1) Giroud to get his chance against United?

Olivier Giroud has had to be patient this season. Although he has been a regular starter in the Europa League, the man who was once Arsenal’s leading striker has not started a game in the Premier League this season.

Alexandre Lacazette has overtaken his fellow Frenchman since his arrival from Lyon, giving Arsenal’s attack greater unpredictability with his elusive, speedy movement, and the 26-year-old scored his seventh goal of the season in the 5-0 win over Huddersfield.

Lacazette then went off with a groin injury at half-time and his enforced absence against Manchester United on Saturday will force Arsène Wenger to make adjustments up front. Giroud, who scored twice as a substitute against Huddersfield, will hope that his chance has arrived. He would be the obvious choice.

Yet Arsenal will not be as mobile if Wenger brings in Giroud. If their performance in the win over Tottenham Hotspur is anything to go by, they will look to implement a high pressing game out of possession. Danny Welbeck does not look ready to start such a big game, so it could be Alex Iwobi who steps off the bench, with Alexis Sànchez taking Lacazette’s role in the middle.

2) Allardyce to profit from travelling Terriers

Considering the horrors that preceded it, few could have begrudged David Unsworth his caretaking curtain-call that was the shellacking of West Ham and with the Everton interim manager presumably off for a lie-down in a darkened room, it’s time for Sam Allardyce to take the reins.

While it’s true that you can only beat what’s in front of you, Everton fans need to bear in mind that a win over the current rabble representing West Ham will not necessarily kickstart their season, even if it does provide solid foundations on which to build.

Anyone expecting instant improvement under Allardyce may be disappointed; he needed six games to mastermind his first win at Crystal Palace and lost three of his first four as Sunderland manager. While he can be counted on to get the job done when parachuted in before Christmas to save struggling sides, his philosophy can take time to impart. In Huddersfield, who have lost their past four away games by an aggregate score of 14-0, he could scarcely have handpicked more suitable visitors for his first game in charge.

Sam Allardyce begins his Everton tenure against Huddersfield Town, who are without an away league goal since the opening day.
 Sam Allardyce begins his Everton tenure against Huddersfield Town, who are without an away league goal since the opening day. Photograph: Tony McArdle – Everton FC/Everton FC via 

3) Stuttering Spurs may be stung by Hornets

It is more than three decades now since Watford last beat Tottenham in a meaningful match (there was an irrelevant Lee Nogan-inspired League Cup second-leg success at White Hart Lane in 1994, a rambunctious first leg having been lost 6-3) and last season Spurs scored four both home and away.

However, not only is this season’s iteration of Watford a considerable improvement on the last, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side arrive at Vicarage Road in a bit of a funk, having followed defeat to Arsenal with a point against West Brom and another loss at Leicester.

This should be the period when they hoover up points in preparation for a title tilt, with their 12 opponents between the Arsenal game on 18 November and the visit of Manchester United on 31 January including only one member of last season’s final top six, but so far they have failed to do so.

Pochettino says fatigue is to blame and that “we need to rest players”; six of his squad have played at least 1,500 minutes of first-team football so far this season, compared with four at Chelsea, three at Manchester United and nobody at Arsenal.

The last time Spurs encountered Saturday’s referee, Martin Atkinson was when he took charge of their 4-2 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea last season. He last oversaw a Tottenham league defeat in 2012; Watford have lost seven of their last 10 Atkinson-officiated games.

4) West Ham head to City fearing the worst

It is strange to think that West Ham won at Manchester City two years ago. Slaven Bilic looked like an inspired choice as manager, Dimitri Payet sparkled and West Ham’s defence held firm in the face of a relentless assault from City in the second half.

On Sunday, though, they visit the Etihad Stadium fearing the worst, ready to adopt the foetal position after Wednesday’s capitulation at Everton underlined their miserable decline.

There has to be a vast improvement if West Ham are to clamber out of the bottom three, but it is difficult to see the situation getting much better against Pep Guardiola’s flyers.

Home games against Arsenal and Chelsea follow the trip to the league leaders and this is precisely the scenario that David Moyes wanted to avoid when he replaced Bilic last month.

Conscious that December would bring a horrible run of fixtures, he was desperate to start on a positive note, but West Ham have picked up one point from the Scot’s first three games, scoring one goal and letting in seven.

They face City with the worst defensive record in the division, with 30 goals conceded in 14 games, and could end the weekend in 20th place if results go against them.

5) More firepower needed for Newcastle

Chelsea have won five and drawn one of their last six league games; Newcastle have lost four and not won any of their last five. Goals are the issue at Newcastle: Rafa Benitez’s side scored 46% of their season’s tally during a three-match winning run that straddled August and September.

In budget signing Joselu, they have a striker who appears to have lost all sense of how to trouble a goalkeeper. He has started 11 of Newcastle’s last 12 league matches and contributed two goals – the most recent two months ago – and no assists in that time.

“You cannot expect a player who cost £5m to perform like a player who cost £80m,” Benitez said of the forward before Wednesday’s visit to West Brom, when he again toiled fruitlessly, “but Joselu’s doing well, because he’s doing a great job for the team.” Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has not scored in any of his limited appearances since August, may replace him here.

