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Our reporters expect Roberto Mancini's men to bounce back from their defeat to Napoli in midweek, and Chelsea should follow suit with a comfortable win over Wolves at home

So who’d have thought Arsenal would be the first Premier League side to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League? Well, with Robin van Persie in red-hot form anything is possible.

The Dutch skipper, who has already bagged 38 goals in 41 games for club and country this year, welcomes Fulham to Emirates in the Saturday evening kick-off, but not before seven top flight games have graced the schedule.

The day kicks off with another tricky test for Steve Kean’s Blackburn, who travel to Stoke on the back of the manager’s somewhat controversial improved contract.

The 15:00 fixtures see Bolton face Everton, Chelsea play Wolves, while Manchester United welcome Newcastle to Old Trafford, a week after the Magpies’ unbeaten start ended at the hands of the Red Devils’ rivals.

Two promoted sides meet at Carrow Road as Norwich take on QPR. Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is visited by former club Wigan, while third-placed Tottenham travel to the Hawthorns to tackle West Brom.

Sunday resumes another testing away day for Alex McLeish’s Aston Villa side as they cross the border to Swansea, before the game of the weekend sees Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool play host to current league leaders Manchester City.

So with another 10 matches on offer, here’s how our reporters see the pendulums swinging...

Stoke City
Blackburn Rovers

ED MALYON says...

Both of these sides come into this game on such dreadful form that you fear of they could both lose then they probably would!

The hosts' woes are well-documented, with defeats following every single one of their Europa League fixtures. Having had a two-week break from competitive fixtures, they will be in some of their best shape of the season and without any long flights back from Eastern Europe still taking their toll, they will be confident of a victory against Blackburn.

Rovers have made the news recently after offering under-pressure boss Steve Kean a new contract. The Scot was favourite to be the first Premier League manager to leave their post this campaign but the Venky family have stuck with him, even if the fans are deeply unhappy with the Glaswegian coach.

The Britannia Stadium was a notoriously difficult venue to visit, although that aura has begun to fade following some surprising results for Pulis' side. Peter Crouch may be viewed by some as a disappointment with just two league goals this season, but in providing two assists in their last outing (against QPR), he underlined his contribution to the team's efforts.

In a bizarre bottom-of-the-table clash with Wigan, Blackburn came away with a controversial point despite missing Chris Samba and Martin Olsson. They have unearthed some gems in Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica, but neither defends enough to be able to play them together. David Hoillett has now established himself as a regular due to his ability to track back as well as his dazzling wingplay and he will be key for the Ewood Park club of they are to get a result on Saturday.

It should be a tight encounter, but Stoke's issues this season have resulted from a heavy workload taking its toll on their smallish squad - following a fortnight's break, they should get back to winning ways.

Bolton Wanderers


My last visit to the Reebok Stadium saw Chelsea put five past a hapless Bolton side, but don't expect such fireworks from Everton when David Moyes' Toffees come to town on Saturday with only four other teams scoring less than them so far this term.

Last time out at home, Bolton scored five themselves, giving Stoke an afternoon to forget, while Everton’s last excursion saw them fall to the then-unbeaten Newcastle, but recorded wins at Blackburn and Fulham beforehand.

Apart from losing on their last two trips to Bolton, Moyes’ men have a decent record against the Trotters, picking up at least one point in eight of their last ten meetings.

With injury-ravaged Bolton already tasting defeat five times at home this season, Everton will be very disappointed if they can’t pick up a win and will undoubtedly go in search of the three points on Saturday.


JOE DOYLE says...

It will be interesting to see the reaction of Andre Villas-Boas to losing four out of the last seven games – this isn’t a familiar sensation for Chelsea fans since the takeover of Roman Abramovich.

Having said that, with all due respect to Wolves, this game shouldn’t be too much trouble for the Blues, and if it is then they really are in trouble.

I think there might be a couple of changes to the team who lost in Leverkusen – perhaps with some youth coming into the lineup in the shape of Romelu Lukaku or the midfielder Oriol Romeu as the manager goes in search of a fresh change.

I’m looking forward to seeing whether the defence is shifted around, particularly whether Alex may be re-called as he doesn’t seem to have made too many mistakes this season, but has been out in the cold somewhat.

For Mick McCarthy, it looks set to be a difficult trip. The fans have been getting on his back in recent weeks about poor team performances, but they won’t be expecting much from this one.

This should be a fairly simple win for Chelsea. I think Wolves will come with a strict game plan of trying to nick a goal and keep the lead, but the hosts are used to breaking down that sort of style. Teams have caused them trouble in recent times by coming and attacking, but I can’t see that happening and the Blues should take a comfortable three points.

Manchester United
Newcastle United


Sir Alex Ferguson may have trudged rather than stormed out his press conference following Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Benfica on Tuesday evening, but there was certainly a sense that his mellow exterior was not entirely masking the fury within.

With Manchester City looking unstoppable on the domestic front, and United just about staying in touching distance, I’m expecting Ferguson to have fired his team up with characteristic gusto ahead of Newcastle’s visit, as the champions look to rediscover some of the flair that was so apparent in the opening couple of months of the season.

The Magpies themselves have also seen a superb start slightly tarnished after their unbeaten run came to a halt in the blue half of Manchester last weekend and Ferguson will be hoping his men can turn the screw, as well as close the gap.

Norwich City


Two sides who have been exceeding expectations in their first seasons back in the Premier League go head-to-head at Carrow Road in a match that could have quite serious repercussions for the home side.

