Weekend talking points: Arsenal face Aubameyang decision as Bale hopes for Premier League shot


nother intriguing feast of football awaits this weekend as a hectic 2020/21 fixture list continues across the country.

Old rivals Manchester United and Arsenal face-off in a headline clash at Old Trafford on Sunday, while West Ham will look to keep their resurgence going against Liverpool and Chelsea and Tottenham battle Burnley and Brighton respectively

There is also the matter of the delayed 2019/20 Women’s FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Everton, while in the Championship Millwall will try and continue their early top-six bid against Huddersfield at The Den.

Here, Standard Sport’s team of football writers assess the big talking points ahead of the weekend’s action…

Can West Ham cope without Antonio?

( West Ham United FC via Getty Images )

For West Ham, it is both a short-term blow to their hopes of continuing an impressive run of form and a long-term concern given the 30-year-old’s history of hamstring trouble.

The Hammers looked toothless once Antonio was withdrawn in last weekend’s draw with Manchester City and their hopes of exploiting the absence of Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho are lessened without the forward. 

Sebastien Haller could deputise and the £45million Frenchman will bring his own threat, including an aerial presence that could unsettle Joe Gomez. But Antonio will be missed. Dan Kilpatrick 

Arteta’s decision over Aubameyang will take centre stage

( Arsenal FC via Getty Images )

As Arsenal search for more goals, fans have been pretty clear about what they think the solution is. 

They want to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang play through the middle and Sunday’s trip to Manchester United could be the moment for Mikel Arteta to do it.

It would be a big call for Arteta to play Aubameyang as a No9, as he has previously always said that his captain is most effective when cutting in from the left. 

But Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are hardly the quickest centre-back pairing and Aubameyang’s pace in behind could cause them real problems. Simon Collings 

Everton win can further hopes of gatecrashing WSL big three

( PA )

Unbeaten Everton Women are threatening to disrupt the traditional hegemony of the WSL’s ‘big three’ this season and they have an early opportunity to take a scalp in Sunday’s 2019-20 FA Cup Final against Manchester City. 

No club outside City, Arsenal and Chelsea has won the Women’s FA Cup since Birmingham City in 2012, so an Everton win would feel like a major plus for the women’s game as well as a psychological boost for the Toffees, who will surely be targeting a Champions League spot this term. 

The match will be particularly strange for Manchester City’s Chloe Smith, who will be facing her former club having helped both sides to reach the final. Dan Kilpatrick 

Rested Silva in line for return – but Rudiger has given Lampard options

( Pool via REUTERS )

Antonio Rudiger’s impressive return to the Chelsea team against Krasnodar has left Frank Lampard with a decision to make.

 Burnley away on Saturday might be one to leave him out of, especially given he is unlikely to have come up against anything like Sean Dyche’s Burnley in his career. 

Rudiger did well in midweek and has experience of what to expect from Burnley, so playing him could make more sense. James Robson

( Getty Images )

Since beating Nottingham Forest 2-0 on the opening day of the season, QPR have gone seven matches without a win in the Championship and defeat at home to Cardiff on Saturday will mean they are on their worst run since Mark Warburton took over. 

Rangers have also failed to score in their last four matches. With three games in a week against Cardiff, Derby and Blackburn coming up, they need stop the rot or they risk slipping into trouble. 

Warburton hopes winger Bright Osayi-Samuel will be available to face Derby, which would be a boost for the struggling Hoops. Malik Ouzia

Crystal Palace can capitalise on wide-open race for Europe

( Hodgson has seen more than enough from his side to know they can stay in the top flight. / Getty Images )

Quick question: which Premier League team have led for the most minutes this season? You may be surprised to hear the answer is Crystal Palace. 

It is a peculiar stat, but one that highlights their decent start to the campaign. 

With Wilfried Zaha looking back to form against Fulham last weekend, the Eagles are up to eighth and a victory at Wolves on Friday night would take them level on points with leaders Everton and Liverpool. 

A European place may feel like a tall order this season, but win at Molineux and it might start to look achievable. Simon Collings

Guardiola contract talk refuses to go away

( Angry: Pep Guardiola was furious to learn of reports that Benjamin Mendy had taken an unauthorised trip while injured, but the player has denied being in Hong Kong. / Getty Images )

Pep Guardiola’s future is going to overshadow Manchester City’s season until he makes a definitive statement about his contract. 

A poor start in the Premier League has been set against the uncertainty surrounding the Catalan, whose current deal expires in the summer. 

Guardiola was naive to think it would not be an issue – and there are already suggestions the questions over his plans have filtered through to the players. 

But he is stubborn and will not be rushed into making a decision. He says he has to deserve a new deal and, if City’s form in the League continues to plummet, he may well be wondering if he does. James Robson

Bale hoping for Premier League shot against Brighton 

( Bale disappointed on his second Spurs start, against Antwerp on Thursday / Getty Images )

Gareth Bale was spared the ignominy of being hooked at half-time of Thursday’s defeat to Royal Antwerp but he did not live up to Jose Mourinho’s pre-match prediction that he could “fly”.

In fact, Bale was subdued and still looked someway short of peak condition. 

After leaving the Welshman on the bench at Burnley on Monday, the question for Mourinho is whether to hand the 31-year-old his first Premier League start against Brighton this weekend.

After slamming his fringe players and suggesting he would no longer be inclined to rotate so readily, Mourinho’s team more or less picks itself but there is one spot in his front three up for grabs. 

Bale, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela are all in contention, and perhaps Bale is saving his best for League football. Dan Kilpatrick

Diamond could hold the key to Van de Beek’s chances 

( Manchester United via Getty Images )

After being handed a rare start on Wednesday, Donny van de Beek has to hope he did enough in the 5-0 win against RB Leipzig to keep his place when Manchester United play Arsenal. 

Much could depend on the formation Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deploys on Sunday. 

Should United stick to a diamond in midfield then Van de Beek could well remain in the starting XI – even if Bruno Fernandes would play at the most attacking point. 

But should Solskjaer switch to his favoured 4-2-3-1 then Van de Beek could be struggling to force his way in with Fred and Scott McTominay currently the preferred options in the holding roles. James Robson

Solid Millwall climbing Championship table

( Getty Images )

 A remarkable stat emerged after Millwall’s 2-0 win at Preston on Wednesday. Of all the club’s in Europe’s top five leagues plus the Championship, none have kept more clean sheets than the Lions’ 15 in 2020.

It is this solidity that has driven Millwall into the Championship top four ahead of this weekend’s visit of Huddersfield. 

Add a more consistent goal threat and Millwall will really be in business.

This weekend they will again be without manager Gary Rowett and his senior coaching staff, who remain in self-isolation, so captain Alex Pearce and two coaches are set to be in the dugout again.

So far, Rowett’s absence has done Millwall’s promotion push – if it’s not too soon to describe it as such –no harm at all. Dan Kilpatrick

This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League.

Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri- Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.

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