2018-19 EPL Match Day 23 Preview — Arsenal (12-5-5) vs. Chelsea (14-5-3)

Potential players comings and goings are all the talk ahead of Saturday’s mouth-watering London derby at the Emirates between top-five sides Chelsea and Arsenal.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

For fourth-place Chelsea (14-5-3), the rumours are that Gonzalo Higuain could be available for this match if the Pensioners are able to formally complete a loan deal with AC Milan and register him before the 12 p.m. Friday deadline.

If the signing goes through as expected, it would be a reunion of the Argentina international and coach Maurizio Sarri – their one season together at Napoli in 2015-16 resulted in Higuain scoring 36 goals in 35 league matches. That haul matched Gino Rosetti’s mark for most goals in the Italian top flight set in 1928-29 as Napoli finished runners-up to Juventus.

Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016 and totaled 40 goals in 73 league matches to help the Bianconeri win the scudetto each of the last two years. With the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus this season, the 31-year-old Higuain was surplus to goods and loaned to AC Milan, where he has six goals in 15 Serie A contests and eight in 22 overall.

With Higuain’s arrival comes the expected departure of Alvaro Morata, who has similar numbers – nine goals in 23 matches in all competitions – to the Argentine but has never truly found a comfort level in Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation.

Morata’s likely move back to Spain – Atletico Madrid is reportedly his destination – would leave Higuain and Olivier Giroud as Chelsea’s lone centre-forwards, a position where Sarri has not had more than two players all season while also using Eden Hazard in that role as a false nine.

In the event Higuain is not registered in time for this match, he would likely make his Chelsea debut Thursday in the second-leg semifinals of the Carabao Cup at Stamford Bridge where the Pensioners will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit to Tottenham Hotspur.

Less than 13 kilometres to the north, the talk regarding Arsenal (12-5-5) again centers around Mesut Ozil. The former Germany international has been working his way back from an injury, but there have been times first-year manager Unai Emery has opted not to use Ozil, citing “matchups.”

Ahead of a match which could all but scuttle any chance of a top-four finish for the Gunners – a loss would leave them nine points adrift of Chelsea – Emery continued to be non-committal on what the midfielder’s role would be if he had one.

“I like to create the same spirit for all, and that spirit is every player gets and gives consistent work and moments with their performances but it’s not easy,” Emery told Arsenal’s official website about whether the whole Ozil saga is frustrating. “Sometimes you are better and sometimes you are worse. The most important thing for me is how he can helps us and how every player can help us with their consistency.”

Emery downplayed talk of Ozil potentially leaving in the January window but also did not commit to having him on the roster for the derby, simply saying that “after these two weeks maybe this Saturday will be okay for him.”

On the pitch, the Gunners seemed to be in need of Ozil considering their lack of playmaking options in a 1-0 loss at derby rival West Ham United. The lack of creativity was made all the more glaring as one-time Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri provided the cross for Declan Rice’s 48th-minute goal that proved decisive.

Aaron Ramsey tried to make something in his minutes as a substitute – Emery’s decision to drop him from the first XI was curious considering he also had fellow midfielder Lucas Torreira on the bench – but there was something clearly lacking from the Gunners, who are 3-1-4 in all competitions after having gone unbeaten in 23 matches.

“I think Saturday is a big test and our first objective is to be in the top four,” Emery said. “It’s more difficult after our defeat against West Ham but we can take positives, like if we win on Saturday.

“It’s a difficult, tough match and I think it’s a good test for us also. We wanted to go into this match with three points difference in the table, but our defeat at West Ham doesn’t give us this possibility. But Saturday, I am looking forward to playing this match because I want to look at my team, our team, playing with a good performance and also to show our supporters we can do more and we can do better than we are doing away.”

Chelsea, who may have felt unlucky to lose to Spurs mid-week, channeled that frustration into a 2-1 win over Newcastle United last weekend. Willian ended a 10-match goalless drought with his go-ahead marker on 57 minutes, a well-taken shot after being set up by Hazard – playing the false nine as Morata failed to rate to be on the bench, where Giroud watched all but the final three minutes.

The Pensioners controlled the match for the final half-hour after a lack of focus following Pedro’s goal allowed Newcastle to draw level before halftime.

“It’s an important win, it’s three points at home and we did the job,” said David Luiz to Chelsea’s official website after his long ball set up Pedro’s goal on nine minutes. “It was not an easy game for us. I think we could have killed the game in the first 25 minutes, but we didn’t score the second goal.

