Arsenal new boys face early derby baptism of fire

LONDON: New Arsenal signings Pierre-Emerick Aubame­yang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will get an early taste of the north London derby atmosphere when they face Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley on Saturday

The pair enjoyed comfortable home debuts in last weekend’s 5-1 rout of Everton but their local rivals are sure to provide tougher opposition as the two teams continue their bids for Champions League qualification.

Spurs are fifth in the table, four points ahead of sixth-placed Arsenal, one behind fourth-placed Chelsea and two adrift of third-placed Liverpool with 12 games left.

Arsenal outplayed Totten­ham in a 2-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium in November but Spurs have every reason to be confident having soundly beaten second-placed Manchester United and drawn 2-2 at Liverpool in their last two games.

Mauricio Pochettino’s squad looks in fine shape to handle the demands of three competitions in the coming months with the return of Erik Lamela, Victor Wanyama, Harry Winks and Serge Aurier from injury to complement the arrival of Lucas Moura from Paris St Germain.

“Now we are 24 players and it will be tough to find a place in the starting XI for everyone — 24 players that fight to be on the starting XI every single game,” said the upbeat Spurs boss.

Both sides will feel at home when they meet at Wembley. Tottenham are the hosts, with the national stadium acting as their temporary home this season while a new venue is being built at White Hart Lane.

Yet, Arsenal almost know the ground just as well having played there nine times since 2009 in various competitions and winning on each occasion.

“It won’t feel too much ‘away’ in that situation,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

Liverpool travel to St Mary’s on Sunday to face a Southampton side who ended a 12-match winless run in the league and climbed two points clear of the relegation zone with a 3-2 victory over West Bromwich Albion in their last match.

Chelsea, meanwhile, will welcome bottom club West Brom to Stamford Bridge on Monday on the back of losing 3-0 at home to Bournemouth and 4-1 away to Watford.

The results prompted widespread speculation that manager Antonio Conte would be sacked, but it appears that Chelseas board are prepared to give the Italian time to arrest the champions slump.

With a series of ominous-looking ties looming, failure to win could see a new boss put in charge for the business end of the season at a club used to dispensing with their managers just months after winning silverware.

Chelsea face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on February 20 before visiting both Manchester United and Manchester City in the league and then making the return trip to the Camp Nou on March 14.

Rafael Benitez, Avram Grant, Roberto di Matteo and Guus Hiddink (twice) have been drafted in to tide Chelsea over during the Roman Abramovich era.

Di Matteo won the club’s only Champions League title in 2012, Benitez bagged the Europa League in 2013, Hiddink claimed the 2009 FA Cup and Grant was a penalty shootout away from winning the Champions League in 2008.

Leaders Manchester City have the chance to bounce back from being held to a 1-1 draw by Burnley when they host eighth-placed Leicester City on Saturday.

Pep Guardiolas side missed several good chances at Turf Moor and their gap at the top was cut to 13 points following Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town.

Riyad Mahrez is set to miss the match for Leicester as his stand-off with the club continues. The Algeria international is angry about not being allowed to join Manchester City during the January transfer window and has been absent from training sessions.

Manchester United will hope to secure back-to-back wins when they visit another relegation-threatened team, Newcastle United, on Sunday.

The Magpies are 16th, one point above the relegation zone, and have not won in four league matches, although they have been boosted by the loan signings of Kenedy from Chelsea and Islam Slimani from Leicester.

Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated):

Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal (1230 GMT), Everton v Crystal Palace, Stoke City v Brighton & Hove Albion, Swansea City v Burnley, West Ham United v Watford, Manchester City v Leicester City (1730 GMT).

Sunday: Huddersfield Town v Bournemouth (1200 GMT), Newcastle United v Manchester United (1415 GMT), Southampton v Liverpool (1630 GMT).

Monday: Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion (2000 GMT).