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Premier League Preview

AS THE Premier League table starts to take on a solid complexion the participants have extended and curbed their ambitions accordingly. Already, the title appears destined for either Manchester or Chelsea, while the relegation candidates are already probable.

On Saturday afternoon Arsenal welcome Fulham to the Emirates in the frustrating knowledge that a Champions League berth represents the summit of their ambition. The Cottagers have never won away at the Gunners but Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz will pose problems for a brittle side looking to regain their confidence as they endure the worst start of Arsene Wenger’s 16-year tenure. If Fulham win they will leapfrog seventh-placed Arsenal.

Everton’s strident start has gained almost as many admirers as misfiring Sunderland have drawn detractors for their dour style. The hosts will take the initiative but with a organised backline and Steven Fletcher in their ranks Martin O’Neill’s side always have a puncher’s chance.

Reading may be envious of visitors Norwich, who have their first league win of the campaign under their belts. It is tempting to view this as a must-win match for the Royals, who have squandered five leads in the top flight this term. Chris Hughton’s Canaries can seldom approach an away fixture with such confidence.

If Nigel Adkins is to save his job at Southampton the Saints need to start claiming victories from matches such as the visit of Swansea, the first of five home matches in seven. Adkins has lamented his charges’ tough start and though Swansea are not as steadfast as the Champions League contenders they will fancy their chances against a side that has conceded 28 league goals in 10 matches.

Stoke will be well aware of visiting QPR’s weakness at defending set pieces and will prey on this shortcoming in the hope of adding to Mark Hughes’ woe at Loftus Road. Should Rangers lose another Tony Fernandes tweet in support of Hughes will probably follow shortly afterwards.

Wigan have been superb in recent weeks but doubts will remain until Roberto Martinez’s side can start to reach that level consistently. West Brom have every reason to approach their visit to the DW Stadium with confidence born from their routine victory at home against Southampton on Monday night.

In the Saturday evening kick-off there is an inclination to ask just how many goals new league leaders Manchester United will score at Villa Park. United have their faults but it is difficult to see Paul Lambert’s side taking anything from this match.

Champions Manchester City entertain Tottenham on Sunday afternoon knowing that they could be five points behind United at kick-off. The safe money is usually on City at the Etihad, yet in the absence of David Silva the Citizens have not been their imperious selves. Nonetheless, Spurs will need to post a superb performance to banish memories of last week’s defeat at home to Wigan to make it two wins out of two in Manchester this term.

Andy Carroll, looking for his first goal of the campaign, and Kevin Nolan return to St James’ Park with West Ham full of hope of taking advantage of Newcastle’s depleted ranks. Magpie absentees include Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and Fabricio Collocini.

Liverpool’s visit to Stamford Bridge represents the 30th time these two clubs have met in seven years. The Reds won this fixture in fine style last season but their current dependence on Luis Suarez, who is far from prolific, puts them at a disadvantage. Second-placed Chelsea are vulnerable in wide areas and in defence but this may not be a contest in which they are made to pay for those foibles.

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