“In the Premier League every team can be dangerous from set-pieces and that is what happened. ‘They scored the equaliser and after that it is always difficult but I think the team was mature enough to be calm at half-time. Then, in the second half, we controlled the game and scored the second goal.”

Though Higuain is close to signing, there is still no understudy for midfielder and playmaker Jorginho following Cesc Fabregas’ departure to Monaco. Based on the current roster, Hazard, Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic would handle such responsibilities if the Italy international were to be sidelined.

Chelsea are seeking their first league double over Arsenal since the 2015-16 season after winning the reverse fixture 3-2 at Stamford Bridge in August. The first half was marked by frenetic bursts of clubs transitioning to their first-year managers – Chelsea raced to a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes on goals by Pedro and Morata, only to have Arsenal peg them back before halftime through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Iwobi four minutes apart.

Hazard entered as a substitute on the hour and set up Marcos Alonso for the match-winner on 81 minutes. Chelsea are 1-3-2 in their last six visits to the Emirates but 4-4-2 in their last 10 league matches there.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Chelsea are 7/5 favourites to complete their double over Arsenal, who are 2/1 home underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points are a 13/5 longshot among the options.

Based on the reverse fixture, oddsmakers are expecting goals in this contest as well as there are 4/6 odds for more than 2.5 goals compared to 6/5 odds to finish under that bar. There also 8/15 odds for both teams to score compared to the 11/8 offering of an ending with at least one clean sheet.

Despite being underdogs, Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the favourite to open the scoring at 7/2, edging out both Hazard (4/1) and Giroud (5/1). Alexander Lacazette (11/2) and Morata (6/1) round out the top five, with Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi and Arsenal youngster Eddie Nketiah both 7/1 options.

Aubameyang is the only player better than even money at 10/11 for a goal over 90 minutes, while Hazard is 11/10 and Giroud rounds out the top three choices at 11/8. Lacazette checks in at 6/4, followed by Morata (7/4) and both Hudson-Odoi and Nketiah at 2/1. Chelsea wingers Willian and Pedro lurk further back at 11/5 and 5/2, respectively.

Ozil is a 9/4 option to score during the match and a 9/1 longshot to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal.

PREDICTION

If the projected Arsenal XI above happens to be the actual starting XI, there is a very large question that needs to be asked of Unai Emery: Who is going to create in the middle of the park for the Gunners in that set-up?

Neither Xhaka nor Torreira are true 10s, and if the Gunners use a three-man back with the pair as shields, Emery is all but ceding possession to Jorginho to let him ping passes all over the attacking third for Chelsea. And that does not even begin to speculate on how Hazard could conceivably drift between Xhaka and Torreira and in front of Arsenal’s back three to draw a higher lane before laying the ball off to Willian or Pedro.

Some of the gloss has clearly come off Emery in recent weeks as Arsenal have regressed to the mean to a degree. Couple that with resurgent Manchester United — who came calling to the Emirates on Friday for a fourth-round FA Cup tie — and there is now the long-awaited hand-wringing that came with the Gunners in this rebuilding season.

Equally off-putting is Arsenal’s lack of movement in the January window, now exacerbated by Ramsey coming to terms to join Juventus next season. On the one hand, it is all well and good that this lingering distraction is put to bed, but as one playmaker is set to leave and a second (Ozil) is both recovering from injury and/or does not rate high enough to consistently make the first XI, it is fair to wonder what the long-term plan is or who a potential midfield target will be come season’s end.

Arsenal will not finish worse than sixth barring an unforeseen disaster, but winning the Europa League will be no easy task — especially if Chelsea are likely going to play with an eye to win it as well with United now mucking things up for a top-four spot. These next two matches are precariously poised for the Gunners, and two losses could create a maelstrom.

For Chelsea, there will be no Higuain for this match, but the eagerly anticipated reunion with him and Sarri will be made for the second leg of the Carabao Cup. Nothing like a little pressure to mark your debut on the Bridge. That said, bringing in Higuain and letting Morata walk — if that does wind up being the case — is going to put a lot of pressure on this club to either re-sign Hazard or command an outrageous transfer fee for the Belgium international.

It could also mark the beginning of a clear-out in the attacking positions in which Chelsea go younger and build around Hazard or find the next superstar to take some of the heavy burden that will accompany Christian Pulisic when he arrives next season.

