Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, thinks that Theo Walcott's pace, as well as being a great advantage, could also be the reason he picks up so many injuries. The England winger has just recovered from injury, but has suffered a number of knocks in the last couple of seasons. Wenger said: "At his pace, when you get stopped, you are always vulnerable. When you play against a player who is so quick, sometimes you can mistime tackles. It's not necessarily always that you want to hit him, but he is so quick that you think, 'Now I can get the ball', and it has gone away."
Gerard Houllier is keeping his fingers crossed that Stiliyan Petrov will not need surgery to resolve his knee problem. The Aston Villa manager is hopeful his captain will be back inside two months from the lateral knee ligament injury suffered in the defeat against Sunderland on Saturday. But the Frenchman is aware that the timescale may alter if Petrov has to undergo an operation on the problem. Houllier said: "The worse case is that Stiliyan will be out for a minimum of two months. I think we should know by the end of the week whether he needs an operation or not."
Nikola Zigic has set his sights on becoming a hero with Birmingham City fans by scoring the winner in Sunday's Midlands derby at Aston Villa. The Serbian striker has received mixed reviews from Birmingham supporters since his £6 million (Dh34.9m) summer move from Valencia. But the 30-year-old said: "I have heard of the Birmingham City-Aston Villa rivalry and I have actually seen a couple of games on TV. I am aware I could become an instant hero. Of course I am. It's like every derby the world over. If you do score, especially a winner, you are a hero for life."
Rovers may be currently in the bottom four of the table, but their prospective new owners want them to be challenging for a place in the top four. The Lancashire club are set to be taken over by Venky's, the Indian-based pharmaceutical firm, and Anuradha Desai, the woman leading the takeover, has big plans for Sam Allardyce's side. "I am not promising that we will be a top-four team but I can promise that we will try and that is what we will aim for," Desai said. "We are committed to improving the performance of the team and when the situation is right there will be investment." Rovers entertain Chelsea tomorrow at Ewood Park.
DJ Campbell is backing himself to end his goalscoring drought for Blackpool sooner rather than later. Since scoring at Newcastle United in September the former Leicester City man has gone five league games without finding the net. The 28-year-old has been content with his displays, but wants to get back on the scoresheet, starting with tomorrow's home game with West Bromwich Albion. "I am pleased with my performances, but disappointed not to have a few more goals," he told the Blackpool Gazette. "I should have had a few more. I believe in myself, I just need to be patient. I feel like I'm inches away."
Owen Coyle thinks that instilling more confidence in his team has played a part in his side's good start to a season that sees them lie eighth in the table. The Bolton Wanderers manager said: "I want players to come in with a smile on their face and make sure they're enjoying it. If they can, I've got a chance of getting them at their maximum on a Saturday by taking on board what we want to do." Coyle's side entertain Liverpool on Sunday at the Reebok Stadium, and it is not clear if he will have Ivan Klasnic available, after the Croatian striker was arrested and bailed on suspicion of raping a teenage girl in Manchester on Monday.
Ramires has claimed he feels under more scrutiny and pressure at Chelsea than at any other club. The Brazilian midfielder signed for the champions in the summer from Benfica but the 23-year-old reckons the attention at Stamford Bridge is a step up from that he experienced playing in Portugal. "At Cruzeiro and Benfica, there was also huge pressure to get good results," he said. "The difference at Chelsea is that the level of visibility is so much greater. That means you're singled out more when you play badly and there's more hype when you play well." Ramires and his teammates travel to Blackburn Rovers this weekend.
Phil Neville, the Everton captain, believes that the club have done all they can to keep Steven Pienaar. The South African has failed to sign a new deal with the Toffees, spreading rumours of a move away next summer. But Neville thinks there is nothing more that can be done to help to persuade him to sign, and Pienaar will make his own mind up. "You can say to Steven every minute of every day that we don't want him to leave but at the end of the day it's his decision," Neville told the Liverpool Echo. "The club wants him to stay, but there's not much else we can say. He's probably weighing up his options now."
The draw specialists of the Premier League will be hoping to earn only their second victory of the season tomorrow when they play host to Wigan Athletic. Mark Hughes's side have drawn six of their nine league games thus far, and are 16th in the table, despite only having lost two games - the same number as Arsenal, who are second in the standings. There is a chance that Andy Johnson will make his first start of the season against Wigan after featuring as a substitute in last week's loss at West Bromwich Albion. Hughes said of the striker's return last week: "He's stronger than he was prior to the injury."
Roy Hodgson, the Liverpool manager, has warned Manchester United that goalkeeper Pepe Reina is not for sale. The Spain international was linked with Liverpool’s arch-rivals earlier this week and Arsenal have been mentioned as potential suitors in the past. But Hodgson told the Liverpool Echo: “It was just one of those stories that seems to occur – it’s just disappointing and annoying. Pepe is fantastic here, he is a lifeblood of this team. He is a player who we hold in the highest esteem. We have heard nothing from Manchester United and, more to the point, we don’t want to hear anything from Manchester United.”