The teams have never met on 2 December, but though Chelsea have comfortably the better of their head-to-head record, Newcastle have won four and drawn one of the five games played on the second day of any month.

Newcastle striker Joselu has lost his touch in front of goal.
Newcastle striker Joselu has lost his touch in front of goal. Photograph: Richard Lee/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

6) The return of the Pardew effect?

In an interview conducted with the Guardian 13 months ago, Alan Pardew, then the manager of Crystal Palace, mentioned himself in conjunction with the England job while conveying the – presumably false – impression that he would rather focus on leaving a legacy at Selhurst Park.

He came across as being ambitious, progressive, a good communicator and – being Alan Pardew – more than a little pleased with himself. Karma, renowned for being a bitch, saw to it that his team lost eight out of their next 10 matches and he was duly sacked.

It is against struggling Palace that he begins his reign as West Brom manager and his former club have every right to be concerned. While Pardew’s managerial spells at Charlton, Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle and Palace all ended badly, he enjoyed early success at all five clubs.

While the famous Pardew effect inevitably ends with the sides he manages going into a tailspin, for now West Brom supporters will be relishing the prospect of his trademark early impact on a dressing room that had in recent months looked jaded under his predecessor Tony Pulis.

7) An intriguing first half at the Amex

Both of these teams are having some trouble in the first half of matches. Brighton are yet to score a goal in the first 40 minutes of a home game, while Liverpool have scored eight between the 11th and the 30th minute of away games, but are 7-0 down on aggregate in the remainder of the opening period and 9-8 down overall.

Jürgen Klopp’s side have somehow won three of their seven away matches despite drawing their second halves 7-7 on aggregate, and only keeping their first away clean sheet at Stoke on Wednesday. It is getting on for six years since these teams last met, when Liverpool strolled to a 6-1 win in the FA Cup with Luis Suárez in attack and Jamie Carragher at the back.

They can expect a sterner test on this occasion, though given that Mohamed Salah, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho played just 34 minutes between them at Stoke they will at least have fresh players in key positions. 

8) Will Redmond respond to Guardiola’s pep talk?

The way Guardiola was remonstrating with Nathan Redmond on Wednesday night, you could have been mistaken for thinking that the Southampton winger had said something insulting about polo neck sweaters.

Instead it turned out that City’s manager was simply unhappy with Redmond’s failure to entertain him with his talent. “Last season he destroyed us here. I didn’t know him last season, I realised how good he is,” Guardiola said. “Southampton have some super-talented players, Redmond is so good one against one. But they didn’t want to play, they were time wasting from the ninth minute. I just wanted them to play. Today he could not attack because they defend all the time, but that is what it is.”

Guardiola has been criticised for the way he delivered the message, on the pitch and just after the game, but maybe he had a point. Redmond is goalless this season and the 23-year-old can be inconsistent. He has a lot of talent, but Guardiola is not alone in wanting him to apply it more often.

Southampton’s manager, Mauricio Pellegrino, would certainly be happy to see Redmond respond by taking the game by the scruff of the neck at Bournemouth on Sunday.

9) Managers under pressure as Stoke face Swansea

Following the appointments at West Ham, Everton and West Brom, Stoke and Swansea are the only two clubs in the bottom five of the Premier League not to have changed their managers this season.

Mark Hughes and Paul Clement have every reason to fear they are next in line for the chop, which ought to make their respective approaches to this tale of two Citys interesting.

Between them, the Stoke and Swansea managers have masterminded victory in just five out of 28 Premier League matches this season, a state of affairs that is unsurprising considering the differences between their goals for and against columns.

Swansea can defend but have the league’s bluntest attack, while only West Ham have conceded more goals than Stoke, whose strike rate in the opposition half is superior to nine other teams in the division.

Quite what clues these statistics provide to the likely outcome to this game is anyone’s guess, but defeat for either team may result in the Premier League’s sixth managerial casualty of the season with Christmas Day still more than three weeks away.

Paul Clement is under pressure with Swansea struggling for goals and points.
Paul Clement is under pressure with Swansea struggling for goals and points. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images via Reuters

10) Wood has a point to prove at Leicester

Following the rollocking midweek win over Tottenham that temporarily put paid to the notion that their football under Claude Puel would be dull, Leicester take on the team who have just replaced Spurs in the top six of the table.

Burnley are unlikely to be as obliging as a Tottenham side that were 2-0 down (and should have been 3-0 down) against Leicester before any of their leggy and tired looking players thought to flick the switch.

Following his masterclass in hold-up play during Burnley’s midweek win over Bournemouth, Chris Wood will arrive at the King Power Stadium with a point to prove.

The New Zealand international striker made 62 appearances during Nigel Pearson’s reign as Leicester manager, but was restricted to just seven Premier League appearances during his final season at the club.

Playing the best football of his career and the focal point of a sometimes breathtaking Burnley attack that aren’t afraid to mix things up a bit, Wood is unlikely to have any qualms about celebrating against his former side should he score and help continue his side’s remarkable ascent.


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