There can be no doubting that Norwich have been fantastically entertaining since winning promotion, with Paul Lambert encouraging them to take the game to the opposition no matter what their status. Last weekend's defeat by Arsenal was certainly not a shock but were the same to happen on Saturday then things could start to look a little less rosy. Currently 11th, the Canaries are within three points of 17th-placed Wolves, so not only would a loss here allow more than one team to potentially leapfrog them in the table, but it would also make it three defeats in a row and plunge them straight back into the scrap to avoid relegation. It has already been four games without a win, despite the 1-1 draw with Liverpool feeling like one, so Lambert will be desperate to regain some momentum in what is clearly a winnable game.

Things have been going rather better for the visitors, with QPR having won two of their last four and putting in an excellent performance in defeat against Manchester City. Midfielder Alejandro Faurlin will be under the spotlight after exclusively revealed that the Argentine has attracted the attentions of Arsenal, Tottenham and Inter with the January transfer window looming. This is a chance for the 25-year-old to stamp his authority on Norwich and prove to his suitors that he is capable of playing at a higher level.

Both sides boast in-form strikers in the shape of Steve Morison and Heidar Helguson and neither has a particularly proud defensive record - conceding 20 and 22 goals, respectively, while Norwich have yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Expect plenty of goals but QPR's superior momentum to seal the points.

  Wigan Athletic


They have been waxing lyrical all week about 'The Boss' on Wearside but worryingly for Steve Bruce it is Bruce Springsteen that everyone is getting excited about around the Stadium of Light rather than the under-fire Black Cats manager.

Springsteen is heading to the ground next summer for one of his marathon concerts but it is fair to assume unless Bruce won’t be around to see him in action unless he gets his team to raise their game and start by securing only their second home win this season against his old club.

Sunderland fought out a 0-0 draw with overcome fellow strugglers Fulham last weekend but they badly need a few goals to cheer up their fans this time around and a win to ease the pressure on Bruce and stop club owner Ellis Short having sleepless nights against a the Premier League’s bottom side who are already looking doomed thanks to their porous defence.

West Brom
  Tottenham Hotspur

JOEL LAMY says...

The two names most heavily linked to be the next manager of England face up to each other on Saturday, but at the moment both are enjoying life as a club coach. Harry Redknapp may have returned quickly after his heart operation, but life at Tottenham has been anything but stressful.

The same cannot be said for Roy Hodgson, but West Brom are still playing well; their centre-back pairing of Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley are pretty dominant in the air, but they struggled with the pace of Luis Suarez and the key for Spurs could be whether Emmanuel Adebayor can stretch them, allowing space for the likes of Rafael Van der Vaart to work his magic.

The Baggies will look to avoid giving away another soft penalty, the sort which Hodgson believes is ruining football. But they will need some charity from Tottenham to get anything from this match.



Can Robin van Persie keeping casting magic spells? That is the question I am most looking forward to being answered, assuming the Arsenal talisman is not rested by his manager in Saturday's London derby.
The Dutchman is being talked about in the same breath as Spanish league heavyweights Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as his superlative run of form shows no sign of abating.
Mikel Arteta reckons his team-mate is better than everyone else without even trying, the ultimate endorsement for a player who is making the penalty box art look ridiculously easy.
Yet Fulham are no mugs. They were unfortunate to get nothing when they hosted Tottenham before the international break and there are signs that Martin Jol's gradual evolution of the team is bearing fruit.
Arsenal will also be a little bit vulnerable after playing their best team against Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night. There might be a hangover from what was an emotional evening and a taxing fixture.

Aston Villa

SAM BISBY says...

The Swans finally came undone at the Liberty Stadium last weekend, but it took the (very unimpressive) champions to break their unbeaten home record since joining the ranks of England’s top sides.

Brendan Rodgers will not have been too disappointed losing to a solitary Javier Hernandez goal and will have a chance on Sunday to restore the balance at their South Wales fortress against a side that haven’t won a game on their travels since the season began.

Alex McLeish’s side put on a dismal performance at White Hart Lane in the Monday night action, losing against an overpowering Tottenham side, yet still find themselves in eighth, albeit some seven points away from the closest team above them, Arsenal.

Villa will want a good performance against the Premier League new boys ahead of their clash with Manchester United next weekend, but with Swansea’s focus of getting back their fearsome home status, it’s set to be a close call for both sides.

Manchester City


I'm looking forward to seeing whether Kenny Dalglish selects Andy Carroll in his starting line-up for the visit of the Premier League leaders on Sunday.

In the corresponding fixture last season, Carroll scored twice for Liverpool in a performance that promised much on his chances of proving worth the £35 million paid for his services.

But the striker has since struggled for the Reds and Dalglish's side have looked far more impressive without the former Newcastle man, as shown in the 2-1 victory at Chelsea last week. The major problem for Liverpool this season has been an apparent lack of ideas in home games against the weaker sides.

City have been in stunning form in the Premier League but now face a tricky run of fixtures. The concern for the manager, Roberto Mancini, will be that the poor displays in the Champions League could extend to a wobble domestically.

However, City are perfectly set-up for the counter-attack, as they have proved with thumping victories in their two toughest away games, against Tottenham and Manchester United. I don't expect such a convincing scoreline but I think the visitors will leave Anfield with three points.

6 CORRECT            2 PERFECT            2 WRONG

Another impressive week for our as 8 outcomes were successfully backed. Wayne Veysey has recorded successive perfect predictions with Liverpool’s 2-1 victory at Chelsea, while Liam Twomey also correctly noted Spurs’ 2-0 home win over Aston Villa.

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