Premier League preview
It has been a season of misery for Arsenal but they have the chance to restore some pride this weekend in the Premier League.
Last Updated: 25/02/12 9:02am
It has been a season of misery for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger but they have the chance to restore some pride this weekend in the Premier League.
After successive defeats, by AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League and Sunderland in the FA Cup, Arsenal welcome North London rivals Tottenham to the Emirates on Sunday.
Manchester City have a two-point lead at the top of the table and they host Blackburn, while Manchester United will look to keep the pressure on against Norwich.
Elsewhere, another man under pressure Andre Villas-Boas sees his Chelsea side take on Bolton as Wolves, led by Terry Connor, play Newcastle at St James' Park.
Qualification for next year's Champions League is all Arsenal have to play for now but local bragging rights are at stake against Tottenham on Sunday, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 1.30pm. Ten points separate the two teams with Spurs still with an outside chance of making a title challenge this season, enjoying a fantastic campaign in which they have played with real style and panache. A short way south and Arsene Wenger's methods are coming under scrutiny once again. It looks like being seven years without a trophy for the Gunners but victory this weekend would go some way to repairing the damage.
Villas-Boas watched Chelsea produce a decent performance at Napoli on Tuesday night but the defensive frailties that have blighted the West Londoners this campaign surfaced again. The Blues ended up losing 3-1 in Italy to crank the pressure up on the Portuguese who needs a win and a good display against Bolton to pick up spirits. Rumours of dressing-room unrest are rife but Roman Abramovich has so far backed his manager through this difficult period - how long that support remains is anyone's guess. Bolton are currently second bottom with just one point from a possible nine - Owen Coyle also needs a result.
Manchester City bounced back from their defeat at Everton with league victories over Fulham and Aston Villa and thrashed Porto 4-0 in the Europa League on Wednesday. While the debate over Carlos Tevez's future rumbles on City will just be focusing on each game as the business end of the season looms large. Manchester United have the experience of many title run-ins under their belt, but for Roberto Mancini and company it is uncharted territory. They take on Blackburn Rovers on Saturday evening, who themselves are desperately trying to pull away from the relegation zone after a turbulent season. Watch the action live on Sky Sports 2 and HD2 from 5.30pm.
Europa League duty on Thursday means United play their next game on Sunday - with a trip to Norwich City in store. Sir Alex Ferguson confessed to not playing the right side against Ajax but, despite a defeat on the night at Old Trafford, they progressed on aggregate and face Athletic Bilbao in the next round. A dramatic draw at Chelsea and three points against Liverpool in the Premier League have demonstrated the champions' resolve in recent weeks and they will need to keep proving their steel in the coming months. Norwich, though, will prove tough opponents and Paul Lambert deserves great credit for the job he has done this term. The Canaries currently sit eighth in the division following back-to-back wins.
After the sacking of Mick McCarthy following Wolves' last league game, a 5-1 home defeat by West Brom, they have been unable to agree terms with a new manager so Connor will take charge of the team until the end of the season. Formerly McCarthy's assistant at Molineux, Connor has the unenviable task of keeping Wolves in the top flight with the Black Country outfit sitting in the bottom three with just 13 games remaining. His first task will be to rally the troops ahead of Saturday's trip to Newcastle, where the sixth-placed Magpies lie in wait. Alan Pardew will be looking for a reaction from the 5-0 humbling at Tottenham and his side have the opportunity to increase their lead over Liverpool, who play in the Carling Cup final this weekend.
As well as the North London derby in store this weekend there is another local clash in the capital with Queens Park Rangers locking horns with Fulham at Loftus Road. Rangers are on a poor run and have not won since beating Wigan back in January. Mark Hughes will have been disappointed with successive defeats by Wolves and Blackburn with his side just two points off the bottom of the table. They currently sit outside the relegation zone but with things so tight at the wrong end, they need to find some form quickly. Fulham look to have enough quality to avoid slipping into the dogfight this term but Martin Jol's men have been hit-and-miss - producing some excellent displays but also some extremely lacklustre ones.
Wigan are rooted to the bottom but a win against Aston Villa could remarkably see them climb to 16th. Three much-needed points at Bolton last time out have given Roberto Martinez a platform on which to build but they need these sporadic victories to be transformed into mini-runs of form. That has not materialised yet this season but the Spaniard will hope that can change against inconsistent Villa. Alex McLeish continues to be criticised for negative football and his side have lost their last two matches.
Martin O'Neill's stock rose further following the recent FA Cup success over Arsenal but it is in the league where Sunderland's transformation has been most impressive. O'Neill inherited a team struggling at the wrong end of the table under Steve Bruce but they now sit ninth in the standings and are looking to gun-down the sides above them. Sunderland are four points above West Brom ahead of their meeting at The Hawthorns on Saturday although the Baggies will be buoyed by their recent demolition of Wolves.
Finally, Stoke take on Swansea at the Britannia Stadium fresh from their travails in Valencia. The Potters fell 1-0 in Spain to go out of the Europa League 2-0 on aggregate, although Tony Pulis left nine first-team regulars out of the squad for the match at the Mestalla. He defended his selection ahead of the Swansea game, but it perhaps gives an indication of how important he believes three points are on Sunday. The Swans will be kicking themselves after losing to Norwich last time out and there will be two different brands of football on show here.