Seven Premier League games, six of them three o’clock kick offs. It feels like an old fashioned Saturday and football fans should make the most of it. There are some important games to be played, with teams looking to end the year strongly and begin 2012 with a bang.
The Emirates will not be graced by the playing presence of Thierry Henry, but Arsenal fans will be safe in the knowledge that their hero is returning soon. Today they take on Queens Park Rangers in a bid to take the initiative in the race for fourth. Liverpool’s win over Newcastle last night put them, the Gunners and Chelsea within a point of each other, and Arsene Wenger will want a win in this London derby after a disappointing draw against Wolves last time out.
Arsenal go into the game with Theo Walcott fit again, and he may come straight back into the side. The big decision lays over the selection of Robin van Persie, who is just a hatrick away from the record for Premier League goals in a calendar year. Wenger may decide to rest the Dutchman with more pressing battles to come.
QPR have Shaun Wright-Phillips fit again after his injury, but Neil Warnock may stick with the same side that earned a 1-1 draw with Swansea last time out. That means a second consecutive start for Adel Taarabt, who may feel this is the perfect time to market himself before the transfer window opens.
Manchester United will be top at the end of 2011 if they avoid defeat at home to Blackburn, an ominous thought for their rivals. Despite some trying times recently, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have gone on a brilliant run which has seen them extinguish Manchester City’s lead at the top. United have yet more defensive woes after Chris Smalling was diagnosed with tonsillitis, while Johnny Evans has a calf strain and misses out. However, Rio Ferdinand could be name amongst the substitutes and Phil Jones is set to start.
Blackburn continue to be ravaged by injury with up to 10 first team players unavailable for today’s game. David Dunn and Martin Olsson are carrying hamstring injuries, but might be risked given the severity of the Rovers injury crisis. Blackburn fans will carry on their protests despite their side’s draw at Anfield, but should expect little from a team coming off back to back 5-0 wins.
Stoke have the worst goal difference of any side in the top 15, but still sit eighth on a comfortable 25 points. Tony Pullis’ men welcome Wigan to the Brittania today hoping to improve on the dour 0-0 draw with Aston Villa on Boxing Day. Robert Huth picked up an injury in that encounter and may not be risked, while Peter Crouch and Glenn Whealan face late fitness tests.
Their opponents come off a 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford but will be buoyed by the presence of Connor Sammon, whose red card against United was overturned. Wigan have the worst defensive record in the entire league and will need to rectify that if they are to climb out of the relegation zone.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, Bolton host Wolves in a relegation dog fight, Chelsea welcome Aston Villa, Fulham travel to Norwich and Swansea and Tottenham meet at the Liberty Stadium.