Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Moyes doing himself few favours
Fragile words plopped out of David Moyes' mouth after Manchester United's eighth Premier League defeat of the season - let's take a look at those words. "I don't know what we have to do to win," he said of the loss at Stoke, a team that has the third-worst defensive record in the division, as demonstrated by the five goals shipped in a slapstick back-line performance versus Liverpool last month.
Taken at face value, Moyes' desperation screams a message of grave concern for the supporters, whose faith that a turnaround will happen under the Scot might well sit on the border where loyalty and delusion collide.
"I thought we were extremely unlucky," he also said, in a reminder that feeling sorry for oneself is not an attractive human characteristic. Admittedly, United's defence was decimated by injuries, and Charlie Adam's goals were deflected then jaw-dropping. Yet, while the cruel mistress that is "fortune" plays her wicked part in football, relying so heavily on such being in your favour is not the way of Premier League champions. Furthermore, the ill-fated line is not unique to this particular blemish, for Moyes has bemoaned it many a time already during 2013-14. It is getting boring.
"We got to the byline eight or nine times and never found the ball," Moyes huffed. The issue there is not so much that no one met the cutbacks, rather that the Red Devils under Moyes are dependent on this tactic. They are lacking in variation in their attacking play, meaning they are easier to defend against. Buying Juan Mata from Chelsea has undoubtedly strengthened their squad, as he is a very talented footballer, and a triumvirate of the Spaniard, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie is, on paper, quality. But at central midfield they remain wanting - the club has put a roof on a house without walls.
It is Fulham at home next for the Red Devils, a side that looks broken at both ends: Just one goal has been scored in their past five matches in all competitions, and their defence has conceded an eye-watering 53 times in 24 league fixtures this term. It is a return to Old Trafford for Fulham's current boss and United's ex-first team coach Rene Meulensteen, who should at least have January additions John Heitinga and Konstantinos Mitroglou at his disposal. It is doubtful, though, that the aforementioned duo will be enough to plaster over the cracks, even against a United side 15 points off the leaders.
Start of the end for Arsenal?
And so beginneth Arsenal's run of doom, path of peril, sequence to inevitable tragedy, etc. On Saturday lunchtime they travel to Liverpool, before hosting Manchester United, facing Liverpool once more (in the FA Cup), then welcoming Champions League holders Bayern Munich to Emirates Stadium. Boy, oh boy. Considering what lies ahead it is unlikely that the Gunners' current two-point advantage at the summit will be enough to see them still on top come the end of February - although it is in May when the title is decided, of course.
Arsene Wenger has been defiant about their title hopes, perhaps a little prickly they remain third favourites with the bookmakers despite having led the way for the majority of the campaign. But there is a feeling/an expectancy/even a hope from some that Arsenal -- because of what has gone before in recent years -- will misplace their proverbial bottle. And it is this series of games ahead - after what happened during a similar run in December - that most predict will be their undoing.
As for Liverpool, Kolo Toure's hilarious assist for Victor Anichebe's goal denied them all three points at West Brom, meaning an opportunity was missed to stretch the gap between them and fifth-placed Everton. Looking ahead to this weekend, that Wenger highlighted the need to stop the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge combo was not surprising, but that he cited "controlling possession" reiterated that the central midfield battle will be key, an area in which Liverpool did not strengthen during the transfer window, as they instead wasted deadline day chasing a winger. Certainly, Lucas Leiva's absence is a huge one for Liverpool.
Laudrup-less Swansea threatened by drop
What a sorry mess Swansea City, a club heralded for its structure and organisation, find themselves in, having sacked the manager who won them their first ever trophy, just four days before the South Wales derby. That Michael Laudrup has gone is not actually a colossal surprise -- what departure is these days? -- for all has not seemed right at the Liberty Stadium for some time now, on the pitch and reportedly off it. One win in 10 topflight matches is enough to put the squeeze on any boss; silverware or no silverware, handsomeness or no handsomeness.
Now awaits a daunting test for novice coach Garry Monk, who has replaced Laudrup for the foreseeable future. There's a very real chance that relegation could befall the club that finished ninth last season if the rot is not cured. Their current position of 12th in the standings is misleading, considering the congested nature of the bottom half this term -- the Swans are just two points above the relegation zone. Saturday's opponents Cardiff, who have hardly shied away from the headlines this season either but were buoyed last time out by their January recruits, might indeed smell blood primed for a-twisting.
Yet more disappointment awaits Newcastle
Speaking of shambles, and blood for that matter, Newcastle fans were baying for the latter after witnessing the former in January. Sure, the transfer window does funny things to people, evoking cold sweats from even the most serene, but selling your best player, Yohan Cabaye - admittedly for a good price - and not replacing him makes even the world of the Tyneside soap opera, that this week saw pantomime villain Joe Kinnear depart as director of football, a strange place to be.
Chin up, Newcastle fans, it's only Chelsea away next.
James Dall is an assistant editor at ESPN FC. He tweets here.