Premier League: Things to look out for this weekend

Premier League: Things to look out for this weekend

1) Friday night frights could await Gunners

It would be a dereliction of duty if Arsène Wenger has not spent the past few days coming up with a way to stop Liverpool’s fearsome attack from running riot at the Emirates Stadium on Friday night. Arsenal’s manager cannot say that he has not been warned. He knows how much his team has suffered against these opponents since Jürgen Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside in October 2015 and nobody could say it was a surprise when Liverpool hammered Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield in August, with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah inspired and Philippe Coutinho not even involved. It was, to be brutally honest, an entirely predictable result given that, under Klopp, Liverpool have won three times and drawn once with Wenger’s side, scoring 14 in the process. There is proof that their attacking formula is capable of ripping Arsenal to shreds, so it is up to Wenger to change. Arsenal, who were caught on the counterattack by United three weeks ago, have to find the right balance. Playing with carefree abandon against this Liverpool side could have dire consequences. JS

2) Pardew’s first win could spell end for Hughes at Stoke

Mark Hughes’s job may be in jeopardy but he is unlikely to give a start this weekend to Saido Berahino, the striker he spent many months pursuing before eventually prising him from West Brom for £12m. That alludes to just one of the reasons for which Stoke are in danger of relegation: when a club spends as sparingly as Stoke have in recent seasons, they need all their major signings to be successful and can ill-afford flops such as Berahino or Giannelli Imbula, nor even last season’s loan failure of Wilfried Bony or the unpromising start made to this campaign by Kevin Wimmer. Nor can they afford to leave parts of their team looking as scantly covered as, say, they do at right-back or central midfield. Stoke know they have holes to fill during the January transfer window but Hughes may not be given the chance to plug away if Alan Pardew finds a way to get West Brom scoring on Saturday. PD

 

3) City’s winning habit makes Premier League look bad

Manchester City are making a mockery of the Premier League. At some point soon (but definitely not before their January meetings with Burnley and Liverpool), we may have to find ourselves asking not whether they can go the whole season unbeaten, but whether anyone can else can even hold them to a draw? Bournemouth nearly did so back in August, when they were denied only by a stoppage-time winner by Raheem Sterling. Eddie Howe’s side are weak in central midfield, in particular, and although they gave decent accounts of themselves at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge in recent weeks, it seems highly unlikely they will be solid enough to shut out City this time. Their slim hopes of victory will wither to close to nothing if Joshua King is not fit enough to feature. PD

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4) David Squires on … Manchester City’s football utopia

Burnley entertain Tottenham knowing a win would extend the gap between the two sides to four points and with two of their three subsequent Premier League matches coming against Manchester United and Liverpool, Sean Dyche’s team have a real chance to cement their top-six credentials or begin the slide down the table many suspect is inevitable. Burnley have already shown admirable resilience in their ability to withstand the absence of key players Tom Heaton, Robbie Brady, Matt Lowton and Jonathan Walters, and now will have to prepare for three games without James Tarkowski. The centre-half has been ever present in the league this season but has been retrospectively banned for swinging an elbow at Brighton’s Glenn Murray last weekend. When Tarkowski’s usual central defensive partner Ben Mee was unavailable for two matches against Watford and Stoke, Kevin Long proved a more than able deputy, helping his side keep a pair of clean sheets. The Republic of Ireland international is likely to face sterner tests alongside Mee over the festive period as Burnley strive to maintain their lofty league status and it will be intriguing to see how he gets on. BG

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5) Who will be grounded by Mourinho this time?

An evening kick-off on the last Saturday before Christmas? The atmosphere will be exceptionally merry, hopefully, when Leicester host Manchester United. And José Mourinho will demand that his players show far more bottle than they did during their sorry defeat at Bristol City. The manager’s team selection may give some indication of which players he had in mind when he said some of them lacked motivation against the Championship side. Paul Pogba is probably above being dropped despite his drab performance (apart from that picturesque fall for the free-kick that led to United’s goal, of course) but Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford might be set for spells on the naughty step, while Marcos Rojo did nothing to earn a starting spot ahead of Chris Smalling or Phil Jones. As for Leicester, they will likely deploy the lineup that Claude Puel should have named for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup match against Manchester City’s second string. PD

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