A weekly wrap of the activities of Premier League clubs on and off the field.
Weekly round-up: Premier League
Emmanuel Eboue says Arsenal must put a potential clash against Barcelona or Real Madrid out of their minds and focus on their showdown with Manchester United. The Gunners secured their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 3-1 win over Partizan Belgrade on Wednesday, but they could only finish second in their group and may now face one of football's super powers. Eboue said: "We must try to forget about the Champions League and think about the game against Manchester United on Monday. It is a massive game and it will be difficult for both teams."
Emile Heskey, the Aston Villa striker, is poised to return for tomorrow's home derby clash with West Brom. Heskey has been out for more than a month after surgery. But Gerard Houllier, the Villa manager, confirmed the former England player will play some part against West Brom. Heskey had been revitalised under Houllier and scored three goals in six games. Houllier said: "It's down to other people to analyse the minutes we've played with Emile, the goals he's scored and made. But you would see the difference, he works hard for the team and we've missed him."
Birmingham City manager Alex McLeish has selection dilemmas ahead of Sunday's trip to Wolves and it is down to the form of his players. Midfielder Craig Gardner came back from injury to score the equaliser in the draw with Tottenham last week, adding another name into the hat to be on McLeish's teamsheet. "It's very difficult for me to pick a first XI in certain positions," McLeish told the Birmingham Mail. "[Gardner's] just a boy that's been waiting for a chance. He's come in for us, first in a wide position and now in a central area, and he's done great."
Sam Allardyce is pleased with the progress being made by Blackburn under their new owners. Rovers were recently acquired by the Indian poultry firm Venky's, with the Rao family now in charge at Ewood Park. They have been careful to avoid making sweeping changes so soon after their arrival, and that approach has been welcomed by Allardyce, the manager, as he has been left alone to continue in his efforts to generate positive results on the field. "At the moment it's a slow approach," he told Sky Sports News. "We are doing very well at the moment and the new owners are feeling their way in slowly."
Steve Thompson, Blackpool's assistant manager, has told his team to prepare for a tougher second half to the season as their surprise factor wears off. Blackpool, promoted last season, face Stoke, Tottenham and Sunderland before the year is out, after which they will have played every team except Manchester United. And according to Thompson, that means those clubs will be more prepared for Blackpool's style of play. "We must be ready to play teams second time around," Thompson told the Blackpool Gazzette. "They will know what they are up against. They won't take us as lightly as they might have done first time around."
Johan Elmander has hinted the may have a future with Bolton Wanderers after the January transfer window. And the eight-goal top scorer whose contract is up in the summer, insists he is not trying to hold the club to ransom. The Swede, who turned down a one-year contract extension last month, told the Bolton News: "Of course, as a footballer, you like to have a big contract, but I don't want to comment on negotiations. I will give myself fully to Bolton while I am here and when my contract runs out in the summer, we'll see what happens. I have never been a player who goes after money, I have always chosen with my heart."
John Terry, the Chelsea captain, has issued a rallying cry to his teammates as the defending champions look to end their slump against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Chelsea's 1-0 defeat by Marseille in their final Champions League group game on Wednesday left them with just two wins out of the last eight in all competitions. But Terry said: "There is no point us panicking. We realise we are not playing as well as we can, the players realise there is a lot more to give and to come." He added: "Sunday is a massive derby for us and for the fans. We're hoping to kick-start an important time for us."
Steven Pienaar, the Everton midfielder, insists he is focused on staying at the club, but admits he does not know where his future lies. The South Africa international is in the final year of his contract and has so far failed to agree a new deal. "I don't know," the 28-year-old, who has been linked with Tottenham, told Sky Sports News when asked about his future. "I am still focused on staying at Everton. The season is not over yet, so anything can happen. I can't comment on that (Tottenham speculation), I don't know what is going on. The media in England is big and they say a lot - I am just happy at Everton and focusing on them."
Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexico goalkeeper, has been invited to train with Fulham, according to his Mexican club side. Club America say Fulham are keen to take a closer look at the 25-year-old shot-stopper and he has been invited to London. They say now waiting to see if the Cottagers want to start negotiations regarding a possible transfer. "Our goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has travelled to London after accepting the invitation he has received from Fulham and the manager Mark Hughes," said a club statement. Ochoa has plenty of experience at club and international level, and was Mexico's back-up keeper at the World Cup.
Liverpool’s owners are keen for their youth teams to play a bigger part in the club’s future, according to academy director Frank McParland. Last month McParland received a visit from principal owner John Henry, who was keen to talk about what role the site at Kirkby could perform. “He spoke to me for a good hour and then spent time chatting with Rodolfo Borrell [the Under 18 coach] and Pep Segura [the academy technical manager],” said McParland. “His knowledge of the academy was really impressive. He knew how long I had been back at the club and told us how pleased he was with the work we have implemented.”
