Friday, December 13, 2013

Huge tests for Arsenal, Napoli and Leverkeusen


Is tomorrow's early Premier League game the clash of this season's top two? Or should Chelsea still be among the favorites despite their ability to ship at least 2 a game? Liverpool are still there, but may not even be the best team in their city.

Arsenal away at Manchester City this weekend is huge. City have won 7 of 7 at the Etihad and scored 29 goals in that span - that's an average of more than 4 a game, and they have just conceded 2. Arsenal's defense has been pretty solid to start the season, but they were cut apart by Napoli in the week, and you have to think that Aguero, Silva, Yaya Toure and company (not Vincent, although he's a threat at set plays) are going to give the Gunners a run for their money. Mertesacker and Koscielny have been very good this season, but City move the ball so quickly and playing on the half-turn is really not their strength. If Jenkinson plays too, I think Navas will exploit him and really test that offside trap.

But Arsenal are not 5 points clear after 15 games for no reason. Ramsey has been a beast, and Ozil creates at least one great chance per game - the key may be whether Giroud or Walcott can take that chance - Ramsey has been scoring loads, but the forwards are the players that will decide if Arsenal can maintain their push. Bendtner off the bench isn't that inspiring when you're losing.

There's a big game for Liverpool away at Spurs too. Lose and you're have to think they will slip behind Chelsea and Everton, both who have home games that they should win easily. Liverpool have failed a couple of tests so far this season, but are more than just hanging around  - Suarez is scoring so many goals that you hardly notice the injuries to Gerrard and Sturridge. However, if the Uruguayan is not firing, can anyone else take the responsibility?

Some big games for West Ham at home to Sunderland and Hull home to Stoke. All 4 of those teams need to start getting some points. More losses and some of the managers may be getting nervous - Steve Bruce is doing well at Hull right now, but they are due a bad run at some point, so need to accumulate while the going is good.

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Roma remain unbeaten, but trail Juventus by 3 points - hard to imagine, but Juve have won 13 of 15 in Serie A, yet couldn't reach the knockout stages of the Champions League. Maybe Serie A isn't as strong as predicted it may be this year. Napoli also didn't advance in Europe, but have a huge game with Inter this weekend. Both teams need a win to stay in touch with the leaders, but the pressure will be on Napoli at home. Inter are unbeaten away, and will be looking to Rodrigo Palacio to nick one - after going out of the Champions League, Rafa Benitez can't afford to lose.

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Fair play to Bayer Leverkeusen - they are desperately holding on to the coattails of Bayern Munich and reached the knockout stages of the Champions League in midweek. It's going to be tough for them to compete on both fronts, but it's tough for anyone against Bayern (apart from James Milner!).