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Arsenal, Manchester Utd in duel to stay in touch

Arsenal, Manchester Utd in duel to stay in touch
Arsenal welcome United to Emirates on Saturday evening for a match which will see both teams attempt to avoid conceding further ground to early-season pace-setters Chelsea.

Beaten 2-1 at Swansea City on their last outing, Arsenal approach the weekend in sixth place, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea and a point above United, who edged Crystal Palace 1-0 in their most recent encounter. Welbeck has excelled at centre-forward for both Arsenal and England since leaving United on transfer deadline day in a £16 million ($25.1 million, 20 million euros) transfer.

The Manchester-born striker, 23, came through the youth ranks at Old Trafford and his departure prompted former assistant coach Mike Phelan to declare that United’s identity had been ‘broken’.

Welbeck was withdrawn as a precaution during England’s 3-1 friendly win over Scotland in Glasgow on Tuesday after complaining of tightness in his hamstring, but he is expected to face United. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has also been boosted by the news that France striker Olivier Giroud is ready to return to action after making a speedy recovery from a broken leg. United received a blow during the international break when Dutch midfielder Daley Blind sustained a knee ligament injury likely to sideline him for several weeks.

But although they face ongoing injury problems in defence, goalkeeper David de Gea and midfielders Michael Carrick and Angel di Maria should all be fit to face Arsenal despite sustaining knocks on international duty. ‘Di Maria has trained on Friday normally, so I don’t think that is a question mark, but (Luke) Shaw is. De Gea is good, no problem. I think I have to wait for the reaction in training with Carrick, but I also expect he’s ready to play,’ United manager Louis van Gaal revealed on Thursday.

The season may be only 11 games old, but complacency and rank misfortune already seem the only factors capable of preventing Chelsea from romping to a first league title since 2010. A 2-1 win at Liverpool enabled Jose Mourinho’s side to open up an eight-point lead over reigning champions Manchester City prior to the international window, and Arsenal, United and Liverpool are even further back.

‘The win at Anfield was really important because it was a really difficult game and we knew it was important for the future,’ said Chelsea left-back Filipe Luis during a fan event at Stamford Bridge this week. Chelsea host West Bromwich Albion on Saturday and will hope to see top scorer Diego Costa firing on all cylinders after he was left out of the Spain squad to rest his troublesome hamstrings. The only team who have threatened to keep pace with Chelsea are Southampton, who trail the leaders by four points ahead of their trip to Aston Villa in the Monday night game.

Champions City will look to drag themselves out of a damaging rut when they host Swansea on Saturday, having won only one of their last six matches in all competitions. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are on the brink of elimination in the Champions League ahead of Tuesday’s home game with Bayern Munich, but have at least been able to rely on the form of Sergio Aguero.

The Argentine sharp-shooter scored his 11th and 12th league goals of the season in City’s 2-2 draw at Queens Park Rangers a fortnight ago and appears to have overcome the injury problems that bedevilled him last term. Another team in desperate need of an upturn in fortunes are Liverpool, who lie in 11th place, 15 points behind Chelsea. On Sunday, Liverpool play Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Weekend fixture

Chelsea v West Bromwich, Everton v West Ham United, Leicester City v Sunderland, Manchester City v Swansea City, Newcastle United v Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City v Burnley (8.30 pm); Arsenal v Man Utd (11 pm).

Sunday: Crystal Palace v Liverpool (7 pm); Hull City v Tottenham Hotspur (9.30 pm)
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