Premier League preview: Arsenal v Stoke City

31 January 2013 10:59

Arsenal will be looking to bounce back from their 2-2 draw with Liverpool as they host Stoke City on Saturday.

The Gunners found themselves 2-0 down against the Merseysiders before goals to Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott secured them a point against Brendan Rodgers side.

A trip to Stoke represents a tough match however, with Tony Pulis’ men having lost six times in the league – the same as Arsenal – and is sitting in a respectable 10th position.

However, Stoke haven’t won any of their past five league games and have conceded 15 goals through that period with the last league clash a 2-2 draw at home against Wigan.

After a four-match winning streak culminating in the 7-3 thrashing of Newcastle, Arsenal have only won one of their past five matches and have slipped to sixth position – a huge 19 points behind league leaders Manchester United.

The last meeting between the two sides came on the second weekend of the season as they fought out a goalless draw at the Britannia in which the Gunners dominated but could not secure the three points.

Stoke top-scorer last season, Peter Crouch (10), again leads the way with five goals and Pulis will be hoping that the beanpole striker can trouble Arsenal from set-pieces, an area that has been described as a Gunners’ weakness.

Arsenal have gone behind first in their last five games and Arsene Wenger will be keen that his back four, likely to be missing the injured Kieran Gibbs, is on their toes early in the contest.

Forward Theo Walcott has enjoyed his best ever season with 11 goals surpassing his next best tally of nine with 14 matches still to play and Wenger will be banking on not only the Englishman’s goal-scoring prowess, but his ability to create chances as well.

Andre Santos came off the bench to replace the injured Gibbs in the first-half against Liverpool and could be expected to deputise in that role while Mikael Arteta (calf) and Gervinho (Africa Cup of Nations) will be unavailable for selection.

Stoke have a full quota of senior players to select from and there could be an opportunity for Cameron Jerome or Kenwyne Jones up front in place of Jonathan Walters, who hasn’t scored since a brace against Liverpool on Boxing Day.

Since Stoke returned to the Premier League in 2008, Arsenal have won five of the 10 clashes between the teams but have only triumphed in one of the last four contests.

Premier League preview: QPR v Norwich City

31 January 2013 10:58

Last-minute reinforcements have dominated the agenda in the build-up to Queens Park Rangers versus Norwich City on Saturday.

Bottom side QPR – seeking to equip themselves for a relegation escape act – have accelerated their transfer business as the January window draws to a close, shipping out defender Anton Ferdinand to Turkish club Bursaspor.

Manager Harry Redknapp has signed South Korean fullback Yun Suk-Young and lured striker Peter Crouch from Stoke City, adding to the capture of centre-forward Loic Remy from Marseille.

QPR have also triggered a 10 million-pound release clause in the contract of Anzhi Makhachkala defender Christopher Samba, as Redknapp looks to reinforce his backline with the imposing former Blackburn Rovers captain.

Norwich have also been active in January, bringing in striker Kei Kamara on a loan deal from Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer, while making two bids for Celtic forward Gary Hooper, both of which have been rejected.

Norwich manager Chris Hughton has freshened up the fringes of his squad, allowing reserve goalkeeper Declan Rudd to go to Preston North End on loan.

Lee Camp arrived from Nottingham Forest to act as back-up for Mark Bunn and injured first-choice shot-stopper John Ruddy.

Each club will be keen to take away all three points from their clash at Loftus Road, but QPR’s need is undeniably greater.

The west London outfit occupy last place in the standings, four points adrift of safety.

Their defensive record is far from the worst of the teams in the wrong half of the table, but they are in dire need of goals – QPR have netted just 18 times this season, a sorry statistic Remy and Crouch will be charged with improving in the second part of 2012/13.

Norwich meanwhile are far from secure – they sit 14th on the table, seven points above the relegation zone, but with no illusions about their proximity to the drop zone.

Both teams recorded encouraging draws in their previous outings, with QPR gaining a point in a 0-0 stalemate at home to champions Manchester City, while Norwich held fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur to a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road.

And while a share of the spoils against heavyweight opposition cannot be discounted, Redknapp and Hughton know victories are the only means of guaranteeing top-flight survival.

Premier League preview: Fulham v Manchester United

31 January 2013 10:58

Fulham have a chance to avenge their FA Cup defeat to Manchester United when the two clubs meet again in the Premier League on Saturday.

Martin Jol’s team went down 4-1 in the fourth round of the cup at Old Trafford last Saturday, with a Ryan Giggs penalty, Wayne Rooney’s goal and a brace from Javier Hernandez doing the damage.

Both teams returned to league action on Wednesday, with United coming from behind to see off promoted side Southampton 2-1.

