Premier League preview

Image: Arsenal can strengthen their position at the top with a victory at Liverpool

Liverpool's clash with Arsenal kicks off a big weekend also featuring a vital Welsh derby and key contests at both ends of the table.

Liverpool face Arsenal: Swansea meet Cardiff; Tottenham host Everton

Liverpool's clash with Arsenal kicks off a big weekend also featuring a vital Welsh derby and key contests at both ends of the table. Chelsea's victory at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night left the title race tantalisingly poised but it is Arsenal who lead by two points ahead of their trip to Anfield, with Jose Mourinho's men preparing to host Newcastle United and Manchester City travelling to Norwich City. Swansea City begin life without Michael Laudrup when they take on fierce rivals Cardiff City in Saturday teatime's televised clash, which is just one of several crucial matches at the foot of the division. Crystal Palace take on West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland entertain Hull City and West Ham United visit Aston Villa, while Stoke City lock horns with Southampton. Rock-bottom Fulham are in action against Manchester United as part of Super Sunday, when Tottenham Hotspur also meet Everton in a clash between two sides searching for a top-four finish.


Arsenal may remain third favourites with bookmakers to become champions but they have an opportunity to further boost their title hopes by winning away to Liverpool in Saturday's early kick-off. The Gunners are getting ready for a potentially pivotal run of fixtures across three competitions but, despite a host of injuries, they are in good form and will be looking to extend an eight-match unbeaten sequence. Liverpool are eight points adrift of their rivals in fourth and, with Brendan Rodgers this week admitting that top spot is probably out of reach, the focus will be on securing UEFA Champions League football. The Reds were held to a 1-1 draw at West Brom last week but have an excellent record on home soil this season and will hope to exact revenge for a 2-0 defeat at Emirates Stadium in November. Another side looking for revenge will be Chelsea, who were surprisingly beaten 2-0 by Newcastle earlier in the season but are looking increasingly like title contenders as they get ready to welcome Alan Pardew's men to Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho again proved to be the master tactician as Chelsea shattered Manchester City's air of invincibility at the Etihad with a 1-0 win and, undefeated since the turn of the year, they appear to be timing their charge to perfection. Newcastle are still in the hunt for Europa League qualification in eighth spot but have endured an unhappy spell since the departure of star man Yohan Cabaye to Paris St Germain, with a heavy derby defeat against Sunderland and more headlines about off-the-field events following Joe Kinnear's resignation as director of football. If Arsenal do slip up at Liverpool, then Manchester City are still in pole position to go top even after their loss to Chelsea. Manuel Pellegrini was frustrated by missed chances and left to bemoan a couple of important absentees, but he will be confident of bouncing back at Norwich on Saturday. Chris Hughton's Canaries were hit for seven in the reverse fixture at the Etihad and have continued to struggle for consistency, with a 2-1 defeat at Cardiff last time out leaving them just two points clear of trouble.
Welsh derby
Cardiff's victory was not enough to lift them out of the relegation zone but it did put them back within striking distance of safety and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will now hope to build on his first league win as boss in an eagerly-anticipated Welsh derby at the Liberty Stadium. Swansea, who lost at Cardiff three months ago, this week took the decision to dispense with Capital One Cup-winning manager Michael Laudrup after picking up just one win in their last 10 games. Garry Monk has taken up the reins, with Swansea currently 12th in the table but just two points above the bottom three. Rene Meulensteen is another boss under pressure as he prepares to take his Fulham side to Manchester United, where he spent over a decade as a coach, for a Sunday encounter that can be seen live on Sky Sports 1HD at 4pm. Meulensteen has found life difficult since taking charge at Craven Cottage and four straight defeats have left his side four points off 17th, while they were also knocked out of the FA Cup by Sheffield United in midweek and there is a different look to the squad following numerous comings and goings in January. A trip to Old Trafford has not struck the same fear into visiting sides this season, though, and United suffered a fresh setback last weekend when they lost 2-1 at Stoke. The result left David Moyes' men in seventh place, trailing fourth-placed Liverpool by seven points, and they have a lot of work to do to salvage a Champions League berth. Super Sunday starts with Tottenham's home game against Everton, live on Sky Sports 1HD at 1.30pm. Both sides are just outside the top four, with Spurs back in sixth after only managing to follow up their 5-1 loss to Manchester City with a 1-1 draw against Hull City. Tim Sherwood continues to insist that Tottenham need Champions League qualification, but they face a stern test against an Everton side a point higher in the table. Roberto Martinez's side came from behind to beat Aston Villa 2-1 last time out and could welcome back Gerard Deulofeu and Seamus Coleman from injury at White Hart Lane.
One player who will not be involved this weekend is Andy Carroll, after West Ham lost their appeal against the red card he received in the win over Swansea. It will be a major blow for the Hammers to be without the striker for three games after he only recently returned to action, but they will hope to get some momentum from last weekend's victory and move out of the drop zone. The table is so congested that Aston Villa have just a five-point cushion but are as high as 10th, and a home win on Saturday would ease any lingering fears about being dragged back into the scrap for survival. Crystal Palace and West Brom are just above the relegation places ahead of their meeting at Selhurst Park. Palace had recorded back-to-back home wins against Stoke and Hull before losing 2-0 to Arsenal last weekend despite another battling performance. West Brom also fought hard last time out and managed to earn a 1-1 draw with Liverpool to stay one point clear of the trapdoor. Having previously held Everton and lost to Midlands rivals Villa, Pepe Mel will now be hoping for a first win as Baggies boss. Two other sides in the bottom-half dogfight are Sunderland and Hull City, although they have been heading in opposite directions over the past few weeks. The Black Cats have been propelled into 14th place after picking up 10 points from their last four games, including a stunning 3-0 success away to North East rivals Newcastle, and will feel they can now push towards the top half. Hull are level on points with Sunderland after drawing with Tottenham last weekend to bring to a halt a four-match losing stretch, and Steve Bruce will be relishing the prospect of trying to derail his former club's recent revival. Saturday's final game pits Southampton against Stoke at St Mary's. Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez will be looking to further press their England claims after scoring in a 3-0 triumph at Fulham which consolidated Saints' position in ninth, while Stoke ended a six-match winless run in style as Charlie Adam's brace inspired a 2-1 victory over Manchester United, although they remain just three points above the bottom three.

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