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Bitter rivals Arsenal and Spurs in dogfight for fourth

ESPN staff
November 16, 2012
© PA Photos
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In what is turning out to be a three-horse race for the Premier League title, the fourth and final Champions League spot looks looks like it could be a straight fight between north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham (although Everton and West Brom might have something to say about that).

At one stage last season, Spurs boasted a ten-point lead over the Gunners, only to throw it away - they have not finished a campaign higher than their bitter rivals since 1995. Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas admits Spurs, who finished fourth last season but missed out on the Champions League by virtue of Chelsea's victory in the competition, will have to finish above Arsenal if they are to qualify for Europe's premier competition.

Almost exactly two years since Tottenham's memorable 3-2 comeback win at Emirates Stadium, Villas-Boas will be hoping to prey on Arsenal's defensive frailties in a match that is about more than just bragging rights.

Leaders Manchester United, who famously reignited their title bid with victory over Norwich back in 1993, travel to Carrow Road looking to maintain their advantage as champions Manchester City host Aston Villa.

Steve Clarke's West Brom, who have lost once at home this season, take on a Chelsea who are without a win in their last three league matches, while at the other end of the table, QPR and Southampton do battle in a must-win game for both teams.

For even more talking points and predictions, allow ESPN to preview all the action below...

Saturday

Arsenal v Tottenham

Form: Arsenal's defence has a lot to answer for this season. Just one clean sheet since the start of September had threatened to catch up with them, and after being torn to shreds by United the Gunners shipped three to draw with Fulham. The Spurs back line has not been much better. They have lost three of their last four league matches, and while the fans may forgive them for dropping points to champions Man City, defeat to Wigan won't be forgotten in a hurry.
Key battle: It's safe to say there will be tasty encounters all over the park on derby day, but Olivier Giroud's tussle with countryman and former Gunner William Gallas could prove crucial.
Player to watch: Emmanuel Adebayor made a rare start for Spurs against Man City and thrives in the heightened tension of a match against former team-mates. He may not be firing on all cylinders right now, but will be trouble-maker at large should Andre Villas-Boas give him another crack up front.
Talking point: Seventh plays eighth with far more than bragging rights on offer. Already 10 points behind leaders Manchester United, both Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger know the bare minimum the club can expect their fans to settle for is a Champions League berth in May. With City and Chelsea on United's tail and Everton looking tough to beat, either or both clubs could miss out if they keep throwing away points.
Bet of the day: There will be goals, if not a result. Spurs squandering a half-time lead for a share of the points is on offer at 14/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-2


Norwich v Manchester United - LIVE ON ESPN

Form: Nine wins and two defeats sees United top of the league, even if their 3-2 win at Villa was their eighth comeback victory in all competitions already this season. As for Norwich, things could be worse. Five points clear of the relegation zone and five points from their last three games - against Aston Villa, Stoke and Reading - are signs of a side finding their feet under new manager Chris Hughton.
Key battle: Javier Hernandez netted twice against Villa and in tandem with Robin van Persie, Sebastien Bassong is in for a tough afternoon.
Player to watch: While Nemanja Vidic keeps getting injured and Rio Ferdinand keeps getting slower, Jonny Evans keeps getting better. The Irish centre-back was seen as an emergency option in the absence of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones as cover - now the England duo have a fight on their hands for a starting role.
Talking point: After losing the title on goal difference last term, Sir Alex Ferguson wants 100 goals from United this season. That's all well and good, but does the quest for a hatful each time out mean risking burnout among the front men come February?
Bet of the day: Only once have United scored more than two at Carrow Road in the Premier League, and that was back in 1993. Another tight win is on the cards at 8/1 with bet365
Prediction: 0-1


Chelsea have picked up just two points in their last three games © PA Photos
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West Brom v Chelsea

