Premier League: five things to expect from the weekend

The FA Cup and the Capital One Cup might have provided some interesting distractions – unless you support Manchester United, that is – but it’s now time to focus yet again to the Premier League.

Here’s what we can expect from this weekend…

1) West Ham’s bubbles could burst again

Having conceded 11 goals and scored none in five days, West Ham travel to fellow strugglers Cardiff under immense pressure, for they simply can’t afford to lose in Wales on Saturday – from a psychological point of view as much as anything else.

Cardiff might only be three points clear of West Ham and one clear of the relegation zone themselves, but the mood in the Welsh capital has improved after the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer while Big Sam’s popularity is at an all-time low among the Hammers fans.

With just two points won over the last seven league games and a horrendous run-in – West Ham face Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City in the final six weeks of the campaign, another defeat could spell the end for Big Sam.

2) Arsenal will cope without Walcott. For now.

Arsenal travel to Villa Park on Monday night, hoping to defend the league’s best away record against the team currently boasting the league’s second-worst home record, but will have to do so without Theo Walcott.

Walcott’s injury is a huge blow for Arsene Wenger, not only because the England man had netted five in his last six games but also because his injury arrives just a few weeks after Lukas Podolski’s return looked to have alleviated the pressure on Olivier Giroud’s shoulders.

 With the Arsenal manager aware that he can’t afford to rely solely on Giroud and Podolski until the end of the season the Emirates is likely to welcome another striker between now and February but, for now, Arsenal will cope without Walcott.

Following Monday’s trip to Villa, the Gunners face Fulham and Crystal Palace at home with a potentially tricky trip to Southampton sandwiched in between, before they take on Liverpool and Manchester United in successive weeks.

But, by then, a new striker should be available.

3) Comfort away from home

None of the top four teams are at home this weekend, with Chelsea facing a testing trip to Hull early on Saturday, Manchester City and Liverpool travelling to Newcastle and Stoke on Sunday, before Arsenal visit Villa Park on Monday night.

On paper, the Gunners have the easiest task of the four, with City facing a Newcastle side smarting to bounce back from two consecutive defeats, while Stoke are unbeaten at the Britannia in the last six Premier League games.

That, however, could all change early on Saturday, for should Chelsea win at the KC Stadium, they would go top of the table until Sunday, thus forcing a response for the other three.

In what is shaping up to be one of the closest Premier League races in recent years, it’s the weekends without blockbuster fixtures such as this that could prove the difference between lifting the title and finishing runners-up.

4) United players must step up

David Moyes looked desperation personified at Sunderland, after his side capitulated for the third time in a week and the United manager will be under even more pressure when his side host Swansea this weekend.

Michael Laudrup’s men clinched a deserved win at Old Trafford last week and could cause United troubles yet again, particularly given United’s injury crisis shows no sign of stopping.

For all the criticism that’s been aimed at Moyes this season, many players in the Old Trafford dressing room should start to take a long, hard, look at themselves given the way they’ve performed this season simply hasn’t been good enough for a club of United’s standards and expectations.

5) Sunderland must ride cup’s wave

When Gus Poyet replaced Paolo Di Canio at the Stadium of Light many expected Sunderland’s fortunes to turn around but while Sunderland are 90 minutes away from the Capital One Cup and are in the fourth round of the FA Cup, the Black Cats remain rooted to the bottom of the table.

Safety is only four points away and the spirit Sunderland showed against Manchester United and Chelsea in the Capital One Cup will have filled Poyet with confidence about his club’s chances of survival, but Sunderland, quite plainly, need to start to turn their effort into points.

Six points in the last five games are a positive start but Saturday’s trip to fellow strugglers Fulham – themselves enjoying a mini-revival having won two in the last three – could go a long way to determine Sunderland’s future.

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