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Weekend climaxes in London derby

A tantalising set of Premier League fixtures fill the weekend culminating in a set of three local derbies Sunday, with Arsenal v Chelsea left until the end


Italian tactician Carlo Ancelotti will opt for his prefered diamond formation in midfield during Sunday’s clash with Arsenal. AFP

WITH Sunday stuffed with three local derbies, and some teasers to wet your appetite Saturday, this weekend promises to be a cracker, and could go a long way to shaping the table as we push forward towards the Christmas period. The London derby of Arsenal v Chelsea is kept simmering until the very end to complete another majestic round of Premiership football.

Arsenal are certainly an outside bet for the title, highlighted by their defeat to Sunderland last week. Defeat at home to table topping Chelsea should prove too much of a hurdle to climb, even at this stage of the season.

Van Persie’s absence was a huge factor in why Aresnal failed to score against the Black Cats. He’d been in sparkling form before he was injured on international duty. The Gunners can at least take confidence from having won all of their home games this season.

Last season, Chelsea visited the Emirates Stadium and taught Wenger’s youngsters a lesson. I doubt there will be a repeat this time around, and the game should feature the finesse and guile of Arsenal versus the brute force and power of Chelsea.

Both teams are missing key players. Chelsea look likely to be without Lampard and Drogba, whereas Arsenal are missing Clichy and Van Persie. Ancelotti will play four in midfield in his preferred diamond system, which should be interesting against Wenger’s tactic of playing Eduardo up front on his own and stringing five across the midfield.

There should be chances, and hopefully the two sides won’t cancel each other out. I might have to sit on the fence for this match, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I fancy Anelka to destroy the hopes of his former club.

Benitez had the dreaded vote of confidence this week as his side deservedly failed to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League.

Liverpool, still without Torres, face a short trip across town to face archrivals Everton. Defeat for Liverpool is unthinkable as they look to salvage their season.

Both sides will play one man up front and pack the midfield, and the game should be played in true derby fashion at 100mph. Benitez does have an excellent record against the Toffees, but the Reds don’t seem to have the belief at the moment. Against Man United, Liverpool played with grit and passion, which is something Everton have to do every week.

Everton are starting to clear the treatment room, and will certainly pose a physical threat, but lack craft and creativity without Arteta and Pienaar, who are still missing. Gerrard and Benayoun have the ability to open up Everton, but Liverpool has no one of substance in the box. Again, I fancy a draw in a game likely to have only a few clear-cut chances.

The late game Saturday sees two of the three teams vying to take Liverpool’s Champions League spot. Aston Villa v Tottenham has the potential to be the game of the weekend as both sides play with wingers and are much better going forward than they are defending. Defoe and Lennon were sensational in Tottenham’s 9-1 demolition of Wigan, but Martin O’Neil would have taken notes and will have his side well prepared. If Villa can get the ball wide to Milner and Young, then they have the potential to hurt Spurs, as they pose a serious aerial threat.

Robbie Keane sat out the last game and Redknapp would be a fool to bring him back into a team that finally looks balanced. Will Agbonlahor or Defoe make the difference? This is such a hard game to call, but Spurs should have enough going forward to get at least a point.

It can be difficult to predict how sides react when their manager gets sacked. It shouldn’t matter so much for Portsmouth as they have the daunting challenge of hosting the champions. You have to feel sorry for Paul Hart, who was never really given a fair opportunity because of Pompey’s off-the-field chaos.

With Chelsea not playing until Sunday, Sir Alex will be desperate to close the gap. United oozed class as they toyed with Everton last week. The Red Devils normally start slipping through the gears as the season progresses, and it’s about time Rooney regained his goal scoring touch in a match that should only have one winner.



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