Here are a few storylines to be aware of ahead of this weekend’s slate of Premiership games.
Saturday programming alert: Watch Sunderland v Arsenal (on Sportsnet, 9:30am ET), Norwich City v Fulham (on Sportsnet ONE, 9:30am ET), Chelsea v Wigan Athletic (on Sportsnet World, 9:30am ET) and Southampton v Manchester City (on Sportsnet, noon ET. Also, watch Stoke City v Reading and Swansea City v Queens Park Rangers exclusively on Sportsnet World OnlineSunday programming alert: Watch Aston Villa v West Ham United (on Sportsnet World, 7:30am ET), and Manchester United v Everton (on Sportsnet World, 11am ET).
Podolski on a roll for Arsenal
Is there a hotter player in the Premier League right now than Lukas Podolski?
After a slow start to the season, the German attacker has been in brilliant form in recent weeks, having a hand in 10 goals in his last eight appearances for the Gunners (four goals and six assists). He’ll be looking to add to that tally when Arsenal visits Sunderland on Saturday.
Arsenal looked pretty lifeless last week against Stoke City before Podolski and Santi Cazorla were introduced as second half substitutes. They transformed Arsenal’s play, and it was Podolski’s goal with 12 minutes left in regulation that was the difference.
This, of course, came on the heels of his master-class performance versus West Ham on Jan. 23 when he set up three goals, and scored one himself in a 5-1 victory.
What’s amazing about Podolski is that he’s being deployed more as a wide man for Arsenal, and not in his favoured central striking position.
“I think when I play No. 10 or as a striker I am in this position to score more goals and I can shoot more,” Podolski recently told the Guardian. “But with the style of the game at Arsenal I do it well on the left side and I am happy to play there.”
Chelsea looks to rebound vs. Wigan
It wasn’t that long ago that Chelsea had a vice-like grip on third place in the standings.
But the Blues have dropped points in three of their last four matches, including a shocking loss away to Newcastle United last week.
Chelsea still sits third with 46 points, but Tottenham (45), Everton (42) and Arsenal (41) are all within striking distance.
Part of the problem for Chelsea has been on the defensive end, having conceded eight times in their last four outings.
Fortunately for the Blues, Wigan Athletic visits Stamford Bridge on Saturday on the back of a terrible defensive record. The Latics have kept just one clean sheet in their last 15 Premier League games, so Chelsea’s defensive woes might not haunt them.
“The character the players showed in the second half shows something is right,” he told reporters. “If we cannot control these games then it is something we have to improve, but (last Saturday) we had a good reaction that was positive. Hopefully, we can play well and win and carry on."
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What’s going on with Michu?
Michu was the talk of the league during the first half of the season, bagging an impressive 13 goals through Swansea City’s opening 18 matches.
But the Spanish midfielder has since gone six straight games without finding the back of the net (572 minutes). Swansea picked up points in the first five games of Michu’s dry spell before being blanked 1-0 by West Ham United last weekend.
A visit by Queens Park Rangers to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday could be just the tonic for Michu’s scoring woes. The Swans opened the season back in August by trashing the Hoops 5-0 at Loftus Road, with Muchu scoring twice.
“We are not finding the way to goal easy at the moment; teams are making it difficult for us. But hopefully we can score a couple (against QPR)," Michu told the team’s official website
“Their team has changed a lot since the first game of the season. It will be a difficult game but I think we can find the spaces because they need to come here and win.
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Red Devils pulling away
Manchester United enters the weekend atop the Premiership standings, with a nine point lead over Manchester City and 13 games to play.
City has dropped points in its last two games, and faces a challenging away visit to Southampton on Saturday. Considering the champions’ recent woes, it’s not inconceivable that Manchester United, at home to Everton on Sunday, could be sitting on 12-point advantage by the end of the weekend.
Wayne Rooney has emerged from the Robin van Persie’s shadow and established himself as United’s most dangerous scoring threat in recent weeks, with eight goals in his last seven Premier League appearances.
Everton has found the going very tough at Old Trafford, with 15 losses and no wins in their last 19 visits. But the Toffees might have a bit of a psychological edge going into this one, after earning a 1-0 win over United in the season opener for both clubs at Goodison Park. That result marked United’s first losing start to the season in eight years.
Also, United threw away a two-goal lead in the final seven minutes of regulation and had to settle for a 4-4 draw against Everton last April. Had the Red Devils won that game, they would have ended up winning the league title – instead of losing to Manchester City on goal difference on the last day of the season.
"That was a bad blow for us and it cost us the league … it was unexpected and we have to anticipate the unexpected in the run-in," Ferguson told reporters on Friday.
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Eight pack of facts
Here are some numbers to keep in mind, for all you statistical nerds out there (you know who you are):
– Newcastle United has won just one of their last 11 Premiership trips to London (with two draws and eight losses).
– Chelsea has dropped seven points from winning positions in their last four league games.
– Norwich City is one of three teams yet to win a penalty in the Premiership this season (along with Swansea and Tottenham).
– Reading’s Adam Le Fondre has scored five goals in his last four League appearances, all off the substitute’s bench.
– Arsenal has won 10 and lost just one of their last 18 league games against Sunderland.
– Queens Park Rangers have used more players than any other Premiership team this season (29).
– West Ham has committed 319 fouls in the Premiership this season. Only Stoke (326) have committed more.
– Wayne Rooney has scored eight goals in his last seven Premiership appearances.