LONDON - Arsenal will be hoping to take advantage of managerless Crystal Palace this weekend as it tries to extend its lead at the top of the English Premier League.
Second-from-bottom Palace parted company with manager Ian Holloway on Wednesday and Arsenal may see it as the perfect way to bounce back from its midweek Champions League defeat. Second-place Chelsea hosts Manchester City in the heavyweight clash of the weekend, but many eyes will be on Old Trafford as champion Manchester United, eight points off the pace, takes on Stoke City as it searches for form and consistency.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger saw his side beaten 2-1 at home by last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, but striker Olivier Giroud believes there's no reason for concern.
“We lost but have won almost every game,” the Frenchman said. “Just [Aston] Villa and West Brom [were not wins] so it’s not the time to be really worried. But we want to come back on Saturday and win the game.”
The arrival of Germany forward Mesut Ozil has inspired Arsenal to a rich vein of form, recovering from an opening-day defeat by Villa to reach the top of the table. But Giroud's form has been almost as impressive, and the Frenchman said he is enjoying life.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m used to playing a lot of games and I feel good with my body so touch wood no injuries. Over the years I’ve got used to playing a lot of games and I’m okay with my body. I don’t want to find an excuse.”
Former Real Madrid coaches Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini go head to head in the popcorn match of the weekend as second-place Chelsea welcome Manchester City, one point behind in fourth. Both sides go into the match after successful trips in the Champions League, and Mourinho will be looking to Fernando Torres to continue the form he showed with a double in midweek.
“As a team we are feeling much better after the preseason and we are improving,” Torres said. “Individually it is the same, the last few games I feel very sharp, very well. It’s a young squad, with young players, a new manager and it takes time to settle. We are still improving but hopefully we can see the best Chelsea from now until the end of the season.”
Mourinho took over from Pellegrini at Madrid and will be hoping to continue his fine record over the Argentinian.
United, meanwhile, will try to build some momentum after a stuttering start to the season that has seen the team beaten in three of its first eight matches. Manager David Moyes believes things are starting to come together and will be growing in confidence after a midweek win in the Champions League. But the Scot will be desperate for leading striker Robin van Persie to shake off a series of injuries in time for the visit of Stoke.
“Robin, I hope, will be fit for the weekend,” Moyes said. “He had a couple of niggling injuries even before they went on international duty and they have all just caught up on him a little bit. I felt if I could get the chance to give him a breather a little bit I would do. Fortunately for us it worked out fine.”
Third-placed Liverpool hosts West Brom while in-form Tottenham takes on Hull City and sixth-place Southampton faces Fulham. Norwich City meets Cardiff, bottom side Sunderland takes on Newcastle in the northeast derby and Swansea faces West Ham in the weekend’s other matches.
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