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Arsenal look to extend lead at top of table

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Arsenal look to extend lead at top of table
Arsenal look to extend lead at top of table

Arsenal can steal a march on their title rivals this weekend by opening up a seven-point gap at the top of the Premier League.

Four points clear at the top, Arsenal take on Cardiff in Wales on Saturday knowing that the next five sides in the standings are not in action until 24 hours later.

With a crucial Champions League game to come next month, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger knows he will have to rotate his squad over the coming games.

But Wenger will know better than to underestimate Cardiff, who held champions Manchester United to a 2-2 draw last weekend.

And so, Arsenal will field a strong side, with Theo Walcott ready to start after playing in the last two games since returning from two months out with injury.

Mikel Arteta could return to midfield while Mathieu Flamini may be rested, but one man who can’t wait to play is in-form midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

“We’ve created a fantastic opportunity for ourselves in the early part of this season and hopefully we can continue that,” said Ramsey, who began his career with Cardiff.

“We know our form after Christmas has been second to none in the last few seasons. So we are totally focused on putting ourselves in a position where we are there or thereabouts, because we are confident we can kick on in the New Year. We are hungry to win trophies and win games. That is no different this season to any other, but in the past we’ve got off to bad starts and had to play catch up,” he said.

Second-placed Liverpool travel to Hull on Sunday while Chelsea, third behind the Merseyside team on goal difference, take on fifth-placed Southampton.

Chelsea were beaten by Basle midweek and manager Jose Mourinho has promised to make more changes to his starting line-up.

“[I have] players who have trouble playing two matches in three days,” he said.

“We will make decisions, not to punish players — I don’t punish players when I know the reason for their performance — but to use the squad.” Fourth-placed Manchester City will be out to build on their midweek Champions League win over Plzen by seeing off Swansea at Eastlands.

Champions United travel to a Tottenham side reeling from their 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City last weekend.

Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic both missed the European victory but manager David Moyes will be hoping both return to face Tottenham.

Despite some heavy spending in the summer, goals have been Tottenham’s problem in recent weeks, and reports that Jermain Defoe will join the MLS in January will only add to their problems.

Manager Andre Villas-Boas is under increasing pressure to deliver results as a return for the financial outlay.

“I have the confidence of the board and players and I have to move on to do a proper job,” Villas-Boas told a press conference this week.

“I am immune right now. I used to read a lot into situations like this, into pressure points when I was at Chelsea, but not any more. I am very indifferent. There is only one area that I come under pressure from, the press.” Everton could break into the top four with a win over Stoke, while bottom side Sunderland are away to Aston Villa and second-bottom Crystal Palace face a trip to Norwich.

West Ham play Fulham and Newcastle take on West Bromwich Albion in the weekend’s other matches.

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