Form: The Baggies have exceeded all expectations so far this season, flying high in fifth, Back to back defeats against Man City and Newcastle at the end of October halted their progress, but they bounced back with wins over Wigan and Southampton, and might be meeting Chelsea at a good time. Since the fallout of their 3-2 defeat by Man Utd at Stamford Bridge, the Blues have drawn twice in the league.
Key battle: Former Chelsea coach Steve Clarke makes no secret of his tactical approach - nullify the opposition's game plan and the points will follow. How he expects Youssouf Mulumbu and James Morrison to cut the supply lines to Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar is anyone's guess.
Player to watch: With John Terry sidelined, Roberto Di Matteo will be looking to Branislav Ivanovic to shore up Chelsea's back line. Whether moved into the centre or kept in his new berth at right-back, the Serb's experience will be vital in the coming weeks.
Talking point: The last time these sides met at The Hawthorns, a little over eight months ago, West Brom beat Chelsea for the first time in 11 Premier League meetings and Andre Villas-Boas was finally shown the door. Things picked up for Chelsea after that...
Bet of the day: If this is a corker - and we hope it is - then a cheeky punt on West Brom to lead at half-time before Chelsea fight back for victory after the break could land you 20/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-3


Man City v Aston Villa

Form: They may not be firing on all cylinders but five league wins in their last six games means Premier League champions Man City are still within touching distance of leaders United, who subjected Aston Villa to a galling 3-2 defeat at home last time out. With just two wins so far this season, was the flagging confidence of one of the season's early strugglers steeled or scuppered at Villa Park?
Key battle: City fans may thank Ron Vlaar for denying Javier Hernandez a hat-trick last week by deflecting his second 'goal' past Brad Guzan, but the centre-back has been a rare high point for Villa this season. He'll have his work cut out marshalling the visitors' defence against the sharp mind and quick feet of David Silva as City move forward.
Player to watch: Stephen Ireland left City complaining about being benched despite being the fittest player in the squad - only to be told he must work harder by Gerard Houllier. After being largely overlooked by Alex McLeish, the former Ireland midfielder is back in favour under Paul Lambert and will no doubt relish the chance to prove his old club was wrong to let him go.
Talking point: Take away the money, and whose job would you rather have: the constant pressure to coach a team to win with style and panache in all competitions while dealing with the egos in your squad and the press that inflates them, or the boss of a so-called sleeping giant struggling to find their form, fill their stadium and fund, let alone attract, much-needed transfers?
Bet of the day: Villa have struggled to keep a clean sheet so far this season, and with City nearly back at full strength there appears to be just one winner. Back City to cruise to a 3-0 win at 13/2 with bet365
Prediction: 3-0


Raheem Sterling will be buzzing after making his senior England debut on Wednesday © PA Photos
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Liverpool v Wigan

Form: The goals may not be flowing for Liverpool, but at least the points are ebbing through. Draws with Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton have lifted them clear of the ignominy of the relegation zone and into mid-table. After another slow start to the season, Wigan saw their hopes of building on victories against Spurs and West Ham quashed by high-flying West Brom last time out.
Key battle: After his own goal against the Baggies, Gary Caldwell will have to be at his very best - and hope for a bit of luck - to contain a rampant Luis Suarez.
Player to watch: Raheem Sterling's confidence ought to be sky-high after making his first start for England on Wednesday. Will Brendan Rodgers look to tap into that against Roberto Martinez's men?
Talking point: Steven Gerrard hit back at Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic's comments that he should leave Liverpool and join a 'big international club' by saying he was happy where he was. If the Reds are to maintain the high standing of the club in international circles, however, these are the games in which they should romp to victory.
Bet of the day: Thankfully for Rodgers and Liverpool, Suarez has hit a purple patch of late. Back the Uruguayan to find the net in a 2-0 win at 18/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-0


Newcastle v Swansea

Form: Topping the league at the end of August must seem a long time ago now for Swansea fans. After failing to win in September, the Welsh side have drawn three of their last five games since to slip into the bottom half of the table. In contrast, since beating Spurs on the opening weekend of the season, Newcastle's form has been consistently mid-table, with a win, a draw and a loss in their last three outings in the league.
Key battle: Quite how Nathan Dyer deals with Cheick Toite, in defence or attack, is anyone's guess. A restraining order might be his best bet.
Player to watch: Papiss Cisse was the darling of Tyneside last season, but has trailed Senegal team-mate Demba Ba in the scoring stakes this term. The Swansea defence have been mean in recent weeks, but Cisse will be keen to get back among the goals - provided he is cleared to play following a wrangle with his federation.
Talking point: Is this a case of second season syndrome at both Swansea and Newcastle? The Magpies were last season's surprise package and looked set to claim a Champions League berth before fading in the home straight, while Swansea were everyone's second team. Have both been found out this season?
Bet of the day: This one could be tight, but back Alan Pardew's men to edge it 2-1 at 15/2 with bet365
Prediction: 2-1


