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Friday, November 16, 2012
Actions speak louder than words

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.

Dzeko & Hernandez: Super-duper subs

Football's 'super sub' cliché is evocative of childhood daydreams, of imaginings with head slumped on arm in the school classroom - all inspired by the fanciful yet enthralling action of the '90s cartoon The Hurricanes. While not being selected from the off is initially unlikely to make one feel all that rosy, the thought that an impact of the potentially match-winning kind could be made - and with it your name in lights - causes the heart to flutter. Hence, Edin Dzeko might want to review his stance, or at least consider the high regard in which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is held. Solskjaer made 36% of his 235 Premier League appearances for Manchester United from the substitutes' bench. In spite of this, such was his worth that the Norwegian - who, as an aside, recently won his second title as a manager with Molde - is remembered as one of his former club's most ruthless assets. Dzeko, however, is not on the same page. He told the Sunday Telegraph: "You can call me whatever you want, but I will never accept that I'm a super sub," but he has scored five of his six league goals this season when featuring as a replacement. Javier Hernandez is another who is making a recent name for being a ruthless substitute, and his brilliant showing in the second half at Villa Park reaffirmed his label of the Babyfaced Assassin Mark II. Sir Alex Ferguson said after the 3-2 win and ahead of this weekend's trip to Norwich City that "when you score a hat-trick, you pick yourself" - but for Dzeko, the frustration appears set to endure. Maybe, though, the Bosnian should be relishing the fact that he is Manchester City's go-to man in times of need - for it is at least nice to feel valued, in whatever capacity.

North London derby: Boo!

Amid all the booing, just how will the players hear one another at Emirates Stadium? Fans of both these North London rivals have certainly vocalised their displeasure in recent weeks, with Arsenal's contingent frustrated by a team seemingly going backwards and Tottenham's angered by perhaps debatable tactical decisions from their manager Andre Villas-Boas. The Gunners' habitual capitulation was repeated at home versus Fulham last weekend. There is a fragility, both mentally and technically, that the supporters crave to be resolved, but that Arsene Wenger has struggled to address over the years. The angst got louder. For Spurs, a 2-1 loss at the home of the champions is no crisis, but a run of three defeats in four top-flight matches is cause for, at the least - and most - concern. Few could have sensibly argued against Emmanuel Adebayor's starting berth in an away match in place of Jermain Defoe, and it would be no surprise to see him line up against his former club at the weekend. What is a blow, and is not within AVB's power, is the continued absence of Mousa Dembele, who will not recover from his hip injury in time for the lunchtime kick-off. Without the impressive Belgian, there has been a lack of drive from the heart of Tottenham's midfield.

QPR v Southampton: One might fall

It is not hyperbolic to suggest that, should there be a loser of this match-up, the defeated manager could well be the first to be sacked this Premier League season. That is not wishing Mark Hughes or Nigel Adkins ill, merely a warning of what could occur. Indeed, despite consistent backing for Hughes from Queens Park Rangers owner Tony Fernandes, there is a feeling that, should 11 matches without a win become 12 against an unconvincing Southampton, the axe may be wielded, with last weekend's 1-0 failure at Stoke City having been a chance for reprieve that was fluffed like an Adel Taarabt shot. Southampton boss Adkins, whose side have lost all five of their away league games this campaign, is the current bookmakers' favourite to be gone, with 29 goals conceded in 11 league fixtures a damning statistic. Of course, speaking after the Saints' 1-1 draw against Swansea, Adkins talked a positive game, saying: "The supporters have again been magnificent, and everyone is pulling in the same direction." Whether those that make the decisions at the very top feel the same way is another matter, and ultimately Adkins must convince them with his command of the dictionary of positive speaking - or wins, which would offer a more persuasive tone.

West Brom and Everton: Gold stars

There has (rightly) been many a public pat on the back for Everton's fine work thus far, but it is worth also embracing the performances and results of West Bromwich Albion, who are level on points with David Moyes' side. Everton have lost just once this season, against West Brom, and their return to winning ways after three straight draws ensures that they continue to be well placed for a fight for a top-four finish, as (on paper) winnable matches against Reading and Norwich are followed by Arsenal, Manchester City and then Tottenham. It is possible that Steve Clarke's tight Hawthorns ship could be partially knocked off course when they host his former club Chelsea this weekend, but the groundwork already put in stands them in good stead. So does their Scottish coach's level-headedness. After his team's win at Wigan Athletic last weekend, he said: "I remember once as a player I was top of the league in November and ended up fighting relegation. The top division in England can come back quickly to bite you if you take your focus off it."
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