Game to watch – Arsenal v Manchester United
“No, Man United is a strong team and I expect us just to cope with the problems they will give us. They will attack as well. They will not only defend.”
Nice try, Arsene. When asked whether he expected Manchester United to park the bus on Saturday night, Wenger did his damnedest to taunt Jose Mourinho into taking him on in an actual game of football. If those words have no effect, then perhaps Mourinho should instead take a glance at the Premier League table and realise that the usual ‘good draw at Arsenal’ is likely to leave United ten points behind Manchester City going into the derby. That should be enough to see the shackles removed.
Well it should, but it almost certainly won’t. Mourinho will surely approach this game in the same safety-first fashion that has seen his teams score just once in their last ten away games against other members of the top six. So all we can really hope for as eager viewers is that Arsenal score relatively early and force a game of football to break out. If they start with the same energy and intent we saw in that 2-0 victory over Tottenham a fortnight ago, United may well struggle for a cogent answer.
The shame for Arsenal fans is that the triumvirate of Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez has been robbed of its focal point but Danny Welbeck’s record of three goals in four appearances against his former club makes him a more-than-able deputy. Let’s sit back, wait and see if the Victor Lindelof revival holds its form under real pressure.
Much will of course be made of the so-called hoodoo Mourinho holds over Wenger but such statistics are now as irrelevant as those stating that Brighton have not beaten Manchester United since 1982; the relevant statistic is that Wenger has only lost once in their last five meetings. This is a meeting of equals. Let’s just hope they have equal ambition on Saturday.
Player to watch – Sergio Aguero
We’re sure that Sergio Aguero is happy for Raheem Sterling and all but this is a man who has been top Manchester City goalscorer for the last six seasons (though he had to share the billing with Carlos Tevez in 2012/13); he will not enjoy being two goals behind the younger, faster man.
He will also not greatly enjoy being behind Mo Salah and Harry Kane in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot, even though Kane has the advantage of playing all the games and having almost all the shots for Tottenham. He will eye that list and curse the fact that Pep Guardiola keeps trying to play him with Gabriel Jesus.
Aguero and Jesus as a pair – with Mendy in the team, nine goals in three games; without him one goal in four. #MCFC
— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) November 29, 2017
What he needs right now is to play West Ham at home – as a lone striker. He has scored eight goals in 12 games against the Hammers and they are now managed by David Moyes. If Wayne Rooney can score a hat-trick, what the hell could Aguero do?
Team to watch – Tottenham
If truth be told, I slightly bullied Daniel Storey into being quite tough on Tottenham on Tuesday night; his natural instinct is to be lovely about a team full of young-ish players but it was definitely time to say that things are clearly going awry at Spurs, whether the problem is fatigue, money or – as some would have you believe – the timing of Mauricio Pochettino’s book.
But the fact remains that Spurs have won just one of their last five Premier League games, and that was a squeaky 1-0 over bottom-of-the-table Crystal Palace. Too many attacking players are worryingly out of form and the defence is sorely missing the almost-flawless Toby Alderweireld; they are in desperate need of a performance and a result. Going below Burnley in the table on Wednesday night was what Gary Megson would call a ‘kick in the whatsits’.
There has to be a reaction. They have already lost as many Premier League games this season (four) as in the whole of last campaign and they can ill-afford other people following The Sun in calling this run a ‘CRISIS’. This has to end here, which makes Saturday’s visit to a motoring Watford side a compelling watch. It may well be first up on Match of the Day if Mourinho gets his way.
Manager to watch – Alan Pardew
Oh the fixture gods have been so, so kind. How did they know last summer that Tony Pulis would be so woeful as West Brom manager that he would be sacked and replaced by the safe pair of hands in expensive leather gloves, just in time for the Baggies to face his old club Crystal Palace? Just beautiful.
Pardew spoke on Wednesday about the importance of “having a balance on that side of things with your kind of ego” but you can bet that he will be the smuggest man in England come 5pm on Saturday if his new charges can beat Palace. To be fair, he will probably be the smuggest man in England come 5pm even if they lose; after all, he will swear blind that Pulis’ West Brom have just been beaten by his Palace side.
Even if he never moves, inside he will be dancing.
One-on-one battle to watch – Eden Hazard v Mikel Merino
The bad news for Newcastle is that Eden Hazard was given a little rest on Wednesday night, playing only ten minutes of Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Swansea. While he was on the bench watching Chelsea huff and puff and barely blow the Swans’ house down, nobody in the Premier League came anywhere close to matching his ridiculous record of almost six successful dribbles per 90 minutes. Do not be fooled by his underwhelming statistics this season (three PL goals, two assists); this is a player in tremendous form who could torment Newcastle just as he tormented Liverpool last week.
The silver lining for Newcastle is that Mikel Merino (one of the season’s best players outside the top six) came through the midweek draw with West Brom and he is better equipped than most to stop Hazard, by fair means or foul. He could have a booking by the time you have sat down without a sandwich on Saturday lunchtime.
Football League game to watch – Leeds v Aston Villa
Leeds have not managed back-to-back wins in the Championship since September and that inconsistency shows little sign of changing as they host a Villa side who have won their last three games. Watch this one on Friday night and have a drink every time we are told that this should be a Premier League game; you might sleep until kick-off in the Chelsea v Newcastle match. Make it a double if they mention that Aston Villa’s last win at Elland Road featured a goal from England boss Gareth Southgate. You can treat yourself to the whole bottle if the man himself follows the advice of Tim Sherwood and goes to watch Jack Grealish.
European game to watch – Napoli v Juventus
Or alternatively, spend Friday night soberly watching unbeaten Serie A leaders Napoli and the wonderful Dries Mertens take on third-placed Juventus and the fantastic Paulo Dybala. Or talk to your partner and children because you will be ignoring them all day Saturday. Your choice.
Writer to watch – Sarah Winterburn