Fresh injury problems for Arsenal ahead of Man City trip
LONDON (AP) — When Arsenal cannot beat the English Premier League’s leading teams, the prospects of an imminent title triumph seem slim.
Traveling to defending champion Manchester City on Sunday, the focus is just on returning to the top four for the side which was last champion in 2004.
It’s three years since Arsenal’s last league victory over a City side that used to play an insignificant part in the title race until the 2008 Abu Dhabi takeover provided the financial muscle to strip the London club of its prime playing assets.
There was humiliation on the last visit to Etihad Stadium last season, with City inflicting a 6-3 rout. Although Arsenal did beat City in August, that came in the largely inconsequential curtainraiser to the English season before they drew their league encounter at Emirates Stadium.
“We need to play with more spirit, with more aggression, and be very focused,” City midfielder Santi Cazorla said. “If not, these teams will kill you. We need to be perfect if we want to win.”
Perfection is harder with such a lengthy injury list at Arsenal, which is only a point off fourth-place Manchester United.
Captain Mikel Arteta (ankle) and Mathieu Debuchy (right shoulder) have both undergone surgery and are expected to be sidelined for around three months, manager Arsene Wenger announced on Thursday.
“It’s very unfortunate for Mathieu, it’s unbelievable because he’s had two surgeries in the same season,” Wenger said of the defender, who underwent ankle ligament surgery in Septemvber, a month into his Arsenal career.
City hosts Arsenal after losing ground on leader Chelsea by drawing at Everton last weekend, with two points separating the front-runners. Chelsea could be five points ahead by the time City’s game kicks off if Jose Mourinho’s side wins at Swansea on Saturday.
Here are a look at the other talking points this weekend in the Premier League:
STRIKER DILEMMA: Just when United’s season seemed back on track — after 10 games without defeat in the league — the team lost to Southampton last weekend. It also raised questions about the future of Radamel Falcao. The Colombian was out of the squad completely on Sunday, and missing Saturday’s trip to Queens Park Rangers would make it less likely the striker will extend his stay at United beyond June when his loan from Monaco expires.
LIVERPOOL’S QUEST: Unbeaten in seven games in all competitions, Liverpool travels on Saturday to an Aston Villa side three points above the drop zone, and scorer of a league-low 11 goals. One of those goals gave Villa a 1-0 win at Anfield in September.
“They don’t concede many,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers pointed out on Thursday. “It will be a difficult game as it was earlier in the season when we conceded from a sloppy corner and then weren’t able to get the breakthrough.”
Liverpool is eighth in the standings, and midfielder Adam Lallana has provided a boost by returning to training ahead of schedule after a thigh injury on New Year’s Day. He could be fit for Tuesday’s League Cup semifinal first-leg against Chelsea.
FIGHTING THE DROP: Of the three teams in the relegation zone, QPR’s match is the toughest — at home to United. Leicester hosts Stoke, and Hull travels to West Ham. Also on Saturday, Burnley, which is only a point above the relegation zone, takes on Crystal Palace.
Sunderland, which is ahead of Burnley on goal difference, expects to have Jermain Defoe in the team to face Tottenham. The Black Cats are waiting for Jozy Altidore’s proposed swap-move to FC Toronto to be processed.