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Premier League Preview

THE WEEKEND'S Premier League encounters are dominated by one or two glamour fixtures but each is set to contribute to the season’s narrative.

Arsenal’s early afternoon clash with Chelsea is perhaps the most intriguing prospect. During last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City, the Gunners, led by the wonderful Mikel Arteta, confirmed that their current incarnation is stronger and tougher than the one that struggled at times last year.

Arsene Wenger’s charges begin as favourites against a Chelsea side that has yet to convince for all its talents. It remains to be seen how the Blues can cope with an accomplished ball-hogging side but until either team can field a prolific forward then fears of frustration cannot be dispelled.

Third-placed Everton will look to build on their early momentum to defeat a Southampton side buoyed by their first top-flight victory of the campaign. The Toffees are not as lightweight as the Aston Villa side conquered by the Saints last weekend and their confidence will be high.

Fulham would be satisfied to take a point from their match with Manchester City and the onus will be on the champions to take three points back to the north-west. Roberto Mancini’s side have laboured on the road at times and a 2-2 draw in this fixture last year ultimately contributed to the drama of the title race.

Liverpool’s visit to Norwich has been built as the game to kick-start their faltering season but Brendan Rodgers must address his side’s profligacy and a formation that does not seem to effectively utilise the players at his disposal. Fail to beat Chris Hughton’s side and excuses ranging from poor refereeing decisions to difficult fixtures will start to grate.

Rock-bottom Reading have not built upon their opening day point and continually give off the impression of Championship side out of their depth. Against this backdrop, Newcastle travel to Berkshire hoping to inflict more suffering on Brian McDermott’s men.

Stoke versus Swansea at the Britannia will be billed as a clash of styles but it is certainly a fixture Brian Laudrup’s side could do without having picked up just one point in their last three matches. Stoke will look to overwhelm their effete and defensively suspect visitors.

Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland remain unbeaten and an erratic Wigan will find the Stadium of Light a difficult venue from which to take a point, let alone three. The Latics sorely miss Victor Moses and Sunderland may feel this is the day they claim the first victory of their Premiership campaign.

Manchester United have often found Tottenham yielding opponents at Old Trafford but the hosts’ veneer of invincibility ha beens tarnished of late amid a flurry of defensive injuries and midfield mediocrity. Still, last season’s runners-up will likely have the firepower to halt the north Londoners in Saturday’s evening kick-off.

Aston Villa were awful as they were gunned down by Southampton at St Mary’s last Saturday and vast improvement is required on Sunday against a West Brom side that currently sit fourth. It is not a sentiment that has been uttered too often in the top-flight but this may be the worst time to play the Baggies.

On Monday evening QPR entertain West Ham in the latest London derby. Sam Allardyce’s Hammers are a difficult prospect for a side that has struggled for fluency so far this term, yet they have struggled themselves to convert scoring opportunities into goals.

QPR manager Mark Hughes will relish the chance to claim the Rs first Premiership win of the campaign at home to a newly-promoted side after encounters with Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham.

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