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Arsenal, QPR set for massive clash

Wenger's Arsenal will look for points against relegation contenders QPR.
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Nick Webster

Nick Webster has been the voice of the Barclays Premier League, FIFA World Cup's and UEFA European Championships in America since 2001. Insightful, provocative and entertaining, you'll always find him at the heartbeat of the action with stories that matter.
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It’s crunch time in the Barclays Premier League, with battles breaking out all over. Here are the six games you cannot afford to miss this weekend:

Aston Villa vs. Chelsea

(Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer)

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WHAT THE GAME IS: At the moment, Aston Villa are safe from relegation. Their fans, however, are not safe from the wretched football that manager Alex McLeish has deployed. On the other side of the coin is Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo: The “interim” man has worked his magic with the Blues and made them must-see TV again.

WHOM TO WATCH: Villa’s Gabby Agbonlahor must be wondering where it’s all gone wrong. He’s gone from hot prospect and surefire England man to an afterthought. Agbonlahor does have gifts, though; This game is the kind of stage that screams “shop window.”

There is no doubt we’re about to witness a rare sighting — a Fernando Torres goal in the league. The Spaniard hasn’t found the back of the net since Sept. 24 in the Prem, but his performances in recent weeks have been outstanding. He’s going to get one soon.

WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Villa took advantage of since-ousted manager Andre-Villas Boas’ dithering tactics last time around at Stamford Bridge, but in this meeting, the Blues are a completely different animal. A draw or win on the road for Chelsea seems the only logical result.

QPR vs. Arsenal

(Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer Plus, 2GO)

WHAT THE GAME IS: QPR are fighting for Premier League survival; Arsenal are striving for automatic Champions League qualification. Bottom line: This match is massive. Three points have never been more valuable for either club.

WHOM TO WATCH: If Joey Barton could display the kind of vigor on the field that he does on Twitter, QPR wouldn’t be in the bottom three. Barton has all the tools to be more than simply something special, but he’s lost his way through a combination of bad decisions and self-delusion. Yet, on his day and when he’s focused, he can be a match winner. QPR need him to be at his best in this match.


Theo Walcott has had many false dawns in his short career, but it does feel as if he has turned a corner. His decision making had been poor — as was evident earlier in the season — but Arsenal’s struggles this year have made him a better player. He’s been forced to grow up and wear the mantle of a player who can be relied on week in, week out. He has stepped up, and the results speak for themselves.

WEBSTER’S WISDOM: QPR have turned in some fantastic displays at home this season, notably turning over Chelsea and Liverpool. That won’t happen Saturday: Arsenal will take all three points.

Manchester City vs. Sunderland

(Saturday)

WHAT THE GAME IS: Man City set a Premier League record by winning 20 consecutive home matches after downing Chelsea last Wednesday. If the title race is to continue to Man City's April 30 showdown with Man United, City need to pick up No. 21. Sunderland know that a league double won’t ease the pain of their FA Cup exit, but they’d love to play spoiler — and spoiler is a role that Martin O’Neill’s team does well.

WHOM TO WATCH: Body language is critical at this stage of the season, and Roberto Mancini never shies away from expressing his feelings. Right now he looks like a man possessed by demons. He’s got to get back to being the cool Italian on the sideline if he hopes to soothe his side’s shattered nerves.

If anyone has broad enough shoulders to carry City to the promised land, it is Yaya Toure. For my money, the Ivorian is the key to City's final push. His all-around game is perfectly suited to the Premier League, and I believe he has the character to lift his teammates. My only concern is fatigue: He was the heartbeat for his country for six weeks earlier this year in the African Cup of Nations.

Nicklas Bendtner was something of a laughingstock at Arsenal — his bold statements about his ability, combined with a dismal performance on the field, directly resulted in the lack of respect he received. Let’s be honest, though: He had a hard time hitting a cow’s backside with a banjo while at the Emirates. But the change in scenery seems to have helped him. He’s been impressive at Sunderland of late and has been a successful rehabilitation project.

WEBSTER’S WISDOM: I thought City would get something at Stoke last weekend. I didn’t think it would be just one point. This weekend, the pressure is going to be excruciating at the Etihad, but Mancini’s men will come through and take all three.