Rooney was on the scoresheet again, the England international netting twice in the first half to cancel out Jay Rodriguez’s opener for the visitors.

Fulham meanwhile registered an encouraging 3-1 win at home to West Ham United, with Dimitar Berbatov and Hugo Rodallega both scoring and Joey O’Brien putting through his own net for the visitors.

Jol’s players responded well to Kevin Nolan’s equaliser early in the second half, Colombia international Rodallega restoring Fulham’s lead less than 60 seconds later.

But the visit of United to Craven Cottage represents a far sterner challenge – Sir Alex Ferguson’s team are enjoying a 12-match unbeaten run in all competitions, their last defeat came in December, when a weakened line-up lost 1-0 at home CFR Cluj in the Champions League.

Ferguson has close to a fully fit squad to choose from, with Darren Fletcher (chronic bowel issue) their only long-term absentee.

Wide attacker Ashley Young (knee) and centre-back Jonny Evans (hamstring) have a slim chance of returning to contention for the match on Saturday.

As for Fulham, former United man Kieran Richardson (calf) has a strong chance of being passed fit to face his old club.

But midfielders Kerim Frei (groin), Mahamadou Diarra and Simon Davies (both knee) are ruled out.

For league leaders United, the match is a good opportunity to extend their seven-point lead over Manchester City.

The second-placed champions dropped points in a 0-0 draw with struggling Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday, and face a tricky assignment at home to Liverpool on Sunday.

Fulham meanwhile climbed to 12th courtesy of their win over West Ham, but will seize any chance to increase the eight-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone.

Premier League preview: Wigan v Southampton

31 January 2013 10:57

In a battle of the teams aiming to escape relegation trouble, Wigan Athletic host Southampton at the DW Stadium on Saturday.

Wigan haven’t won in the league since a 3-0 triumph against Aston Villa before the turn of the year, with two losses and two draws, including a 2-2 draw against Stoke City on Tuesday, which left them in 18th position.

Two spots above and three points ahead of Wigan are Southampton, who have acquitted themselves well in clashes against Chelsea and Manchester United since new manager Mauricio Pochettino took over from the sacked Nigel Adkins.

Alex Ferguson said despite his United side winning 2-1, Southampton’s second-half performance was the best of any team this season at Old Trafford – perhaps a testament to Pochettino settling in well at his new club.

Wigan and Southampton have only ever met once before as this is the first time they have played in the same division together and have never met in any domestic cup.

Their previous encounter was in late August, when Wigan won 2-0 at Southampton – Franco Di Santo and Arouna Kone the goal scorers.

Wigan have had no outstanding marksman this season, with Kone (six), Di Santo (five) and Jordi Gomez (three) scoring 14 of their 27 goals.

Three players, Shaun Maloney, Jean Beausejour and Kone, have contributed five assists for Roberto Martinez’s side this season, demonstrating shared responsibilities in the creativity department as well.

Since the shock sacking of Adkins, Southampton have played well in two clashes under Pochettino, including the impressive display at Old Trafford, where they bossed the home side in the second half – but nevertheless, they are yet to win under the Argentine.

Targetman Rickie Lambert has had a superb season, hitting double figures in goals for the fourth-year running and will be a huge threat to the Wigan defence from crosses and set-pieces.

Martinez will be without Spanish full-back Ivan Ramis (knee), Ben Watson (broken leg) and Arsenal-loanee Ryo Miyaichi (ankle), who are three players that would start if they were fit.

Jose Fonte and Guly Do Prado will both miss the match through knee injuries – Portuguese centre-back Fonte the big loss having played 20 times for the south-coast club this term.

A win for Wigan will see them climb out of the relegation zone and draw level with Southampton on points, while their opponents can put pressure on Norwich City and Newcastle United by clinching the three points.

Fabregas regrets wasteful Barca

31 January 2013 07:52

Cesc Fabregas lamented Barcelona’s profligacy as they drew 1-1 with rivals Real Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final.

The Catalan side took advantage of slack defending and scored the opener in the second-half courtesy of Fabregas’ well-taken finish past Diego Lopez, before Raphael Varane equalised in the 83rd minute.

The former Arsenal star feels Barcelona could have added to their tally, but refused to be drawn into commenting on who were now favourites to secure a place in the final.

“The result could have been better for us,” Fabregas told AS.

“In a derby anything can happen. We are fine with the result and now we must concentrate on the league. We achieved a good result and think we will cope in the home leg.”

Fabregas also commented on his side’s poor start to the game, which saw Cristiano Ronaldo come close to scoring from a free-kick in the opening minutes.

He added: “As always derbies are very intense. In the first few minutes we were distant with the ball and did not compete, but after that we held on to it well.”

The semi-final second leg is at Camp Nou on February 26.