5 things to know about the Premier League
Tight at the back, irresistible going forward and possessing arguably the player of the season so far in Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal appears to have finally convinced critics that the team is a genuine contender for the Premier League title.
Arsene Wenger and his team head into the upcoming round of midweek matches with a four-point lead over Chelsea and with growing belief that a trophy drought stretching back to 2005 can be ended this season.
Arsenal hosts Hull on Wednesday, when Chelsea visits Sunderland and third-place Manchester City looks for an improvement in its dreadful away form in a match at West Bromwich Albion.
Here are five things to know about this week’s Premier League games:
Testing games against Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea lie in wait for Arsenal as it looks to stay at the top of the Premier League heading into 2014. First up for the leaders, though, is a home match against Hull.
Since losing to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, Arsenal has won all five of its league matches at Emirates Stadium. And it would be a major surprise if it isn’t six straight victories on Wednesday, especially with Ramsey in such brilliant form.
His two goals in Saturday’s win at Cardiff took his tally to 15 goals for club and country this season.
“If he keeps playing like that, of course (he will be player of the year), but it has only been a third of the season,” Wenger said. “Let’s not forget that one year ago everyone questioned him. That shows you that he deserves credit for that, he has turned a corner and he can continue to improve.”
After five straight losses, something needed to be done to halt Fulham’s slide down the Premier League.
So new owner Shahid Khan did what many were expecting and fired Martin Jol, who had been looking increasingly beleaguered and helpless.
His replacement is Rene Meulensteen, who last season was one of the masterminds behind Manchester United’s title-winning campaign before being recruited a month ago to help out Jol. His task at Fulham couldn’t be more different to what he experienced at Old Trafford.
“I know what is required at the top end of the Premier League,” the Dutchman said. “This is a different challenge with different pressure. This is making sure you realize the need to keep three teams below you.”
Meulensteen’s first match in charge is against Tottenham on Wednesday.
Samir Nasri feels loved again at Manchester City, and it’s showing in his performances on the field.
The France midfielder has been infuriatingly inconsistent for City since joining from Arsenal in 2011, losing his way completely in the final months of Roberto Mancini’s tenure last season. Mancini even joked that he felt like punching Nasri for regularly dropping below the standards he was capable of.
Under City manager Manuel Pellegrini, Nasri is smiling, not sulking, and has been one of the team’s star performers over the last two months as it qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League and looks to chase down Arsenal in the Premier League.
Two goals in the 3-0 win over Swansea on Sunday followed another in the 4-2 victory over Viktoria Plzen in Europe on Wednesday. He is also picking up plenty of assists.
It shows just how well Nasri is playing that City has hardly missed the creative skills of injured Spain playmaker David Silva over the last few games.
MOYES VS. EVERTON
Everton spent 11 years under David Moyes trying to get above Manchester United in the Premier League standings. Only now that Moyes has left — ironically to take over at United — has the feat been achieved.
The Merseyside club is two points and three spots above eighth-place United heading into their match at Old Trafford on Wednesday, when Moyes is expected to receive a warm reception from away fans for his decade of service at Everton.
There were fears over Everton’s future when Moyes decided to replace Alex Ferguson at United but they have been dispelled by Roberto Martinez, who has taken the team up a level in his six months in charge.
Confidence is high after beating Stoke 4-0 on Sunday but United is unbeaten in 12 matches, and Moyes appears to have got over the sticky start to his near-impossible task of succeeding Ferguson.
The form of Wayne Rooney has been key to that, with the England striker back to his best form with three goals in his last two league games — and 10 in all competitions for United this season.
Stung by a surprise 3-1 loss to Hull, Liverpool will be eager to prove the wheels aren’t falling off their top-four bid in Wednesday’s home match against Norwich.
Losing top scorer Daniel Sturridge for up to eight weeks because of injury will test the resources and squad depth of manager Brendan Rodgers, especially with matches coming in quick succession over the festive period in England.
“This little period will test us now,” Rodgers said, “but players will come in and it’s a great opportunity to a stake a claim.”
The onus will be on Luis Suarez — Liverpool’s only fully fit, out-and-out striker — to continue his brilliant form since returning from a ban for biting and keep the team in contention for a return to the Champions League.
Liverpool dropped two places to fourth after that disappointing display at Hull and there are five clubs — including United and Everton — within three points.