Man City v Arsenal – Pablo Zabaleta v Theo Walcott
With Kolorov injured and Clichy suspended Mancini will turn to his trusted lieutenant Zaba to put in his usual solid display as a stand-in left-back. The Argentine’s commitment to the cause is never in doubt but City will lose some attacking verve down that flank through their absentees something for which the Italian may compensate for by starting with Adam Johnson on the right to attack Arsenal’s own left-back problems. Though Gibbs may be fit to play the sight of Johnson hugging the touchline and Richards hurtling towards you is not the gentlest reintroduction to the Premiership after a lengthy lay-off.
Back to City’s left however and the greatest concern for Zabaleta is of course Walcott’s searing pace, especially if he’s allowed a head of steam on the counter.
With the pressure of scoring off his young shoulders – Van Persie seems to be doing that single-handedly of late bagging 15 for 15 – Walcott is clearly relishing his role on the right of a front trio. Zabaleta needs to shackle him but with due caution. An early booking could ultimately bring the second red for a full-back in a week for the blues.
Bendtner has not exactly endeared himself to the strict Irishman with his drunken antics this week.
Spurs v Sunderland – Ledley King v Connor Wickham
With Kaboul suspended Spurs need their talisman to be fit for this one as Spurs face a revitalised Sunderland. It is no accident that their superb run of late coincides with an unusual succession of appearances for King and if the Lillywhites wish to put last week’s debacle at Stoke behind them and get back to winning ways they must start with a clean sheet here.
As for the Wearsiders it is audition time again for most of the team as they attempt to convince their new gaffer they should be part of his future plans. O’Neill likes a burly targetman to build his team around and though the expectation is that Bendtner may be that man the onus could fall again on the teen Wickham to state his case. Bendtner has not exactly endeared himself to the strict Irishman with his drunken antics this week and although he’s back in contention following injury he may be punished accordingly. If Wickham is selected it will represent a huge opportunity for him to show that he doesn’t just possess the undoubted talent – there is intelligence and a bit of brawn there too.
QPR v Man United – Joey Barton v Phil Jones
Neil Warnock’s side battered Man City recently with a 90 minute assault of high-octane passion. At the heart of it all was predictably Barton who went toe-to-toe with Yaya Toure for midfield dominance, a feisty battle that ended in a fair draw between the pair. Not only did the Tweet and tender hooligan scurry about over every inch of grass he also caused all sorts of problems with his dead-ball deliveries. It is here that United may struggle with the absence of Vidic who seems to have a supernatural ability to know exactly where the ball is being pinged to.
Back to the centre-circle and this game could perhaps be Jones’s biggest challenge to date. Similar to Henderson last week he must undergo a rites of passage, man up and boss the scrappy scouser into submission.