By James Goyder
Arsenal will travel to Stamford Bridge in trepidation on Sunday after conceding three goals against West Brom last weekend. Manuel Almunia, widely derided for his role in that demoralizing defeat, is suffering from an elbow injury and might miss out.
The bad news for Arsenal fans is that the equally unreliable Lucas Fabianski appears set to replace him. Thomas Vermaelen is also unlikely to recover from injury in time but Arsenal’s nemesis Didier Drogba (photo) will definitely play after being suspended in mid week.
It all seems like a recipe for disaster for Wenger’s men who will be charged with the task of containing the league’s most prolific scorers. Manchester City might have managed to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea last weekend but their defense is made of slightly sterner stuff than Arsenal’s.
Long term injury victims Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott will both be absent and influential skipper Cesc Fabregas faces a late fitness test. Abou Diaby might return after missing out in Arsenal’s midweek Champion’s League victory.
Frank Lampard will miss out for Chelsea as will Yossi Benayoun and Salomon Kalou but otherwise the league leaders are close to full strength. The chasing pack failed to capitalize on Chelsea’s first loss of the season last week and Carlo Ancelotti’s men will be looking to get back on track with a win over Arsenal.
The other two sides with realistic aspirations of winning the Premiership are also in action. Manchester City convinced a few people they could be serious contenders with their 1-0 victory over the champions last weekend.
They host Newcastle United in the early kick off on Sunday. Chris Hughton’s men have made an erratic start to life back in the top tier of English football. A 6-0 demolition of Aston Villa was extremely impressive, losses at home to first Blackpool and then Stoke City less so.
Manchester City’s defensive injury crisis appears to be easing although Pablo Zabaleta, Wayne Bridge and Alexander Kolarov are all out. Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng are likely to fill the full back slots while Emmanuel Adebayor will probably find himself back on the bench after failing to shine against Juventus.
Chris Hughton has nothing like the resources which Roberto Mancini has but he has still managed to forge a solid looking team. Confidence appeared to be the problem against Stoke. After taking a deserved lead his side sank into their shell and paid the price for their lack of ambition by conceding two second half goals. Steven Harper is out so Tim Krul will continue to deputize and has the unenviable job of preventing in form Carlos Tevez from adding to his four Premiership goals.
Sunderland can count themselves extremely unfortunate to have only picked up two points from their last two matches. Steve Bruce might have been cursing the fixture list which had his team facing Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in quick succession but he will have been encouraged by Sunderland’s recent performances.
A point against Arsenal was no less than the team deserved and they were unfortunate to find themselves on the receiving end of the latest in a long of dubious decisions by referee Stuart Atwell at Anfield.
Manchester United have already dropped points away to Fulham, Everton and Bolton Wanderers, conceding seven goals in the process. Rio Ferdinand will resume his defensive partnership with Nemanji Vidic and Alex Ferguson will be hoping that the clean sheet away to high flying Valencia in the Champion’s League is a sign of things to come.
Wayne Rooney misses out as do Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs but Michael Carrick and Anderson have both recently returned from injury. Sunderland will probably be without defenders Michael Turner, Anton Ferdinand and John Mensah.
Tottenham take on Aston Villa on Saturday in a battle between two Champion’s League hopefuls. Harry Redknapp successfully led his team to the promised land last season but with Manchester City going from strength to strength might struggle to replicate that achievement this time around.
Signing Dutch midfielder Rafael Van Der Vaart is looking like something of a coup and with him and Luca Modric in midfield Tottenham could never be accused of lacking creativity. Fit defenders are in short supply though with Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul and William Gallas joining Jonathan Woodgate on the injury list. Ledley King played in midweek and is unlikely to be risked so Sebastian Bassong and Vedran Corluka should form a makeshift centre back pairing.
Jermain Defoe is also out but Roman Pavlyuchenko might be in line for a recall after demonstrating his penalty taking prowess in midweek. Gerard Houllier will be hoping to steady the Aston Villa ship when he takes his place in the dug out for the very first time. Gabriel Agbonlahor is unlikely to recover from a groin strain but the recently installed French manager hopes to welcome back John Carew and Richard Dunne.
It is not too soon to start talking in terms of crisis at Goodison Park. Under David Moyes Everton have been a model of consistency over the course of almost every season, although this is not the first time they have started slowly. They currently find themselves rooted to the foot of the table and in urgent need of a win away to Birmingham City.
While Moyes’ men have forged a reputation for being able to survive injury epidemics most of his key men have been available throughout the current campaign. Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, Louis Saha, and Victor Anichebe remain doubts while Jack Rodwell will definitely miss out.
After a summer of significant investment Birmingham City have not exactly hit the ground running. They will be without former Everton man James McFadden but will still be hoping to add to Everton’e woes with a third win of the season.
West Ham United registered a morale boosting first win of the season against Tottenham last weekend and will be looking to pick up another three points at home to Fulham. Valon Behrami and Thomas Hitzelsperger could return for the Hammers but Jack Collison is still out. Fulham are without Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Moussa Dembele and manager Mark Hughes must be wondering just where the goals are going to come from.