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United's van Persie to face Arsenal fire
November is here, and the battle for the Barclays Premier League title is officially heated. Chelsea’s big early-season lead has disappeared, and the top four teams are all within five points of each other. This weekend’s matchups could see a changing of the guard at the top of the table – never a dull moment in the Premiership!
What will eight years with a club do for your psyche when you face them for the first time? Ask Robin van Persie. That's what he'll face Saturday at Old Trafford when Arsenal comes to town. The London to Manchester transition has been relatively smooth for RvP thus far. The striker has seven league goals and United sits just one point behind league-leading Chelsea. And RvP’s attacking partner, Wayne Rooney, certainly won't have any reservations facing Arsenal. He has 10 goals in 20 league meetings with the Gunners, an average of one goal per 164 minutes of action. Not too shabby.
Right now, Arsenal is all over the place. Gervinho is out for three weeks with an ankle injury. They lost at home last week in Champions League play, struggled to down a winless Queens Park Rangers at the Emirates, and then midweek scored seven goals – touchdown! – but allowed five to Reading in Capital One Cup play. It has become tiring trying to figure them out.
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How will Chelsea respond to their first league defeat last weekend? Here’s what I expect: in the words of Mr. T, "PAINNNNN." The Blues have been buoyed by Juan Mata lately, who has four goals and five assists in his last five league games. And their success on the counter attack has been top notch (co-league high three). And on top of that, for some reason Fernando Torres is giving off the air that he is about to go on a tear. Not just Saturday – more like a month long run. One more bit of bad news for Swansea: they have NEVER scored a BPL goal in the month of November. Ouch.
If Swansea can manage to hold the Blues to a draw this weekend – or better yet, pull off what seems like an impossible win – the reigning Barclays Premier League champions could take over the top spot of table with a win against West Ham.
While a City victory is the likely scenario – the Citizens have won seven of their last 10 BPL meetings with the Hammers – they cannot ignore the biggest threat: Andy Carroll. The West Ham striker has scored four goals against City, more than any other Premier League opponent. He is by far the biggest threat facing the Citizens on Saturday.
However, City’s recent record on the road is squeaky-clean, with five wins and no losses in their last seven BPL away matches. It will take a monster effort from Carroll and co. to pick up a win at home against this Premier League giant.
Liverpool vs. Newcastle (live, Sunday, 10:30 AM ET, FOX Soccer)
Heading into this match, Newcastle sit three points ahead of Liverpool in the league table. No, you don’t need to get your eyes checked – you read that correctly, Newcastle really is ahead of Liverpool. While this might not be hard to believe now given the Reds troubling performance this season, likely only Toon fans would have predicted this at the beginning of the campaign.
Good news for Liverpool fans: the Reds have won 15 of their last 17 BPL matches against Newcastle at Anfield – and the only goal scored against them in the Magpies last six visits was an own goal last season. The outlook is promising for Liverpool to grab all three points in this one. Just don’t count on Luis Suarez to be the difference-maker here; only one of his last nine Premier League goals has come at Anfield (I recommend re-reading that stat a few times to really let it sink in).
Ahh, the Brian McBride special. Lately Everton strikes me as the guy who checked in, asked for and received the complimentary room upgrade, enjoyed the free breakfasts and newspapers, yet knows he has already extended his late checkout time too long. Their last three matches, all versus very beatable teams, ended in draws. The Toffees still sit in fifth, but they are now six points behind the league leaders and need a win this weekend to keep pace with the Big Boys. On the flip side, imagine how high current seventh place side Fulham would be if they could close out games. Last weekend was the third time in four games that they allowed a goal in the final three minutes that ended up costing them points. It is very easy to say that the Cottagers could be a top four team on points, if only they could hold strong through 90 minutes.
I am an unapologetic fan, supporter and believer in Major League Soccer. Always have, always will. Unfortunately, the best part of their season, the playoffs, gets buried behind the Premier League, NFL and College Football activity. The growth of the game here in the US needs MLS, and vice versa. If you want a stronger American presence now and down the road, do your part and support MLS this post-season. Go to a game, watch them on one of the many fantastic TV options, or just talk them up at home, work, school. The level of play and competitive nature of the playoffs often makes fans out of non-believers.
A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter @RobStoneONFOX.
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