As for the derby itself, Chelsea appear to be in a much better frame of mind on and off the pitch. They were unlucky losers at Wembley versus Spurs and shook off a lull versus Newcastle last weekend to win.

The reverse fixture against Arsenal will be a reminder the Pensioners cannot switch off like that because the Gunners can make them pay, but if Jorginho and N’Golo Kante can boss the midfield while staying on Arsenal’s half of the pitch, this is a match Chelsea should be able to control and claim three points from.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Chelsea 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 23 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (8-5-9) vs. Leicester City (9-4-9)
Liverpool (18-3-1) vs. Crystal Palace (6-4-12)
Manchester United (12-5-5) vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-10)
Southampton (4-7-11) vs. Everton (8-6-8)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 22 Preview — West Ham United (8-4-9) vs. Arsenal (12-5-4)

West Ham United already knew they had a fight on their hands in a bid for a top-half finish while potentially contending for a spot in European play next term.

Now they have another one to keep their top striker in place ahead of Saturday’s derby at home against London rival Arsenal.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Irons (8-4-9) are currently in 10th place but only three points out of seventh, a spot that could result in a Europa League qualifying round berth depending on the Carabao Cup and FA Cup results. But an unnamed Chinese Super League club – rumoured to be Shanghai SIPG – has thrown a spanner into the works with a £35 million bid for striker Marko Arnautovic.

Arnautovic’s brother Danijel, who also represents him, went public with the Austria international’s desire for the London club to accept the offer, telling TalkSport, “He wants to go to a new market and challenge for titles. This is what he wants. It is his great desire West Ham accept the offer from China.”

West Ham, who bought Arnautovic from Stoke City for £20 million in July 2017, issued a terse statement that read: “Marko has a contract and we fully expect him to honour it. He is not for sale.”

Arnautovic is the joint-leader in goals for West Ham with eight after scoring the opener in their 2-0 FA Cup win over Birmingham City on Saturday. He nearly got into a row with Manuel Pellegrini upon his precautionary removal after 20 minutes due to a twinge in his back, but the Chilean manager would not back down from his decision given the Irons have 17 league matches remaining.

“It is not very important,” Pellegrini said post-match according to the Guardian. “It was better to change him because he is just coming back from an injury. He could continue but it was better to protect him. He was angry for one minute.”

West Ham do not have many true centre-forwards beyond Arnautovic, with Andy Carroll also rumoured to be on the move in the January window. The oft-injured Carroll scored in second-half stoppage time to seal the victory with his first goal since April.

The win also marked the debut of midfielder Samir Nasri, who arrived on West Ham on a free transfer and was eligible after serving an 18-month ban for doping. The one-time Arsenal midfielder played 58 minutes before being subbed out for Robert Snodgrass, and the expectation is the former France international will at worst be among the 18 for this contest.

Arsenal (12-5-4), who are three points behind Chelsea for fourth and three ahead of hard-charging Manchester United, also emerged unscathed in the third round of the FA Cup as they won 3-0 at Blackpool on Saturday. Joe Willock had a first-half brace as Unai Emery overturned seven of his starting XI that won 4-1 over Fulham to ring in the new year.

While West Ham are being dragged into the January transfer window, it appears the Gunners do not have much interest in it. Emery raised a few eyebrows at his Thursday news conference when he announced the club would only add players via loan in this window, which adds to the intrigue of whether midfielder Aaron Ramsey would leave this month.

Ramsey started in the win over Blackpool and has been linked with a move to Juventus, but he and Emery appear to be on the same wavelength regarding professionalism. To Emery, that makes Ramsey available for selection.

“It’s an individual situation rather than the team,” he said about Ramsey. “My idea and focus, I say to him every day, is that we need his performance for us. In the last match I was very happy with him. I asked in the last match at Blackpool if he is OK to help us play and he said, ‘Yeah, coach, I want to play’ and he played with a very big behaviour and commitment to us.

“Every day he’s here with us, he’s working very well. I want his behaviour and his focus to be on West Ham on Saturday.”

The break for the FA Cup allowed Arsenal to start working back to full health as Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Dinos Mavropanos, Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil all resumed training with the first team this week. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck all remain long-term injury absentees, with Mkhitaryan expected to resume practicing next month.

