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Premier League preview

05 February 2009 02:50
After the big freeze comes a fixture which is guaranteed to raise the temperature as Tottenham meet Arsenal at White Hart Lane, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1.

Despite large swathes of the country still being covered by a blanket of snow, it is hoped this weekend's 10 Premier League fixtures can all go ahead as planned.

And the match that is very much top of the bill is the 144th North London derby meeting between bitter rivals Spurs and the Gunners on Sunday.

Putting the matter of local bragging rights to one side, both teams are in urgent need of the points for differing reasons at either end of the table.

Harry Redknapp's men continue to flirt with the relegation places and remain only one point above the drop zone, while Arsene Wenger's side have five points to make up on Aston Villa if they are to be playing UEFA Champions League football next season.

To add to the drama, Robbie Keane will skipper Spurs on his return to White Hart Lane, while Arsenal's own big-money deadline day (and beyond) signing Andrey Arshavin may feature, although his match fitness remains a concern.

Sunday's second fixture on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 sees league leaders Manchester United make the trip to West Ham, with Upton Park not holding too many happy memories for Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Red Devils famously saw their title hopes ended in East London on the final day of the 1994/95 season and they have been beaten in both of their previous fixtures at the home of the Hammers.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men are in awesome form at present, moving effortlessly to the summit of the league with seven successive victories as their title rivals have floundered on and off the field, while Gianfranco Zola's troops are unbeaten in six.

GallingLiverpool, who travel to Portsmouth on Saturday evening, gave their hopes of ending a 19-year wait for league glory a significant shot in the arm with last Sunday's 2-0 victory over Chelsea.

But a galling late FA Cup defeat by bitter rivals Everton on Wednesday night was compounded by the loss of talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, who faces at least three weeks on the sidelines with a torn hamstring.

Ever since Rafa Benitez's presentation of his 'facts' against Old Trafford overlord Ferguson, the Anfield outfit have wobbled badly and are showing the tell-tale signs of feeling the pressure with the business end of the season approaching.

Whatever your position on the Spaniard's (delete as applicable) carefully prepared and incisive comments/random ramblings of a ruffled rival, the stark football facts ever since do not make pleasant reading.

Six precious Premier League points have been squandered after draws with Stoke, Wigan and Everton, with the Merseysiders usurped from their position at the top of the table and now two adrift, with United having the added benefit of a game in hand.

If Liverpool's fans are fretting, then Pompey's are likely to be tearing their hair out with last season's FA Cup winners dumped out of the competition by Swansea and sliding towards the relegation zone.

Tony Adams is struggling to fill Redknapp's overcoat on the touchline and a run of one point from seven matches must be halted if the Arsenal legend is to avoid his brief Fratton Park tenure being brought to a premature conclusion.

Chelsea, who welcome Hull City to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, were wronged by referee Mike Riley's decision to dismiss Frank Lampard at Anfield with replays showing he played the ball before connecting with Xabi Alonso.

Lampard's red card was correctly overturned and he will line up against the Tigers, but the Football Association's subsequent decision not to take further action against Jose Bosingwa after he firmly placed his boot into the middle of Yossi Benayoun's back was utterly baffling.

With 14 home points already squandered this season, Luiz Felipe Scolari's men must take advantage of Hull City's recent woes if they are to remain serious contenders in the intriguing title battle.

Phil Brown's side have not claimed three points since their December 6th victory over Middlesbrough and you have to go all the way back to the end of October to find another triumph for last season's play-off winners.

ChallengersWith Aston Villa level on points with the Blues, Martin O'Neill's men deserve to be mentioned as challengers for the crown as they make the trip to Blackburn, although a top-four finish would satisfy followers of the Midlands outfit.

O'Neill was able to rest many of his key men for their FA Cup fourth round replay against Doncaster in midweek and was boosted by the goalscoring return of striker John Carew and Ashley Young's lively comeback from a three-match ban.

Sam Allardyce remains unbeaten in his nine games since taking over at Ewood Park - a third of which have been against Sunderland - and Blackburn will present a stern test to Villa's UEFA Champions League aims despite their current position in the bottom three.

Middlesbrough are also in the drop zone and struggling badly ahead of their trip to Eastlands for Saturday's early kick-off against Manchester City, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1.

Gareth Southgate must be testing the patience of his famously tolerant chairman Steve Gibson to the absolute limit after going 12 games without a victory, a dismal run which stretches all the way back to early November.

City boss Mark Hughes will hand a debut to his final transfer window signing Shay Given, who hit out at former club Newcastle for 'making me do things I didn't want to'. Suggestions that the Republic of Ireland international was tasked with teaching Joe Kinnear how to pronounce his own players' names could not be substantiated.

With Newcastle owner Mike Ashley back in public view and now promising to take a more hands-on approach at St James' Park, the conclusion to the season for the Magpies is likely to be as entertaining as ever, starting with Saturday's trip to West Brom.

The Baggies may still be bottom of the pile, but they have won three of their last four meetings on home soil and would move above Kinnear's men if they claim all three points at the Hawthorns.

It needed a generous penalty decision for Newcastle to take a point from their pulsating Tyne-Wear derby meeting with Sunderland last weekend and the Toon Army have seen their troops collect just two points from six games.

There is another vital clash in the congested relegation dogfight on Saturday with Sunderland welcoming Stoke City to the Stadium of Light.

Tony Pulis' men are a force to be reckoned with at the Britannia Stadium, as Manchester City will testify after last weekend's defeat by 10 men, but away from home they are little better than hopeless, with only three draws from 12 games.

The Black Cats could have two new faces on show in defence after Tal Ben Haim and Calum Davenport arrived on Wearside before the transfer window closed on Monday evening.

MisfitEverton bolstered their attacking options on deadline day with the loan signing of Manchester City misfit Jo, with the Brazilian due to make his debut at home to Bolton.

Jo's return of one Premier League goal from just nine appearances does not make enticing reading, but his prolific displays for CSKA Moscow encouraged City to invest £18million for his services, and that was even before the Abu Dhabi United Group took over to make money no object.

Bolton do not have particularly happy memories of their recent meetings with David Moyes' men, with just one point to show from their last five encounters, during which time they have scored just two goals.

Wigan's JJB Stadium meeting with Fulham gives the Cottagers another chance to break their away-day hoodoo at the 12th time of asking.

With five draws and six defeats from their 11 Premier League trips so far, during which they have scored just three goals, Roy Hodgson's side are being kept in the top half of the table by virtue of their impressive home form.

And with Steve Bruce's men having won five and drawn one of their last six outings on home soil in the North West, the omens do not look promising for the Cottagers.

Source: SKY_Sports