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: pressure mounting on the likeable Mick McCarthy, Arsenal fans at the end of their tether, a goalkeeping decision to make for Sir Alex Ferguson, and chances running out for Fernando Torres.
Wolves: An imperfect ten?
"After the last home game there were huge rumours that I wouldn't be here. I can't imagine there will be any less after this game. We will see."
Mick McCarthy was not wrong, as he is now the bookmaker's favourite to be the next Premier League manager to go after his side's 3-0 loss to Liverpool at Molineux on Tuesday night made it nine Premier League matches without victory.
There is a likeable quality to McCarthy, with his no-nonsense South Yorkshire tongue an endearing character facet. His team, meanwhile, has regularly been on the receiving end of plaudits, as their play embodies their boss' intensity. Alas, those words of praise are ultimately worthless, for they add nothing to Wolves' points column. And the danger is that they will fall victim to the dangerous presumption they will surely dig themselves out of their morass.
The opportunity to remind their followers of the nectar taste of victory comes at QPR on Saturday, a team revitalised by the double fillip that comes with a new manager and new signings. It is a tricky fixture for McCarthy's men, who are two points adrift of safety, yet victory would see them level on points with their opponents. February is a month of, on paper, matches for Wolves to bare their teeth and gorge upon, the team facing West Brom and then Newcastle. But should the prey turn predator for McCarthy then the Premier League could be waving goodbye to one of its more charismatic managers.
Arsenal: Winless in 2012
The glass is half empty. Arsenal may have halted a three-match losing streak with a goalless draw at Bolton Wanderers, but the point failed to silence the doubters. Arsene Wenger of course pursed his lips and tried to put a brave face on it, saying: "It is part of football that when you lose three games like we did when you don't lose the fourth game it is already not too bad." The Frenchman had to squeeze hard to eke out a droplet of positivity. Fans, however, are entrenched in a well of negativity.
News that influential midfielder Jack Wilshere has suffered a fresh stress fracture in his right ankle did little to raise spirits, but with it followed cautious suggestions that cover could be incoming. How foolish, though, to presume such a thing. The closing of the transfer window sealed the strain placed upon the side's top goalscorer, Robin van Persie, and their remaining central midfielders. Indeed, the Gunners' lack of movement in the January transfer window, coupled with their inert nature in the summer, has left supporters disillusioned.
With the club licking its wounds following a, frankly, unacceptable succession of results, the chance for reprieve and indeed revenge presents itself on Saturday lunchtime when they host Steve Kean's Blackburn Rovers. Arsenal infamously endured their second-lowest point of this season when they suffered a 4-3 defeat in a sodden Lancashire. Fortunately their tormentor chief on that grey day, Yakubu, is suspended for the match at Emirates Stadium, while want-away man mountain Christopher Samba remains absent.
United: Ben v David
Sir Alex Ferguson has a decision to make. This Sunday, when his side travels to Chelsea, he must decide which goalkeeper to play. It has recently been taken as read that Anders Lindegaard is the manager's first-choice shot-stopper, moving ahead of summer signing David De Gea in the pecking order following a number of flimsy displays from the wiry Spaniard, the latest of which came against Liverpool. But, frustratingly for Lindegaard, the Dane damaged ankle ligaments this week, ruling him out for around a month.
Then ahead of the midweek match against Stoke, De Gea went down with illness, handing a first Premier League start for Ben Amos, who earned a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory. Amos had a steady enough top-flight debut - although it is worth noting Stoke hardly peppered his goal - leading to debate over which 21-year-old will be named in the starting XI versus the Blues.
De Gea is expected to recover in time, so one would imagine the £18.9 million addition will be trusted by Ferguson having already featured against Chelsea this season when the Red Devils triumphed 3-1. There is, though, a niggling doubt over how unshakable the Scot's faith. Should Amos be given the nod then this could be the beginning of the end for De Gea, whose every move is under intense scrutiny.
Fernando Torres: Tick-tock
The media this week ran with the line that Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas is 'finally' losing his patience with Torres, scorer of no goals in his last 1,074 minutes of playing time. "We still believe in the player but he is taking his time," were the Portuguese's words as Chelsea left it late before salvaging a 1-1 draw against Swansea. In the same interview, Villas-Boas talked up the importance of Didier Drogba, who is currently away on African Nations Cup duty with Ivory Coast - read into that what you will.
For Torres, this weekend's fixture versus United is a reminder of a hellish moment that embodied the Spaniard's wretched fall from prolific goalscoring grace as missing an agonising sitter at Old Trafford punctured a performance when he looked back towards something of his bullish best. Surely, then, this rematch is set up for Torres to right at least some of his wrongs. Certainly the pressure weighs down heavy, for, if you are to take AVB's words for what they are, the forward's chances are running out.
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