Kolo Toure could be fit for tomorrow’s trip to West Ham, despite limping off the pitch last Saturday in the 1-0 win against Bolton. The Ivorian centre-back was forced to come off with a troublesome calf muscle, but he told the club’s website: “It’s not looking as bad as we first thought and I’m hoping I will be available for selection for West Ham on Saturday. Obviously if there is even the slightest doubt, I will maybe rest it for a few more days, but as things stand, it’s not looking too bad.” Toure added: “It’s going to be a tough game, but Upton Park is a ground I’ve always enjoyed playing at. It should be a good game.”
Nani, the Manchester United winger, views Arsenal as a bigger title threat than Chelsea this season. The Gunners visit Old Trafford on Monday looking to consolidate top spot in the Premier League table. For their part, United know a home win would allow them to jump back to the summit, while retaining a match in hand following the postponement of last week’s visit to Blackpool. It promises to be a feast of football, with Nani believing it represents the acid test of United’s ambitions. “Arsenal are a bigger threat than Chelsea now,” he said. “Chelsea have lost a few games and drawn some and their confidence looks a bit low.”
Alan Pardew acknowledged he faces a difficult task winning over the Newcastle fans as he was unveiled as manager yesterday. Pardew, a former West Ham, Reading and Charlton Athletic manager, has signed a five-and-a-half-year deal with the Premier League team, following the departure of Chris Hughton earlier in the week. Hughton left the club 12th in the table and Pardew told a press conference: “I’m privileged to be sitting here and looking forward to a tough job. But it’s difficult because it’s fairly obvious the players and fans had tremendous respect for Chris and the fact he’s gone has caused something of a stir.”
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, goes up against a former teammate tomorrow, when Ian Holloway brings his Blackpool side to the Britannia Stadium. And Pulis has credited Bristol Rovers, the pair’s former club, with giving them the grounding to succeed in the game. “We learned our trade at a football club with really, really good people who had old fashioned values,” said Pulis, who spent a eight years at the now-League One club. Holloway had 12 years there. “I truly believe that it’s because of the way we were brought up back then that we have managed to achieve what we have. The basic principles were drilled into us, both on and off the pitch”
Sunderland’s injury problems could get worse with their goalkeeper Craig Gordon and Asamoah Gyan, the striker, both doubts for tomorrow’s game at Fulham. Steve Bruce, the manager, rates Gordon as a “slight doubt” with a hamstring problem picked up in training. Back-up keeper Simon Mignolet is on standby to come in and has already played 13 times this season when Gordon was previously injured. Meanwhile, Gyan, the Ghana forward, is more likely to miss the game as he has a toe problem. Bruce has already lost his first-choice centre-half pairing of Titus Bramble and Michael Turner, to long-term injuries.
Robbie Keane, the Spurs striker, is being is being strongly linked with a move back to Wolverhampton Wanderers, the club where he began his professional career, in the January transfer window. The Republic of Ireland striker, 30, has been told by Harry Redknapp, th Spurs manager, that he can leave to whichever club offers the highest price. Tottenham host Chelsea in Sunday’s big game and they could have centre-half Michael Dawson back in the side. He played 90 minutes in a practice game on Wednesday for the first time since suffering ligament damage in his left knee and ankle on England duty on September 3.
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom’s leading scorer Peter Odemwingie and key midfielder Chris Brunt are battling to be fit for tomorrow’s away derby clash with struggling Aston Villa. Odemwingie netted twice in last weekend’s 3-1 win over Newcastle which sealed Chris Hughton’s fate as manager of the Magpies. But the Nigerian international – on target six times this season – has been unable to train this week dur to a groin problem suffered during the game. Brunt, who has been the subject of speculation linking him with a move to Liverpool, has also had a groin injury in recent weeks and has also been unable to play a full part in training.
West Ham United
Victor Obinna, the on-loan Inter Milan striker, is hoping to continue his good form at Upton Park when West Ham take on Manchester City tomorrow. Obinna’s last two outings at home saw him score his first top-flight goal in a 3-1 win against Wigan Athletic and then follow that up with all four assists in the Carling Cup 4-0 triumph over Manchester United. “Scoring my first Premier League goal was fantastic but it was more important to get the win in such a big game,” he told the club’s website. “No one expected us to do what we did against Manchester United, it was a shock.”
Wigan’s Roberto Martinez believes Chris Hughton, the former Newcastle manager, was a victim of the short-termism which is rife in modern football. Hughton was sacked on Monday despite winning promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt and with the team positioned 12th on a very limited budget. “I’m not surprised because nothing in football surprises you any more,” Martinez, the Wigan manager, said. “From Chris’s point of view, as a manager, you can only do your job and what he achieved last campaign it is sometimes underestimated.“
Nenad Milijas, the Wolves midfielder, believes fellow Serbian international and Birmingham City striker Nikola Zigic is finally adapting to English football. Milijas, who will face Zigic in Sunday’s Molineux derby, was his teammate at Red Star Belgrade. Zigic initially struggled after his summer move to St Andrew’s. “As I found out, it’s always difficult to come from abroad and play in this league,” said Milijas. “But Ziggy is starting to show what he can do now. I just hope he doesn’t show it to us on Sunday. If he wants to score 20 goals this season after the derby, that’s fine!”