The FA Cup returns this weekend and has the knock on effect of playing havoc with the Premier League schedule. Only four games are on offer over the course of Saturday and Sunday, however the good news for football fans is that the action carries on into Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as the backlog of fixtures gets cleared somewhat.
It really is an unusal round of fixtures for the league. Some teams play twice, some once and some not at all. Due to their presence in the sixth round of the world’s largest and often most over-hyped cup competition, Chelsea, Spurs, Aston Villa and Fulham must sit back and hope their respective rivals cannot capitalize on their absence. Portsmouth, Birmingham and Stoke face dual commitments this weeks when they run out in both league and cup action while Blackburn and Man City get a chance to put the feet up with no action forthcoming in the next seven days whatsoever. Check out how Backpagefootball’s own Neil Sherwin attempted to deal with such chaos as he continues to fight the good fight in fantasy football here.
As mentioned, many of the teams in action this weekend will have a chance to put points on the board and turn up the heat on those around them who are not in action. Arsenal and Manchester United both have a good opportunity to boost their title shots as they face Burnley and Wolves respectively.
The Gunners face their first run out since the loss of Aaron Ramsey and will be keen to keep their solid momentum on track. Victory over Burnley this weekend will see them go equal on points with Chelsea, whereas victoy by more than four goals (in no way outside the realms of possibility given Burnleys away record) will see them leapfrog their London rivals. For a club who have been definitively written off from title success on two clear occasions this season to be so conclusively back in the hunt for honours is testament to the unpredicatbility off the league. Furthermore it makes a mockery of the impulsiveness of many areas of the media which immediately look to condemn single results as season ending disasters and thus add fuel to campaigns for managers to lose their jobs. Further credit must go to Arsenal themselves of course.
Arsene Wenger, along with many of his players have spoken in midweek of how they will use the sickening injury to Aaron Ramsey to inspire them to success come May and the Arsenal may be able to welcome back Andrei Arshavin and Abou Diaby this weekend as they aim to prolong Burnley’s wait for a victory outside of Turf Moor this season.
For United – the newly crowned Carling Cup champions, anything but a defeat will put them back upon the summit of the league, but then again anything but a victory will be seen as a massive failure. Alex Ferguson will see the three points on offer here as essential as they face the team just one place outside the relegation zone. A win would put United two points clear of Chelsea following the Blues loss to Man City last weekend.
The international week did not bring much good news for Alex Ferguson. Star striker Wayne Rooney picked up a knock against Egypt on Wednesday, and the fiery Scottish manager has already made known his anger over Rooney being played for so long in the game despite all his recent exertions. This injury coupled with the news that Michael Owen is set to miss the rest of the season with hamstring trouble picked up in the Carling Cup final means United may be short in attacking options.
Dimitar Berbatov (pictured, right) will likely start up front with Mame Diouf an outsider for a place. Jonny Evans will also miss the game having picked up an injury playing for Northern Ireland however Rio Ferdinand is ft again following back troubles so he will partner Nemanja Vidic in defense. Nani is eligible again having served his suspension for his red card against Aston Villa. Ryan Giggs competes the injury list. In some good news for United, Owen Hargreaves is expected to begin his return to action in a reserve game this week.
The reverse fixture this year resulted in one of the big talking points of the season as Mick McCarthy rested virtually all first team regulars in a bid to keep legs fresh for an impending six pointer with Burnley days later. At this stage of the season and with Wolves in such a precarious position, a repeat maneouvre is not an option and the Molineaux boys will be looking to battle hard for any hope of taking something from the game, especially since the Birmingham club have won just two of their last ten games. Wolve’s fans may well be buoyed by memories of the corresponding fixture in 2004 which saw Kenny Millers strike seal a famous victory for the club.
15th place West Ham face a showdown with a showdown 13th place Bolton this weekend with plenty on the line. Only one point separate these teams as both try to desparately scramble away from the drop zone. West Ham have not conceded in their last four home games and will be looking to continue that run this weekend. Gianfranco Zola does have injury concerns surrounding his defense, with Danny Gabbidon and Herita Ilunga set to miss out while good news comes in the fact that Carlton Cole is fit to continue his comback into the side. The Englishmans presence in the team s key to their survival hopes. Bolton, who overcame Wolves last week, have won all of the last five meetings between these sides but are most definitely still a side struggling in form, despite Owen Coyle’s managerial appointment.
The final game of the weekend sees Everton face Hull. Everton have only the league to focus on in these times and will be seeking to continue their ascent up the table following their excellent overall form of late. Hull will be desparate for anything given their position and Phil Brown may be able to welcome back Jimmy Bullard into the team. The midfielders last run of games coincided with Hulls best performances of the season and all at the KC stadium will be hoping for a simliar situation this time round.
Monday sees Liverpool take on Wigan, both clubs will be looking to add to their points tally for very different reasons. Pool remain firmly in the hunt for fourth place while Wigan sit only one point above the relegation zone. Midweek action then involves more strugglers as Portsmouth, Sunderland, Bolton and Burnley all find themselves in action.
This weeks’s fixture list in full:
Saturday 6th March
Arsenal vs Burnley (15:00)
West Ham vs Bolton (15:00)
Wolverhampton vs Man Utd (17:30)
Sunday 7th March
Everton vs Hull (16:00)
Monday 8th March
Wigan vs Liverpool (20:00)
Tuesday 9th March
Portsmouth vs Birmingham (19:45)
Sunderland vs Bolton (19:45)
Wednesday 10th March
Burnley vs Stoke (19:45)