Arsenal out to halt improving Spurs

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London, Dec 21: Premier League leaders Arsenal are favourites to beat resurgent arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, but might have to work harder for their three points than they might have expected a few weeks ago.

Arsenal have not lost to Spurs for 19 league and cup matches and are in buoyant mood after a battling 1-0 win over Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday kept them a point clear of Manchester United at the top of the table. Saturday's matches herald the start of a busy festive period of four league encounters upto New Years Day and Arsenal enter it leading the standings on 40 points from 17 games, with United (39), Chelsea (34) and Manchester City (33) in their wake. Arsenal's younger squad players also did superbly well to beat Blackburn Rovers 3-2 to reach the semi-finals of the League Cup on Tuesday where they will face Tottenham again in a repeat of their semi-final of last season.

Spurs, though, will make the short trip across north London in unusually upbeat mood. In the space of a few days they ended the unbeaten home records of both Portsmouth and Manchester City.

Spurs won 1-0 at Portsmouth in the league on Saturday and also reached the League Cup semis on Tuesday with a 2-0 win at City, taking their record under Spanish coach Juande Ramos to seven wins in their last 11 matches, losing only once.

Whether they can win a league match at Arsenal for the first time since May 1993 remains to be seen, but Ramos would love to achieve one after losing 3-0 to Arsenal at the Emirates in September when he took his former club Sevilla there in the Champions League.

Spurs, who have climbed up to 12th after flirting with the relegation places during a poor start to the campaign, would also like to avenge their 3-1 defeat to Arsenal at White Hart Lane in September.


MERSEYSIDE DOUBLE

If Arsenal should slip up, United would overtake them at the top as long as they avoid defeat against Everton at Old Trafford.

United's preparations have been overshadowed by a police investigation into allegations of rape during United's Christmas party on Tuesday night, but they are sure to be fully focused on securing a double over Everton this season after beating them 1-0 at Goodison Park in September.

Chelsea will be looking to bounce back immediately in the league following their defeat at Arsenal on Sunday, although they were given a midweek tonic when they beat Liverpool 2-0 in their League Cup quarter-final.

The defeat at Arsenal was their first in the league since they went down 2-0 at Manchester United in coach Avram Grant's first match in charge in September, and it would be a surprise if they slipped up against a Blackburn Rovers side who have lost four of their last five league and cup matches.

Chelsea though, will be without injured captain John Terry and striker Didier Drogba (knee surgery), but Michael Ballack could return to the side for his first league game of the season after coming on as a substitute against Liverpool.

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