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Premier League Preview

THE GOALFESTS of the Capital One Cup provided a welcome midweek distraction but it is now back to the more resonant action of the Premier League.

The most eagerly anticipated clash of the weekend is also the first. Arsenal travel to Old Trafford in possession of a dismal record at the home of Manchester United and their hopes in Saturday’s early kick-off already look slim.

Both sides have been porous in defence but United, aided by the defection of top scorer Robin van Persie from the Emirates in August, are more lethal in attack and should prevail, although a repeat of last season’s 8-2 mauling of the Gunners is remote.

Fulham host Everton led by a Dimitar Berbatov, who is beginning to find his best form once again, as confidence returns to this corner of west London. The Toffees will hope Kevin Mirallas, injured in a clash with Luis Suarez last weekend, is fit enough to make the trip to Craven Cottage as David Moyes’ side look to maintain their early interest in a Champions League berth.

Norwich welcome Stoke to Carrow Road on the back of three-match unbeaten run that has done much to fill Chris Hughton’s side with confidence. Stoke appear to have greater offensive options and are not prone to defensive collapses in the manner of Norwich, yet they have 10 draws between them this season and an eleventh is a real possibility.

There is little about Aston Villa’s visit to Sunderland that whets the appetite. Neither side has sparkled this season and it could take a rare moment of inspiration – or a defensive lapse – to separate them.

Swansea’s meeting with league leaders Chelsea pits two teams with similar footballing philosophies against each other, yet the Blues are overwhelming favourites by virtue of their superior quality and fewer weaknesses.

Fourth-placed Tottenham host Wigan and their biggest fear is likely that their attacking options are depleted in any way. The north Londoners have the quality to subdue Wigan and uncertainty largely stems from their occasional profligacy in front of goal. While Jermain Defoe is fit and scoring Andre Villas-Boas will rest a little easier.

West Ham are unlikely to relish the Saturday evening visit of Manchester City, with the champions now the only unbeaten side left in the top-flight. If City can keep Andy Carroll quiet and get at a West Ham defence that often appears flaky under pressure, particularly in the case of James Collins, then it is difficult to look past Roberto Mancini’s men, who seek to maintain the pressure on Chelsea and Manchester United.

The Sunday meeting of the remaining winless teams in the Premier League could be considered an archetypal relegation six-pointer but both QPR and Reading would be relieved to settle for three. Reading won their earlier League Cup meeting and Pavel Pogrebnyak, who scored that evening, hoping to give the Royals the edge at Loftus Road.

Liverpool versus Newcastle at Anfield is imbued with a sense of occasion thanks to that brace of 4-3 Reds victories in this fixture during the 1990s. This edition brings together a team with an underwhelming home record and another with shoddy away form. Tenth place takes on twelfth with the Magpies having the edge in the scoring stakes with one wondering how Liverpool will score when Luis Suarez is not hitting the back of the net.

West Brom’s strident progress has been halted in recent weeks by unfortunate defeats to Manchester City and Newcastle but Steve Clarke’s men will be confident of returning to winning ways on Monday night with the visit of Southampton and their generous defence.

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