QPR V Southampton

Form: Dire, whichever way you look at it, whichever side you pick. Southampton have won one, drawn two and picked up eight defeats; QPR have drawn four and lost the rest. Just 12 games into the season, and this is a bona fide relegation six-pointer.
Key battle: Goalkeeper Paul Gazzaniga showed the down-side to youthful exuberance in Southampton's 1-1 draw with Swansea, putting Maya Yoshida under unnecessary pressure with a bad pass in the build-up to the equaliser. How he bounces back against Djibril Cisse and Co will be critical for Nigel Adkins' side.
Player to watch: Mark Hughes has singled out Adel Taarabt as the crucial cog in the side, and believes his form could decide the Hoops' fate. With two goals already this season, the Moroccan is the kind of player who can produce a match-winning goal from nothing.
Talking point: Defeat here could - should, surely - bring an end to Mark Hughes' reign at Loftus Road. Owner Tony Fernandes has changed his tune in his backing of the Welshman, warning Hughes that Rangers must win against the Saints on Twitter. The 'or else' was implied...
Bet of the day: Southampton squandered the lead against Swansea but Adkins was at least satisfied with their performance. Could they cling on for a rare clean sheet against Rangers? A 1-0 win comes in at 14/1 with bet365
Prediction: 0-1


Marouane Fellaini has been in fantastic form for Everton © PA Photos
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Reading v Everton

Form: After shooting out of the blocks at the start of the season, Everton's progress stalled after four consecutive draws. Victory against Sunderland last time out lifted them back into the top four ahead of the weekend's action. Draw specialists Reading's wait for a first win of the season goes on after being held to back-to-back draws against QPR and Norwich.
Key battle: Jobi McAnuff has insisted that morale in the Royals' camp remains high in spite of the wait for a first win. The Reading captain will come face-to-face with one of the most competitive midfields when Everton arrive at Madejski Stadium, and will have to deal with Marouaine Fellaini if they are to contain the visitors.
Player to watch: It's been a long time coming, but Leon Osman's first England cap should spur the 30-year-old on to greater things this season. Expect to see plenty of late runs into the box against Reading.
Talking point: Is this the year that David Moyes proves what can be done on a budget? Everton start the weekend in the top four after just one defeat in 11, and are playing some of the most eye-catching football in the league - all without an OPEC nation in sight. Moyes' achievements with the Toffees are well-versed, but Champions League football next season would lift the club to another level.
Bet of the day: Back the Toffees to lead by half-time and wrap up the win at7/4 with bet365
Prediction: 0-3


Sunday

Fulham v Sunderland

Form: Fulham are unbeaten since September, but have drawn their last three games and four of their last five. Sunderland dream of that kind of form, having lost their last three in all competitions - their last win coming against Wigan back in September.
Key battle: Dimitar Berbatov showed Manchester United what they were missing with two goals in Fulham's draw at Arsenal last week. Although he may not be quite so motivated against Sunderland, Carlos Cuellar cannot afford to lose focus for an instant against the Bulgarian, who is still capable of producing a moment of match-winning magic.
Player to watch: Sunderland's results have largely depended on the form of summer signing Steven Fletcher. The Scotland striker's last goal came back in September, the same day that the Black Cats last won. If Fletcher can find his shooting boots, Martin O'Neill might breathe a little easier.
Talking point: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the flavour of the week after his four goals sunk England in Stockholm on Wednesday. The PSG striker, who has played for European giants such as AC Milan, Barcelona, Ajax and Juventus, came close to joining Sunderland back in 2002. Just think, that spectacular overhead volley could have happened in the red and white stripes of Sunderland.
Bet of the day: Berbatov to score the only goal of the game is a tempting 20/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-0
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