Premier League Spotlight

Time is now for Arsenal to deliver

November 1, 2013
By James Dall

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.

Arsenal's crunchiest of crunch runs

Arsene Wenger SPOTLIGHT
PA PhotosNovember is ArsenalÂ’;s least productive month in Premier League history, if you give merit to that kind of thing.

Arsenal never seem far away from tumbling off the cliff of oblivion. Despite the strides made towards safer ground in this first quarter of the 2013-14 season, there is the possibility that they could go full circle on Saturday, returning to the precipice where the shrieking and the shivering ensues. The opening day of the campaign was marked with a home loss to Aston Villa that led to some even calling for manager Arsene Wenger to be pushed over the edge, but since then a strong run of form has restored calm to even the most hysterical supporters. Yet we've recently entered what is considered to be a proper examination of Arsenal's credentials for, while beating the likes of Sunderland is necessary, it is not cause for the air to become thick with title talk.

Two matches into this most crunchy of crunch spells and the Gunners have failed the examinations, while the errors made have been all too familiar. Indeed, against both Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, the home side enjoyed -- for want of a better word -- sterile domination before being punished on the counter-attack and/or for individual errors. Old habits die hard. As a reminder: it is Liverpool next, then Dortmund again, then Manchester United.

Let us deal with the first of those tests for it is the most pressing, as defeat would see Wenger's team usurped by the Reds at the top of the table -- a position they've held since the fourth game of the campaign. Victory, though, would steady the hand and offer a genuine fillip ahead of the trip to Germany. They must do this without Mathieu Flamini, however, with the Frenchman's absence through injury felt far more greatly than surely anyone would have predicted when he returned on a free transfer in the summer.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have an attacking swagger about themselves, off the back of Luis Suarez's hat trick -- the Uruguayan a summer target of Arsenal, of course -- and Daniel Sturridge's achingly good chip versus West Bromwich Albion last weekend. The pair will surely stretch Mikel Arteta's ability to suffocate that pocket of space in front of the back four to the very limit. Yet all is not blemish-free for Brendan Rodgers' team, as their performances have shown their defence can be got at. Crystal Palace, Newcastle and West Brom amassed a total of 40 shots at Simon Mignolet's goal in the last three matches, providing the numerical evidence favoured in analysis these days.

Encouraging signs for Martinez at Everton

Particularly compared to David Moyes at Manchester United, this has been an impressive start to his Everton career for Roberto Martinez, who might well look smug as well as handsome going into November. The Spaniard's team currently boast the second-best form in the division, with five of their last six league matches ending in sweet, sweet victory. So, beware Tottenham Hotspur when you visit Goodison Park on Sunday off the back of the likes of Paulinho and Kyle Walker playing 120 sapping minutes on Wednesday night. Football style-wise it has not been a drastic overhaul for the Toffees under the Spaniard, but the tweaking of more passing and ergo more possession has had the desired effect. The space in midfield left by the sale of Marouane Fellaini, meanwhile, has been plugged by the reliable Gareth Barry, while the loan addition of the brilliant Romelu Lukaku is, unsurprisingly, paying dividends -- he already has five goals to his name.

Romelu Lukaku celeb SPOTLIGHT
PA PhotosRomelu Lukaku has five goals and one assist in five Premier League appearances for Everton.

The Belgian will, though, come up against the league's second meanest defence this weekend, with just five goals let in by Spurs in nine matches. The impressiveness of that statistic is offset by just a goal scored a match, which is the same as, say, a Fulham side that is not even close to firing on all cylinders. Indeed, it is this lack of inspiration that has resulted in Andre Villas-Boas criticising the home fans for a lack of vocal support, who in turn point to a lack of things to be vocal about on the pitch -- it's a circle, all right, but probably not a vicious one. Sunday's game is at Goodison Park, though, so let's put this debate on hold for now.

Let sleeping Hartdog lie

"What if Joe Hart had done that?" had made for a humorous gag regarding the unfair level of scrutiny Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea had been on the receiving end of during the beginning of his Manchester United career; the quip has since evolved into a compliment towards the man from Atletico Madrid, to be used when he makes one of his wonderful saves. Now the boot is on the other foot, for De Gea's reputation in the Premier League has soared as Hart's has nosedived, with the needless rushing out of his goal that allowed Chelsea to score a last-minute winner last Sunday the latest in a catalogue of blunders. There are two trails of thought about how best to 'fix' Joe. One is that City boss Manuel Pellegrini should continue to play the England international until he rides out this rut. But, some argue, that tactic has already tried and failed. Therefore, the other solution is to take Hart out of the firing line, bring in real-life giant Costel Pantilimon, and allow 'Hartdog' to refresh mentally and physically. All beady eyes on Saturday's team sheet for the home fixture against Norwich.

The South Wales derby

A tasty atmosphere is expected as Cardiff City host Swansea City, when the probability of a player or two getting sent off after being whipped into a frenzy by the caustic atmosphere is high. Two points separate the two sides in the table, with Swansea looking to benefit from a week on the training field, having recently looked a little leggy following their Europa League exploits. Cardiff, meanwhile, might look on green-eyed while wearing red, rather than the historic blue, for the running of their club under owner Vincent Tan jars somewhat when compared to the more thoughtful organisation of their rivals.

Poyet seeks Brucie Bonus

First win of the season? Tick. Now for a second, and on the road at that, after accruing none thus far, with three defeats on the spin. Sunderland players should need few words of encouragement to coax their motivation for a Wear-Tyne derby -- it is rather the trips to Hull City on which the onus falls more on their new manager, Gus Poyet. That said, the standard of pressing demonstrated against Newcastle was impressive and is a tactic that will bear fruit against the technically weaker sides. This match of course has the extra storyline of Steve Bruce facing his former club, having left the Black Cats in November 2011.

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