Here’s a look at the major story lines in the Premiership this weekend.
1) Walcott is now wanted?
Theo Walcott’s contract dispute has been a long-standing story, and a fairly reasonable argument has been made that his contractual situation has kept him out of Arsenal’s starting 11 throughout the early part of this season.
But there’s no denying the fact that Arsenal’s attack is much more dynamic with him in the lineup. He had two assists in Arsenal’s 3-3 draw with Fulham last week, and scored the week before in Champions League play against Schalke.
Not surprisingly, the Gunners have re-opened contract negotiations with Walcott after he reportedly turned down a $100,000 a week offer.
2) Home is where the wins are
On December 28, 2010, the Citizens defeated Aston Villa 4-0 at home. It was the first match of a 35-game run at Etihad Stadium that has yet to see City lose.
Here are the numbers from the 35-game run: 20 clean sheets, over 90 goals scored, and just over 20 goals allowed.
3) Take your medicine
Aston Villa is still smarting over coughing up a 2-0 lead against Manchester United last weekend, and now they have the tall task of facing Roberto Mancini’s men.
In fact, Villa is one of just two teams that has to face the Manchester clubs in back-to-back weeks this season. In May, Swansea plays its third- and second-last matches of the season home to City and away at Old Trafford, respectively.
But back to Villa, their collapse against Manchester United was just another black mark on a growing struggle in the Premier League. They’ve won just twice over their last 21 league games.
4) Quick out of the gates
This is a matchup of two teams that love to get off to quick starts. Both of these clubs have scored the opening goal in a joint league-high eight games this season (and both have gone on to win six of those games).
For West Brom, they’re just as effective at the start of the second half as well: The Baggies have allowed 12 goals this season, and just one has come in the first 30 minutes of a half.
5) Tough times for Terry
Chelsea skipper John Terry was riding high after his return from a four-match suspension. He scored in the 20th minute against Liverpool last week, but less than 20 minutes later, a collision with Luis Suarez forced him off the pitch. It was revealed this week that Terry will miss three weeks with a knee injury.
Of note, the Blues allow around 1.1 goals per game with Terry in the lineup this season, and about two goals per game without him.
6) Turning it around?
There are signs Liverpool is beginning to “put it together” under Brendan Rodgers. Stephen Gerrard looks rejuvenated (he is the fifth most prolific passer in the league), and Luis Suarez has been, arguably, the league’s top striker.
And the team is beginning to earn results as well: The Reds’ six-match unbeaten streak is the third-longest current run in the Premiership, behind only Manchester City and Everton. This run hasn’t come easy as well, with the last three matches being draws against Everton, Newcastle, and Chelsea.
7) “I want to play for the one of the big clubs one day….”
“But I am patient.” That is how Marouane Fellaini described his current situation at Everton. The Belgian is coming off a virtuoso performance last weekend that lifted the Toffees to victory against Sunderland. He netted a goal and a had a wonderful assist on a back heel effort just at the top of the box.
His play is reportedly drawing interest from many of the top clubs in Europe (including Chelsea and Arsenal), but Fellaini’s price tag could top $40 million.
8) Jackson Five
Five games. That’s how long it’s been since Simeon Jackson last saw the pitch for the Canaries. Forwards Robert Snodgrass and Grant Holt have become mainstays in the starting 11, while Steve Morison (nine appearances as a substitute) seems to have become Norwich’s first scoring option off the bench.
Jackson told Sportsnet on Thursday that the extended time off the pitch is “something you have to deal with at this level.”
You can see his full statement during the Norwich City-Manchester United pre-game show on Sportsnet on Saturday.
9) Crossing guards
No team in the Premier League has attempted more crosses this season than Manchester United. This is not surprising. They have a variety of interchangeable players up front — Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie both enjoy stepping out wide from time to time to create for others — and they have aggressive fullbacks such as Rafael who like to jump into the play.
These crosses have also proven to be very effective. The Red Devils have scored 12 goals off of them this season, including eight headers (both league-highs).
10) Keeping up his pace
Van Persie had an amazing average last season of being in on just over one goal per match (30 goals, nine assists in 38 games).
Well, wouldn’t you know it, he has eight goals and four assists in 11 games this season, while being in on at least one goal in each of the last seven games.
They will be relying on van Persie and Chicharito up front (seven goals in his last five games), as Wayne Rooney is doubtful with an ankle injury.
11) Bruising ‘ball
Old school football will be on display when West Ham hosts the Potters. Here are the numbers through 10 matchdays:
Fouls: West Ham 162 (most in PL), Stoke 155 (2nd most in PL)
Bookings: West Ham 27 (most in PL), Stoke 26 (2nd most in PL)
If you’re looking for one particular player to keep an eye on: Stoke midfielder Dean Whitehad has five yellows and a red card in just eight games this season.
Who is the best striker in the Barclays Premier League?