Newcastle vs. Liverpool

(Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer Plus, 2GO)

WHAT THE GAME IS: In the early years of the Premier League, this was the match to watch for thrilling entertainment. The gloss of yesteryear has faded, but this is still a big game, and the implications could be felt at Anfield for many years to come. No matter how you spin it, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is under serious pressure.

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WHOM TO WATCH: If Yohan Cabaye played for any of the top clubs, the critics would be waxing lyrically about what a great player he is. Funny thing, his toiling in North-Eastern obscurity might have been just the ticket for the Frenchman; It’s allowed him to concentrate on his soccer and kept him from being distracted by headlines. The $8 million transfer fee that Newcastle manager Alan Pardew paid Lille for Cabaye now looks like a very smart piece of business.

Andy Carroll is the most unathletic $55 million player I have ever seen. “Gangly and floppy” describes his running style; “battering ram” portrays his impact on opponents’ bodies; and “goal-scoring flop” sums up his Liverpool career to date. I can’t see Dalglish benching Carroll, as he is returning to the club where he became a cult hero — but then again, the Scotsman knows he must get a result in the North East.

WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Newcastle is not officially out of the Champions League conversation, and they’re tough at home. Liverpool have been awful recently and are dreadful away from Anfield. I’m leaning toward a home victor on Sunday.

 

Tottenham vs. Swansea

(Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer)

WHAT THE GAME IS: The hissing sound currently emanating from White Hart Lane is the air leaving the Tottenham balloon. Once, it flew proudly into third place and automatic qualification to the UEFA Champions League. Now, it’s sagging noticeably. Swansea is possibly the last team Spurs manager Harry Redknapp wants to play at this time because the Welsh side are on the way up courtesy of Brendan Rodgers, a manager who can actually coach.

WHOM TO WATCH: Luka Modric would be the key to any club’s fortunes. He’s invaluable for the Spurs because there is a style associated with the Lilywhites, and Modric epitomizes it. If the Croatian is ticking, the Lane is a joyous place to be.


Arguments are never ending as to whom the best goalkeeper in the BPL is. However, if you said Michel Vorm, you’d be hard-pressed to find any naysayers based on this season’s body of work. The Dutchman has 12 clean sheets and looks as if he’s been in England all his life — you’d never know this is his first season in the top flight. The Swans have got themselves a good one, but the test will be if they can keep him.

WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Tottenham haven’t won in the Premier League since Feb. 11. That is not the form of a team heading in the right direction. As crazy as it sounds, Spurs might be happy with a point out of this one.

 

Blackburn vs. Manchester United

(Monday)

WHAT THE GAME IS: For those who have looked at this match and already given United three points, allow me to remind you that Blackburn pulled off one of the most stunning results of the season by beating United 3-2 on New Year’s Eve at Old Trafford.

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WHOM TO WATCH: Steve Kean won’t kick a ball on Monday night, but for my money he is right up there for a nod as manager of the year, regardless if they get relegated. If, in fact, the Rovers do survive, this should be one of the feel-good stories of the season. The abuse that Kean has suffered has been incredible, and yet he’s kept his dignity and produced results from what is a pretty rag-tag squad.

The Ewood Park faithful will be chanting for the team to “keep feeding the ‘Yak’ ” with reason. When Yakubu Aiyegbeni is on top of his game, Blackburn invariably wins. The 29-year-old Nigerian has scored goals wherever he has gone at an average of just under a goal every other game.

I know many of the Stretford End fans are not sold on Jonny Evans. However, I believe the Northern Irishman has finally settled down. Over the past few months — a period that has notably coincided with United’s run to the title — Evans has started to mature into a quietly consistent center back. Deputizing for Nemanja Vidic wouldn’t be easy for the best of the players, and after an extended run in the side, Evans has proved his worth.

WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Recent history says Blackburn do not roll over at Ewood Park for United, but this is the run-in and it’s historically when the Red Devils are at their best. It’s not always beautiful soccer, but in terms of grinding out results, Sir Alex Ferguson’s club is the best in the world.

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