth in the squad. The Gunners, who are currently top of the league, have Mesut Ozil returning after injury, Aaron Ramsey filling the void effectively, scoring the second goal in his side’s cup victory.

Liverpool’s defensive line has been boosted with the loan signing of Steven Caulker, brought in to help deal with the threat of crosses, something that has been a major problem in recent weeks. Centre backs Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho return to give Jurgen Klopp the choice of more experienced players at the back. Crosses were a key component of the Gunners’ play against Sunderland, Hector Bellerin a constant thorn in Patrick Van Aanholt’s side, given recent performances Klopp will be hoping to limit Bellerin to few opportunities down the right flank.

Tottenham vs Leicester

Harry Kane prevented Tottenham from an early FA Cup exit as the sides will play three times in 10 days, this the second clash between them. With both sides occupying a top four place, stronger sides will be on show in the league meeting, Jamie Vardy likely to return for Leicester and Hugo Lloris expected to be back between the posts for Tottenham.

Dele Alli signed a contract extension until 2021 this week, the midfielder will be hoping to cap his extension with a goal. Demarai Gray featured and assisted the Foxes’ opening goal in Sunday’s encounter, crossing for Marcin Wasilewski’s header, it is expected that the winger will play a smaller part on Wednesday evening.

Leicester have suffered a dip in form, that coming in parallel with the lack of impact Riyad Mahrez and Vardy have had, the pair imperative to their sides success. Victory for Spurs will move them within one point, while the away side need to keep winning to keep the pressure on Arsenal, two points clear at the top.

Manchester City vs Everton

Both sides featured in the FA Cup draw on Monday night, Manchester City completing a comprehensive victory over Norwich and Everton avoiding the banana skin of Dagenham and Redbridge. The sides now meet at the Etihad, with the Toffees having the edge after gaining a 2-1 advantage in the League Cup first leg.

Season targets for both sides will differ because of league position, cups being Everton’s likely source of silverware, while City still have a chance of placing two hands on the Premier League trophy. Sergio Aguero and David Silva are likely to start, a dangerous partnership when fully fit to counter that of Romelu Lukaku, leading the line for the Toffees.

What is clear is that result of this game could alter the stance of the second leg of the Capital One Cup, which could be a heated affair if Everton claim victory on Wednesday evening.

Newcastle United vs Manchester United

Under fire manager Louis Van Gaal will be feeling the heat after fans left their FA Cup tie with Sheffield United early. Claims that the Red Devils have become a ‘boring’ side to watch have been directed at the manager, and a loss at Newcastle could be the final straw for the owners, with a dark cloud slowly descending over one of the heavy weights of English football.

Jonjo Shelvey has joined Newcastle for £12m but that doesn’t help the Magpies in Tuesdays encounter. Steve Mclaren’s side appear to be lacking firepower, similar to United, a narrow defeat to Watford ended their cup hopes for another season. Henri Saivet also bolsters the midfield ranks at St James’ Park but he will not feature in Tuesdays game either.

Bastian Schweinsteiger misses out with a knee injury while Wayne Rooney will be relied upon for goals, having scored in his last two appearances. Memphis Depay was praised for an improved display against a League One outfit with Juan Mata being subbed early for a poor performance.

Intent is lacking for United, who will hope to ignite a spark in their season against Newcastle. With Swansea and Sunderland facing off in Wales, only a win will stop the deficit between relegation and safety increasing for Newcastle.

Chelsea vs West Bromwich Albion

Guus Hiddink’s reign as Chelsea manager is yet to feature a loss in his second spell in charge. The Dutchman has received plaudits for Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s first goal, while it was in fact Jose Mourinho who gave the youngster his break. West Brom have won two successive games in the league, can they make it a third against Chelsea?

Diego Costa is likely to start while Eden Hazard will play no part against the Baggies. Stamford Bridge has always been a fortress for Chelsea in the league, now under Hiddink the Blues are continuing to rebuild their season, victory taking the home side above their opponents.

AFC Bournemouth vs West Ham United

Eddie Howe has been getting business done early in the window, three attackers already signed on the south coast. Juan Iturbe has signed on loan, Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban have also signed on permanent deals.

West Ham have now gone eight games unbeaten, two consecutive victories have seen the Hammers move within four points of the Champion’s League places. Bournemouth’s form improved but lacked a goal scorer and with Callum Wilson injured, Glenn Murray was the only recognised striker with Premier League experience.

A 2-0 victory over Liverpool was the Hammers’ last league result, Andy Carroll crucial to that victory, putting pressure on the centre halves. Both teams like to play counter attacking football, West Ham are likely to retain more possession, Dimitri Payet’s return aiding his side’s improved performances with the Frenchman acting as the playmaker.

While the Cherries are four point above the relegation zone, only victory will keep that breathing space, and with a strong Hammers side in their way, a point would be welcomed by Bournemouth.

Swansea City vs Sunderland

Both sides dropped out of all cup competitions having been defeated in the FA Cup, their league survival is the sole focus, with three points even more valuable as the sides go head to head in Wales.

Sunderland had the lead in their fixture against Arsenal, Jeremaine Lens scoring, the game soon turned in Arsenal’s favour as the floodgates opened, with defensive gaps showing. The transfer window gives both managers their chance to put their stamp on the sides and guide their team to Premier League safety. Jan Kirchhoff joins the Black Cats, a much needed signing to tighten up a defence that has leaked the most goals in the league, 39 in 20 games.

The departure of Shelvey leaves the Swans a man short in midfield and having lost to Oxford United in the FA Cup, redemption will be on the cards as a full strength squad is likely to be named.

With Swansea two points from safety, only a victory will confirm they don’t fall into the drop zone, while defeat for Sunderland only increases the amount of points needed to climb to avoid dropping into the Championship.

Of the week’s other fixtures:

Aston Villa vs Crystal Palace

Southampton vs Watford

Stoke vs Norwich

Newcastle take on Manchester United in one of three fixtures on 12th January, the other seven being played a day later on 13th January.

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