Carlos Tevez has been given permission to fly home to Argentina to recover from the thigh strain he picked up in the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday. The forward, who has scored seven times in the league this season, has been ruled out for two weeks and is a doubt for his club’s much-anticipated match with city rivals Manchester United next Wednesday. Roberto Mancini, the coach, said he is happy to allow Tevez to return to his homeland, but added the striker suffers from tiredness from flying all over the world to represent his national side. Argentina are also due to play Brazil in Qatar next month.
Michael Owen as good as admitted earlier this week that he was past his best by the age of 21, so who better to cast a warning to Javier Hernandez, the young Mexican striker who has scored three goals in his last two games for Manchester United? Owen, who recently picked up another hamstring injury, said “Chicharito” must continue pushing or he will lose his place in the team. “So far so good, but, as I know, football can change in a week,” he said. Owen added he would probably retire if United decide to release him. Owen’s latest setback means he will not feature tomorrow when Tottenham Hotspur travel to Old Trafford.
Arsenal’s 4-0 Carling Cup demolition of Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Wednesday night in the last 16 of the competition was the last thing that Chris Hughton, the Magpies coach, needed. Hughton is considered the favourite to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked, despite his side sitting ninth in the table, and a heavy defeat will have not helped matters. The manager, however, maintains he is focused on the job at hand and has said he will open contract talks with the club next year. And how better to strengthen his hand than by beating north-east rivals Sunderland on Sunday?
Wednesday’s Carling Cup defeat to West Ham United left Tony Pulis, the Stoke City manager, ruing his side’s lack of a killer instinct in front of goal ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League visit to Everton. Stoke threw away a one goal advantage to lose 3-1 in extra time to the London side. Kenwyne Jones, an £8m (Dh46.8m) summer signing from Sunderland, had given Stoke the lead, but the Hammers equalised and then netted twice in extra time to consign Pulis’s side to a third consecutive defeat. “We’re disappointed. We thought we played well first half,’’ Pulis said. “Our final pass was poor but we needed that second goal.”
Michael Turner has spoken of his anticipation ahead of this weekend’s Tyne and Wear derby. The Black Cats defender has been involved in his fair share of fierce rivalries, but says nothing compares to Sunderland versus Newcastle United. While Chris Hughton, the Newcastle manager, has had to downplay exit rumours, Steve Bruce, his opposite number at the Stadium of Light, has expressed his delight at Ghanaian forward Asamoah Gyan’s nomination for the Ballon d’Or. “He is just starting with us, but it’s not often you get a Sunderland player being considered for World Player of the Year,” his manager said.
Heurelho Gomes, the Brazilian goalkeeper, has called for Harry Redknapp, his coach, to bring in experienced talent in January if he wants his side to push on this season. Redknapp is on record as saying Spurs are two signings away from being title challengers and the stopper agrees. Gomes said: “I think we need players like that, quality. We have quality players already, but you need players to make an impact on the team, like [Rafael] Van der Vaart has.” Gomes added Spurs have been a lesser force due to the prolonged absence of Jermain Defoe through injury. The England striker is on target to return this month after almost 12 weeks out.
West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies season goes from strength to strength as Roberto Di Matteo’s stylish tactics continue to produce goals while keeping things tight at the back. A 4-1 defeat of Championship side Leicester City on Tuesday saw them advance to the Carling Cup quarter-finals, while they entered the top four of the Premier League for 24 hours last weekend. It is little wonder Simon Cox, the out of favour forward, is in no rush to complain. “That’s football – I can’t argue,” he said. “Had we been bottom of the table with no points I’d have been banging on Roberto Di Matteo’s door, but you can’t bang on his door now.”
West Ham United
Avram Grant has played down the importance of his side’s extra-time Carling Cup win over Stoke City. The Hammers came back from a goal down to advance to the last eight, but the Israeli manager is adamant it does not mark a turning point in his side’s season. “The turning point was a few weeks ago,” said Grant, whose side are bottom of the league table, but were until last weekend undefeated since September 11. “Even on Saturday, [when they lost 2-1 to Newcastle United] we started the game like a top, top team, and then someone pushed the [self-destruct] button.”
Roberto Martinez insists he will continue to utilise his entire squad in the Carling Cup, regardless of who his side face in the quarter-finals. Wigan Athletic beat Swansea City 2-0 to advance, despite making seven changes to the team that started against Bolton Wanderers last week. Fans would love to see a repeat of the charge that saw Wigan reach the 2006 final and the Spaniard sees no reason why that cannot be the case again this season. “If you want to progress in any competition you need to be able to use the whole squad,” Martinez said.
Mick McCarthy believes Matt Jarvis is showing the kind of form that deserves international recognition. The winger impressed once again in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 3-2 defeat to Manchester United in the Carling Cup and McCarthy revealed England’s eyes are watching his young wideman. “He was terrific. He’s a very important player for us,” he said. “I don’t think there’s many better wingers around. I sat next to Fabio Capello’s assistant Franco Baldini at Stoke on Sunday and he spoke highly of him. When the fans chant for him to play for England, they’re not far away.”