EPL Week 9 Predictions: Premier League Picks, Key Players and Fixtures

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2015

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 26:  Ross Barkley of Everton in action with Chris Smalling of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on April 26, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Week 9 of the Premier League season will see three of the division's top four involved in tricky fixtures. Arsenal's trip to newly prompted Watford promises goals, while Manchester United will find it tough to leave Goodison Park having taken all three points from Everton.

An injury-hit Manchester City could face previously unexpected problems at home to Bournemouth.

Here are the week's fixtures, along with picks for each game:

Premier League Fixtures: Week 9
Saturday, Oct. 1712.45 p.m. (BST)Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool2-1 Spurs
Saturday, Oct. 173 p.m. (BST)Chelsea vs. Aston Villa2-1 Chelsea
Saturday, Oct. 173 p.m. (BST)Crystal Palace vs. West Ham United1-0 Palace
Saturday, Oct. 173 p.m. (BST)Everton vs. Manchester United2-1 Everton
Saturday, Oct. 173 p.m. (BST)Manchester City vs. Bournemouth2-0 City
Saturday, Oct. 173 p.m. (BST)Southampton vs. Leicester City2-2
Saturday, Oct. 173 p.m. (BST)West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland0-0
Saturday, Oct. 175.30 p.m. (BST)Watford vs. Arsenal0-3 Arsenal
Sunday, Oct. 184 p.m. (BST)Newcastle United vs. Norwich City1-1
Monday, Oct. 198 p.m. (BST)Swansea City vs. Stoke City1-2 Stoke
Premier League.com

Key Players

Santi Cazorla, Arsenal

Improved firepower has bolstered Arsenal's season. Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott's pace and movement have been ripping defences apart. The supply from mercurial creator Mesut Ozil has also been exceptional.

But it's been the performances from a redefined Santi Cazorla that have really keyed the Gunners' revival in England's top flight. Arsenal's pint-sized midfield marvel has gone from wide player and No. 10 to deep-lying playmaker.

Cazorla is the key man in the middle for the Gunners.
Cazorla is the key man in the middle for the Gunners.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

It's a role the classy 30-year-old is thriving in. While he continues to set up chances, Cazorla has also made excellent strides in the defensive side of his game, according to WhoScored.com's Ben McAleer:

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The defensive side of his game has also improved, with his average of 2.3 tackles and 2.3 interceptions both his respective highest in the top flight of English football since signing for Arsenal. Meanwhile, Cazorla has won possession in the defensive third more times (44) than any other player in the Premier League this season. His defensive qualities have been refined since he was dropped into the double pivot alongside Coquelin, with the energy of the Frenchman then allowing Cazorla to do what he does best in possession.

Cazorla's new-found physicality has added an extra layer of steel at the base of midfield. Along with Francis Coquelin, he's providing top-notch security in front of the Gunners defence.

Just as important, Cazorla's passing radar and creative instincts are at the heart of Arsenal's counter-attacking potential. Winning the ball deep, Cazorla can instantly turn defending into attacking by releasing one of the Gunners' pacy runners with an accurate through ball.

Expect Arsenal's matchbox-sized midfield metronome to unlock the Watford defence more than once so Walcott and Sanchez can pillage some goals for the resurgent north Londoners.

Ross Barkley, Everton

Everton will heap more misery on Manchester United if 21-year-old Ross Barkley is given free rein in the middle of the park. Barkley can run midfield thanks to his combination of physical power and guile.

Those qualities were on display during England's 2-0 Euro 2016 qualifying win over Estonia. He set up Walcott's opening goal with an exquisite piece of skill, according to the Guardian's Daniel Taylor:

Barkley was outstanding, thrilling an impressively large Wembley crowd, and the pass to set up Theo Walcott for England’s first goal—a diagonal 15-yard nutmeg through a congested penalty area—was of that rare variety when it felt like the pot of superlatives might run dry. Suffice to say it was an extraordinary piece of individual brilliance, taking out five defenders with one piece of vision and high skill.

The sublime assist was further evidence of the awesome potential Barkley boasts. Though still erratic, the young Everton ace can liven up any game with moments of match-winning quality, as noted by BBC Sport's Phil McNulty:

Phil McNulty @philmcnulty

Hear the usual stuff about what Barkley can't do. Let's focus on what he can do. He is a rare talent and that was a superb pass.

He's been producing more of those for the Toffees so far this season. Through eight league games, Barkley has already netted two goals and assisted three more, according to WhoScored.com.

That's the sort of form that ought to worry United after the way the Red Devils were tormented in midfield during their last league outing. The 3-0 away defeat to Arsenal was defined by the Gunners bossing the centre of the park.

Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil and Aaron Ramsey routinely played around United's bewildered group. Manager Louis van Gaal's team was chasing shadows as ageing pair Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger and an out-of-position Wayne Rooney couldn't get near Arsenal's quick-passing quartet.

Barkley can dominate United.
Barkley can dominate United.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The trio came in for criticism from ex-Red Devils full-back-turned-analyst Gary Neville in the Gary Neville Podcast (h/t Sky Sports): "Schweinsteiger, Carrick and Rooney got completely outnumbered, outplayed and outfought. Everything you wouldn't want in a central midfield."

If the same things happen at Goodison Park, Barkley will run riot to inspire a hugely significant win for the Merseyside club.

Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City

Belgium international Kevin De Bruyne has made a great start to his Manchester City career. Now his new team really needs him to deliver. The table-topping Citizens have been rocked by injuries to striker Sergio Aguero and chief playmaker David Silva, according to Sky Sports.

Their absences are a major blow for City. But the hard-running, free-scoring and versatile De Bruyne can help pick up the slack.

De Bruyne has big shoes to fill as the focal point of City's forward play.
De Bruyne has big shoes to fill as the focal point of City's forward play.Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

He's already scored three league goals and supplied a pair of assists, per WhoScored.com. Manager Manuel Pellegrini may consider moving De Bruyne through the middle to supplement the pace of Raheem Sterling.

It's a combination that will make the Manchester club potent on the break away from home. But at the Etihad Stadium, the team may miss having a more traditional striker to link things and act as a target for City's approach play.

De Bruyne and his team-mates will be good enough to earn a toughly contested home win over a plucky Bournemouth side. But Pellegrini will need City's big guns back for the league's tougher challenges.

This trio of forward-thinking midfielders will influence three of Week 9's most significant fixtures.

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