Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds. Under the microscope this week: wobbling Arsenal host fellow nostalgists Manchester United, confusion over Tottenham's title challenge as they head to Eastlands, and goal-shy Liverpool's woes on home soil.
Arsenal v Man Utd: Crisis corpse
As Swansea out Arsenal-ed the Gunners with their passing game, Arsene Wenger's men out Arsenal-ed themselves with their capitulating game. Has there been a Premier League club that has made more of a habit of spontaneous combustion than Arsenal in recent seasons? The galling thing for supporters is that so often the pain is self-inflicted.
Wenger said at the end of December: "We lost [Thomas] Vermaelen for two or three weeks, so I have to look if I can find somebody [but] only a loan. It would be stupid for us to drop points because we don't have a left-back." The French coach threw that egg skywards and seemingly had no intention of catching it.
Since those comments, Wenger's defensive plight has worsened, and, unsurprisingly, the square pegs in round holes were exploited by Fulham, then the Swans. Again this weekend, he must cobble together a back four, this time for their home encounter against Manchester United, while praying for good news from the treatment room. Considering their track record, the latter seems unlikely. The Premier League champions were in infamously ruthless mood when they faced an even more wounded kitten back in August and won 8-2. This time the Gunners have home comforts, however, a third successive loss - they last suffered this doom in the 2006-07 campaign - is in the offing, and with it the digging up of the crisis talk corpse.
The Red Devils, who were also staring at three straight defeats, got back on track in their last outing, although Bolton were hardly an obstacle to fear. Paul Scholes, 37, rolled back the years with a goal, but his overall play was, understandably, as rusty as the hair on his head. Sunday's match could see the playmaker come up against Thierry Henry, making for an oddly nostalgic affair that really only accentuates the respective sides' shortcomings and reliance on former greats in an attempt to divert attention from their current deficiencies. This match-up is a treat for those that like to live in the past, for fear of what the future holds.
Man City v Spurs: It's off, it's back on again
And, so, Tottenham's title dream is over. Kaput. Or is it? The over-reaction by some to Spurs drawing 1-1 with Wolves at home has been laughable, really - this is a team that has lost just once in 19 league games. Yet their manager Harry Redknapp's post-match words were tinged with defeatism: "I've never said to anybody that we are going to win the league. I know where we are at and if we can get a Champions League position again this season it will be great for us." But a victory over the league leaders on Sunday would see Redknapp's men two points behind the money men. And you can bet your bottom dollar that, should this occur, those trigger-happy son of a guns will be blasting rhetoric about Tottenham's title chances being back on track.
City, meanwhile, extinguished their own 'crisis' with a 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium on Monday night. It was not the most convincing wins, but as head coach Roberto Mancini said: "It was about the victory not the performance tonight." Indeed, during the start of the season City were like a juggernaut, smashing into smithereens whichever opponent camped in their way. They remain a well-oiled machine, but not quite as imposing, shorn of a Yaya Toure-shaped jetpack. Without the Ivorian's momentum, City have lost twice at Eastlands, both of those stumbles coming in Cup competition. Spurs might just be envisaging a spanner in the works.
They will, however, be without their attacking beacon in Emmanuel Adebayor, as the striker is ineligible to play against his parent club. The Togolese has started all of Spurs' league matches since making his debut after the North London side had been spanked 5-1 at home by this weekend's opponents. This means the onus falls on the narrower shoulders of Jermain Defoe, who this week declared he intends to remain at White Hart Lane despite his limited first-team options this season, with only seven top-flight starts accrued this season.
Liverpool: Shooting boot-less
When in front of the Anfield goals they draw a blank and forget how to score. Liverpool have too often been a blunt pencil on home soil this season, and, for once from sections of even the most loyal servants, the writing was on the wall for Kenny Dalglish; the king's crown slipping over his tactical eye versus Stoke, scorers of eight goals on the road during 2011-12 - the Scot plumped for five at the back.
Furthermore, Dirk Kuyt - scorer of no league goals - led the line, leading to previously unheard-of calls for Andy Carroll to be on the field, not the bench. Just the one shot on target meant a seventh stalemate endured by the Reds on Merseyside, and with it a five-point gap crow barred between them and fourth-placed Chelsea. Quotes from Dalglish this week that he expects "a quiet [transfer] window" did little but compound the doom-mongering on Merseyside.
Yet, Dalglish's side are in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup, and one home draw away (handy) from reaching the showpiece, presenting the club with a first chance of silverware since 2006, when they lifted the FA Cup. The frustration is that this season presents a gaping opportunity to return to the Champions League, such has been the incompetence of those around them. Indeed, it seems the winners of fourth spot will likely be the team that did the least worst. Hence, the consistent inability to convert parity into a proper points return has, fairly, invoked unrest. A trip to Bolton on Saturday teatime (live on ESPN HD) is their next fixture, when perhaps they can take comfort in a lack of home comforts, as the games without Luis Suarez tick by.
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