Arsenal v Sunderland
Arsene Wenger’s side are still some way short of the top division’s all-time record of 42 matches without defeat, set by Nottingham Forest in 1977-78, but given their recent form, even that landmark does not seem beyond them. Victory for Wenger’s men will also leave them two short of Newcastle’s Premier League record of 14 successive home League victories.
Arsenal will give a fitness test to Thierry Henry who limped off during Wednesday’s Champions League macth with Auxerre. Fredrik Ljungberg is also looking to return after missing out in midweek with a migraine. Ray Parlour (hamstring), Dennis Bergkamp (Achilles) and Martin Keown (hamstring) are all unavailable.
Arsene Wenger’s team face a Sunderland side undergoing something of a mini-revival. Last week’s 1-0 win at home to Aston Villa was followed by a confidence-boosting 7-0 Worthingotn Cup win at Cambridge in midweek. The victory over Villa may welll have saved manager Peter Reid his job, but it will take several more victories before he can feel safe in his role.
Unless there is an almighty shock and Sunderland overcome the odds to win the match, this fixture will tell us little that we do not already know. Namely, Arsenal are the best team in England at the moment while Sunderland, with one of the weakest squads in the Premier League, can expect a long arduous season of toil.
Liverpool v Chelsea
Both teams were involved in European ties in midweek but whereas Liverpool cruised to a 5-0 Champions League win over Spartak Moscow, Chelsea suffered a humiliating UEFA Cup exit at the hands of Norwegian side Viking Stavanger. So, form definitely favours the home side and with Michael Owen’s hat-trick against Manchester City last week, confirming that reports of his demise had been somewhat premature, it is difficult to see beyond a victory for Gerard Houllier’s side. Moreover, when one remembers that Liverpool have never lost at home to the Londoners since the inception of the Premier League, the omens do not look good for Claudio Ranieri’s side.
Liverpool will be without Vladimir Smicer who has a toe injury and Abel Xavier, suffering froma mystery virus. On a more positive note, Markus Babbel could return now that the German has resumed full training. Stephane Henchoz came off against Spartak Moscow on Tuesday as a precaution after his hamstring injury, and Steven Gerrard was withdrawn after his physical battering, but both should be available.
Chelsea have yet to report any injuries following Thursday night’s defeat but whether Ranieri will want to make changes to freshen up his team after successive defeats, remains to be seen.
The fixture is arguably Liverpool’s toughest match to date and one in which we will learn more about the credibility of their title challenge. As for Chelsea, it’s difficult to escape the concllusion that this, like many in recent years, promises to be another season of underachievement.
Newcastle v West Brom
West Ham v Birmingham
October 6, 2002
Aston Villa v Leeds
Fulham v Charlton
October 7, 2002