1. Bleak signs for Newcastle in the North East Derby
It’s not been a great week for Newcastle fans. The inevitable happened on Monday, when they finally sold best player Yohan Cabaye to PSG for £20 million. On Wednesday, they played out a dire 0-0 draw with Norwich, dearly missing Cabaye’s creative input and losing striker Loic Remy to a red card, which has seen him suspended for the derby. Attempts to sign Clement Grenier to replace Cabaye appear to have failed, and with only 12 hours left on the transfer clock as I write this, Mark Noble is being touted as a possibility. Oh dear. It feels like a perfect storm, and a loss to mortal enemies Sunderland for the second time this season looks very much on the cards.
2. Can Solskjaer avoid making it 0 for 12 in the Premier League?
Solskjaer’s done alright in the cups - a victory against Championship side Bolton and Newcastle, whose attitude to domestic cup competition makes beating them like beating a Championship side - but in the league, he’s yet to notch up a single point as Cardiff manager. In fact, he’s overseen Cardiff's slip to the bottom of the league for the first time this season, and while he can’t be blamed for losses at the Etihad or Old Trafford, that home defeat to West Ham, in the midst of truly appalling form, is looking like a very costly clanger. Cardiff are at home to Norwich this weekend, and nothing less than three points is acceptable for a man who looks more of a ridiculous appointment every day that passes.
3. Wenger must beat Pulis at all costs
With an almost apocalyptic fixture list on the horizon, nothing less than a victory against Crystal Palace will do for Arsenal and Wenger. Two points dropped at St. Mary’s isn’t the worst of results in a vacuum - Southampton are the only team to take points off Manchester City in three and a half months - but given what’s coming up, Arsenal needed those three points. Tony Pulis has previously had some joy aganst Arsenal, his roughhousing tactics causing Wenger’s delicate band of magicians all sorts of discomfort. But you’d think this one has Arsenal win written all over it. Right?
4. Are Liverpool still in the title race?
Personally, I don’t think so, but they only trail the summit by 7 points, a margin that traditionally you wouldn’t consider insurmountable, and can probably claim to still be in with a shout. That said, with Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea’s current form being pretty intimidating, Liverpool will have to be close to flawless from now until the end of the season, and I’m not sure they’re quite capable of that, which that point at home to Aston Villa last week would testify to. They are strong favourites for that 4th Champions League spot, however, and a win against struggling West Brom would only solidify those credentials.
5. Can Hull stop the rot?
After such a strong start to the season in which Hull City Tigers made it look like their survival was very likely thing indeed, Steve Bruce’s side have choked their cushion into submission this month, with 4 successive defeats after that dreamland 6-0 victory over Fulham. They now sit only four points above the relegation zone and are very much back in the mix. A loss at home to Spurs whilst most of their rivals have winnable games could see that margin shaved to one. The honeymoon is over for Steve Bruce and Hull.
6. Knives out for El Cashico
I count myself amongst the pundits who don’t think Arsenal have the mettle to go all the way, so in my opinion, the champions elect will be one of the two teams who step out onto the Etihad Stadium on Monday night. Mourinho might have been content to play for a point had the script been followed and they’d secured the three points at home to West Ham, but now a point would see Manchester City maintain a three-point margin over Jose’s men, and City don’t have the hardest Premier League fixtures in the coming month. Perhaps this might cause Jose not to park the bus in the manner he has at all the other big away grounds. But then, he is Jose Mourinho.