Premier League Preview: Four London Teams Hoping for Some Christmas Cheer
According to Luis Nani, Arsenal are not capable of winning the Premier League this season.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has reacted to this premature comment with sarcasm by suggesting that Manchester United's Portuguese winger must be more intelligent than he to arrive at such a conclusion, adding ''We live in a society where everybody knows everything''.
And he will be hoping that in-form midfielder Samir Nasri (pictured) can engineer an important victory over Chelsea—the only team threatening to dethrone the Red Devils—on Monday night.
Wenger's recent record against Chelsea is unimpressive, but the Frenchman rightly points out that records are history and he will want to avoid being dragged into a war of words, instead letting his team's actions do the speaking.
In the weekend's first match (Sunday, 0700 EST) just down the road from Stamford Bridge, Fulham manager Mark Hughes will be under pressure to secure victory over bottom-of-the-league West Ham United. Hammers manager Avram Grant certainly knows a thing or two about pressure; he recently received an ultimatum from the board of directors stating that they would replace him if he did not win at least one of the three upcoming matches. One down, two to go!
The other match I will focus on is an encounter between two clubs whose good form on the pitch has been overshadowed all season by ridiculous events away from matchday: Manchester City and Newcastle United.
The other fixtures this weekend are:
Blackburn Rovers v Stoke
Blackpool v Liverpool
Bolton Wanderers v West Bromwich Albion
Everton v Birmingham City
Manchester United v Sunderland
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Wigan
Sunday, 1230 EST:
Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur
So to the pick of the matches: what is the team news, who are the key players, what will happen?
Match 1: Fulham Vs. West Ham United
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Angry? Disconsolate? Pensive?
We cannot be certain what was going through the mind of Hammers manager Avram Grant when this photo was taken, but the chances are high that he was watching a match in which his team was being outplayed and beaten. With only two wins, 16 goals and 13 points from 18 matches, the Irons are in dire straits.
However, a short trip southwest across the Thames to face a Fulham team short on confidence is the best chance Grant will have of relieving his shoulders of much of the burden that comes with being in the relegation zone at this time of the year. In fact, Fulham have won the same number of games and scored the same number of goals as their opponents.
In attack, there is good news for both managers as home team striker Victor Obinna and the Cottagers' Moussa Dembele are likely to play a part in the match, having recovered sufficiently from injury. Long-term absentees include Philippe Senderos and Bobby Zamora for Fulham and Jack Collison, Mark Noble and Thomas Hitzlesperger for West Ham.
Perhaps most crucial in the context of this match is England goalkeeper Robert Green's return to action for West Ham.
Fulham - Clint Dempsey (five league goals but his contribution has been more significant)
West Ham - Scott Parker (the heartbeat of the team is also the top scorer. Blood, guts and a touch of quality is what you get from the Upton Park hero).
Fulham 1-2 West Ham
Match 2: Newcastle United Vs. Manchester City
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What do you get when you cross a foreign manager with no experience in English football, an array of multi-millionaire mercenaries and Qatari billionaires?
What do you get when you cross a Cockney businessman at a northern club, a dubious managerial appointment and even more dubiously behaved young players?
In both cases, the answer is malicious gossip.
In Manchester, Roberto Mancini is struggling to keep a homesick Argentine and a stroppy young Italian happy. Without Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, there is a chance City will look ordinary. This weekend, we will test that theory.
In Newcastle, owner Mike Ashley was very relieved to see new manager Alan Pardew start his supposed five year managerial career with a fine win against Liverpool. However, the Toon Army will be merciless if things start to go pear-shaped—especially in light of the previous antics of Ashley and the sterling work done by Pardew's predecessor in trying circumstamces.
Newcastle United - Pardew will be relieved to have goalkeeper Steve Harper and centre backs Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson, but still misses the strength of Shola Ameobi and pace of Hatem Ben Arfa.
Manchester City - latest stropstar Mario Balotelli will be demoted to the bench following his childish demeanour in training, but Mancini will be taking a very strong squad up to St. James's Park, with only the banned Kolo Toure missing out.
Newcastle United - Andy Carroll (striker has not hit the same heights recently, but his prolific goal scoring and strength in his debut season have already earned him an international call-up and the attention of the Top Four)
Manchester City - Adam Johnson (Newcastle's defence is not blessed with pace and the Sunderland-born winger nicknamed ''Jinky'' for his slaloming running style will be keen to get one over the Geordies on Sunday)
Newcastle United 1-1 Manchester City
Match 3: Arsenal Vs. Chelsea
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On Monday night, Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti will be looking for fewer theatrics from Florent Malouda (pictured) and more of the French winger's early season form to regain some of the ground lost to title rivals Manchester United and Monday night opponents Arsenal.
Indeed, Chelsea's recent form has been woeful and Ancelotti will be aware that if Chelsea lose this game and leaders Manchester United beat Sunderland—which should be a formality—his team will be six points off the pace, having played an extra match.
Arsenal have home advantage, which actually seems to have hindered the team this season. League defeats at the Emirates to rivals Spurs, Newcastle United and West Brom have undone their excellent form on the road and the young squad consequently betrays a lack of confidence in moments of difficulty during home matches.
Arsenal - Defensive duo Manuel Almunia and Thomas Vermaelen remain sidelined, but Abou Diaby and Lukas Fabianski should be fit enough to return to action.
Chelsea - Alex, Yossi Benayoun and Yuri Zhirkov are Chelsea's only absentees. In truth, Alex is the only one who usually starts so the Blues have no excuses for another poor performance.
Arsenal - Samir Nasri (the young Frenchman has been one of the league's standout players for the last 12 months and has created or scored a larger proportion of his team's goals in the league this season)
Chelsea - Frank Lampard (now back to full fitness, Lampard's productivity and competitive edge are key to the team's success. He has the ability to find pockets of space between midfield and defence and will expose them ruthlessly).
Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea