Premier League preview
All eyes will be on North London as Tottenham and Arsenal compete for points, local bragging rights and the upper hand in the race for a top-four finish.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 08/03/13 10:44am
All eyes will be on North London this weekend as Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal compete for points, local bragging rights and the upper-hand in the race for a top-four finish.
But before two old adversaries lock horns at White Hart Lane, Saturday brings eight Premier League fixtures - with intriguing tussles set to influence events at the top and bottom of the table.
Manchester United have opened up a 12-point lead at the summit, and will edge further into the distance if they can overcome Norwich City at Old Trafford. The Red Devils have offered no indication that they are about to take their eye off the ball and will be looking to establish domestic momentum heading into their eagerly-anticipated UEFA Champions League clash with Real Madrid on Tuesday. Norwich, though, are one of only three sides to have got the better of United this season and will be setting their stall out to make life as difficult as possible for Sir Alex Ferguson's title chasers - with it possible that the Canaries could yet be dragged into a relegation dogfight.
It will be interesting to see whether Chelsea fans go any easier on interim boss Rafa Benitez when they return to Stamford Bridge for a home date with West Bromwich Albion. The Spaniard let rip at a disgruntled fan base following a midweek FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough and has already conceded that he will not be staying on past the end of the season. He may not be sticking around for 2013/14, but Benitez will want to leave Chelsea with the club looking forward to another Champions League campaign. One win in four has them sweating on a seat at European football's top table, and West Brom have offered enough in securing successive victories to suggest that it could be another testing afternoon for the locals in West London.
Everton have yet to throw in the towel when it comes to forcing their way into the top four, but they need to get their challenge back on track at home to struggling Reading if they are to concern the other contenders. David Moyes' men have suffered back-to-back defeats in the league to slip seven points off the pace. Reading will head to Merseyside hoping for another stumble from the hosts, with the Royals having also come unstuck in their last two top-flight outings to slip deeper into the relegation mire. Brian McDermott's side are only one point adrift of safety, but have slumped to second from bottom in the standings.
Queens Park Rangers continue to prop up the division, with Harry Redknapp's arrival as manager yet to make the desired impact. QPR still have just two wins to their name this season and have a seven-point gap to bridge if they are to take their stay among English football's elite into a third campaign. They will be heading out on the road this weekend and will need no reminding how crucial it is for them to take something from a trip to Southampton. Redknapp will come in for plenty of stick from the home support - given his strong ties to local rivals Portsmouth - and he will hope that frees his players to raise their game and drag a fellow struggler back into the basement battle.
Swansea City's first outing since lifting the Capital One Cup sees them play host to Newcastle United. There is likely to be a party atmosphere inside the Liberty Stadium, but Michael Laudrup will be determined to ensure that the Swans suffer no Wembley hangover. A lofty finish in the Premier League is still there to be shot at, with the top six well within reach. Newcastle found themselves chasing such targets last term, but have found the going a little tougher this time around. They do, however, appear to have finally got going and will be chasing a fourth win in five when they make the long journey to South Wales.
West Ham United have earned plenty of plaudits this season, but they suddenly find themselves glancing anxiously over their shoulder. A run of four defeats in five has arrived at just the wrong time for Sam Allardyce and his troops, with there now just six points separating them from the top-flight trapdoor. The Hammers know only too well that no side is 'too good to go down' and will be looking to start pulling in the right direction when they travel to Stoke City - another side that have found wins hard to come by of late.
Sunderland have failed to take anything from their last three fixtures, with the Black Cats having suffered from inconsistency all season. Martin O'Neill needs to find a spark from somewhere, as the North East outfit cannot afford to rely on the failings of others to see them safe. A home date with Fulham may have arrived at just the right time, as the Cottagers are notoriously poor travellers. Martin Jol's men have picked up just two wins on the road in 2012/13, and it is their form at Craven Cottage which has them sat in mid-table.
The final game on Saturday sees Wigan Athletic take in a North West derby with Liverpool. It was around this time last season that the Latics came into their own, piecing together a remarkable run of results to steer clear of trouble. They will be looking to repeat those heroics 12 months on, with only goal difference keeping their head above water at present. Liverpool have failed to emerge victorious on their last four visits to the DW Stadium, but Brendan Rodgers will be looking to hammer home the need to buck that trend this time around and kick on towards the European places.
There is just one Premier League fixture on Sunday, but it promises to be a tasty one. Meetings between Tottenham and Arsenal always have plenty riding on them, but their latest derby duel will take things to another level. Spurs have edged their way into third place and are setting their sights on ending the season as top dogs in the capital. Arsenal, meanwhile, are four points behind their rivals and have work to do if they are to preserve their perfect Champions League qualification record under Arsene Wenger. Whatever happens at White Hart Lane, entertainment is guaranteed - with there having been just one goalless draw in contests featuring North London's finest since 1998 and 53 goals plundered in their last 11 derby dates in all competitions.