West Brom 2-4 Arsenal 2.45pm
Arsene Wenger recently conceded title defeat when he said Chelsea were unassailable, but Per Mertesacker believes Arsenal’s season is just about to start. The manager and the defender, who do we believe? Both. Wenger is right; Arsenal cannot catch Chelsea. Mertesacker is right; Arsenal can launch their quest for the seasonal fourth place finish using the midweek total dominance of Borussia Dortmund as a springboard to that ambition. Arsenal are currently in eighth place and look so out of ideas in the league that last week, an injury plagued United side needed just one shot on target to score twice and return to Manchester with all the three points as well as Arsenal’s rightful fourth place position. But it is not always easy when visiting The Hawthorns. And, despite Mertesacker’s confidence, Arsenal’s return to winning ways against Dortmund was overshadowed by confirmation that Jack Wilshere will be out for three months.
With Mikel Arteta also sidelined with a calf problem picked up against Dortmund, Wenger is running short of midfield options. And the Gunners suffered another blow when France Under-21 striker Yaya Sanogo, introduced for his first start since August, was forced off with a hamstring problem after scoring the opening goal against the German side. The Brommies will only have worries over lead striker Saido Berahino after his recent brush with the law, while James Morrison (illness) is a doubt, and Jonas Olsson (Achilles) is out after undergoing surgery.
Liverpool 2-1 Stoke 5pm
Brendan Rodgers is now the bookies favourite to be the first manager to earn the sack. Who would have imagined that at the start of the season? Such has been Liverpool’s torrid form that they are no longer even sure what they are doing in the league. Rodgers might survive the sack until December 9 when Basle visit Anfield for the do-or-die Champions League clash, but he now knows his this survival, more than anything else, depends on how he will fair in the next three fixtures starting with Stoke City, Leicester and Sunderland. Reds striker Mario Balotelli remains a fitness doubt and will be missed, while Rodgers faces a couple of other selection issues. Kolo Toure has done a solid job in his limited opportunities at centre-back and may get a start ahead of struggling Dejan Lovren. However, the visitor’s plans for the trip to Anfield have been thrown into chaos by a sickness bug sweeping through the camp. Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and utility player Geoff Cameron both missed training on Thursday, while right back Phil Bardsley was sent home as a precaution. This is a chance for Rodgers.
West Ham 2-2 Newcastle 5pm
The Hammers have been playing some good football and the fans have long since forgotten how they spent months baying for Sam Allardyce’s blood last season. They now walk into Boleyn Ground with remorse. Allardyce has changed from the boring hit and run football to a more entertaining style while keeping the usual ‘energy’ from his ‘blacks’-dominated squad. However, two draws and a loss in their last outing has dented their good start. Allan Pardew, after a run of wins that has also made Magpie fans forget this is the man they wanted to pay to leave their club, is now in the mood to party, but the Hammers will be a difficult task. A draw looks likely.
Sunderland 2-0 Chelsea 7.30pm
In April, last year, Gus Poyet’s Sunderland side need a miracle to survive the drop. They were rooted at the foot of the table. Then they pulled off a shock win at Stamford Bridge to end Jose Mourinho’s 77-game unbeaten home league run in two spells as Chelsea manager and helped derail the Blues title bid. Since then, Mourinho’s side have not lost in the league and are six points clear at the top after just 12 games. Winning has become so easy for Chelsea and they hardly remember what it feels to lose a game, while keeper Thibaut Courtois rarely feels what it is like to pick a ball from the back of his net. But coming up against the party spoilers like the Black Cats, Mour knows his unbeaten run could be at stake unless he can unleash revenge. Sunderland are spurred on by last season and will dent Chelsea’s surge.
Southampton 2-1 Man City 3.30pm
The Saints are still the team of the season no doubt. With a new manager and having lost their best players, the Southampton have been playing like title contenders, not just pretenders like we see with many small sides every season. But the true test of their pretence or otherwise comes this Sunday as they host champions City at St Mary’s Stadium. Ronald Koeman is in free spirits while Manuel Pellegrini knows only a win in this fixture will serve to show that they can need more than luck and Aguero to win games. City’s indifferent season will continue to hurt.
Spurs 1-2 Everton 6pm
A tough fixture. The two sides are only better than Liverpool so far but Spurs have this thing of struggling at home, and against a Merseysider, it makes it even worse. The Toffees are a place ahead of their host on the log on goal difference.
Valencia 1-3 Barcelona 10pm
Valencia have been the Achilles of Barca in the last few fixtures, including last season’s comprehensive win at Camp Nou that all but put Altetico Madrid on pole to win the title. However, when the two sides meet at Mestalla, the story is often different—in favour of the visitors. And this could just be another fixture where Messi will seek to add to his already record tally of La Liga goals, while Luis Suarez will want to stamp his mark on the league after finally breaking his duck in Barca shirt with a goal in Champions League midweek.