The teams have kicked on to differing levels since Emery recorded his first league win at Arsenal in the reverse fixture in late August. The Gunners ran out 3-1 winners in that match, with West Ham defender Issa Diop’s own goal on 70 minutes snapping a 1-1 deadlock. Arnautovic and Monreal traded goals five minutes apart in the first half, and Welbeck scored in stoppage time to seal the win.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce in all competitions in this derby and are unbeaten in the last seven (5-2-0) overall. The Gunners are also unbeaten in their last 11 trips (8-3-0) to east London since a 1-0 loss at Upton Park in 2006 and 18-4-1 in the last 23 overall meetings.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Arsenal are 21/20 favourites to win this London derby, with West Ham 5/2 underdogs to claim all three points amid the distractions of the Arnautovic saga. There are 3/1 odds on the sides splitting the points.

Oddsmakers are overwhelmingly expecting goals, with 8/15 odds on clearing 2.5 goals compared to 6/4 going under that total. It’s also expected both teams will score, with 1/2 odds of no clean sheets compared to 6/4 with at least one.

Arsenal’s strikers Aubameyang and Lacazette lead the line for first goal-scorers at 3/1 and 4/1, respectively. The man of the moment — Arnautovic — is an 11/2 selection and top option among the Irons. Arsenal reserve Eddie Nketiah checks in at 6/1, just ahead of Carroll at 13/2, while his Hammers teammates Chicharito (13/2) and Lucas Perez (7/1) follow.

Aubameyang is a 4/6 pick to score during the match, and Lacazette is even money to do so. Arnautovic is tabbed as a 7/5 option, while Nketiah again pips Carroll and Chicharito, this time at 8/5 compared to the Irons duo at 7/4. Ozil lurks as a 2/1 anytime option and 15/2 pick to make it 0-1.

PREDICTION

Well this is less than ideal for West Ham, isn’t it? After the Chinese Super League had cooled off in recent windows regarding exorbitant offers of Premier League players, here come Shanghai to drop a haymaker of an offer for Arnautovic. The grandstanding between his agent brother and the club (though, to be fair, the club’s terse statement after his Danijels statement almost caused whiplash it came so fast) will be something to watch in the coming days or perhaps weeks.

It is unfortunate because at the very least, West Ham had the appearance of a team that looked like they had a proper 18 for league play and definitely did not lack for options in attack. One almost wonders whether they secretly wished it was Carroll and not Arnautovic being the apple of Shanghai’s eye to finally be rid of the oft-injured forward.

It almos gives the feel that Arnautovic’s anger about being lifted was premeditated, that he and his brother knew this offer was coming down the pike. That’s a conspiracy theory for another day, but something to chew on.

For Arsenal, they are near or at the point where they have their entire first-choice back four for Emery to begin seeing just how good this team can really be. And Emery deserves credit for plugging players in uncomfortable spots and pragmatically flexing between different formations to not only mask deficiencies but keep Arsenal in the hunt for a top-four spot. There is still a gulf in class to the top three, but fourth is most certainly attainable.

It would not be surprising to see Ramsey start over Ozil, but there has to be a stick-or-twist moment with the former Germany international decides he is on board or starts plotting his next move. It’s laudable to hold everyone accountable, but Emery cannot keep citing “matchups” as a reason to keep his most creative playmaker off the 18-man roster at times.

This is the first time West Ham have had to deal with an external distraction, but to Pellegrini’s credit, he did well to right the ship after a self-created one with his side’s four-loss start in league play that included the defeat at the Emirates.

Arsenal, though, look primed to take advantage of the circus around Arnautovic and should power through for three points here.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham 0, Arsenal 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 22 PREVIEWS:

Brighton and Hove Albion (7-5-9) vs. Liverpool (17-3-1)
Leicester City (9-4-8) vs. Southampton (3-7-11)
Chelsea (13-5-3) vs. Newcastle United (4-6-11)
Tottenham Hotspur (16-0-5) vs. Manchester United (11-5-5)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview: Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)

Contenders or pretenders?

Both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are in search of three vital points to stay within stalking distance of reigning champions and frontrunners Manchester City when the top-four clubs face off Saturday in a London derby at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Chelsea (8-4-0) are third in the table, four points back of City and one of three unbeatens in the league along with the Citizens and Liverpool. While Maurizio Sarri has made a successful transition to the Premier League from Napoli and the Blues will progress to the knockout rounds of the Europa League, there is a sense there is not much space between where his side are and their ceiling.

The Pensioners are 1-2-0 thus far against the other members of the Big Six, and their showdown at home versus Manchester City looms on Dec. 8. Chelsea beat a similarly transitioning Arsenal squad in Match Day 2 and have been held to draws versus Liverpool and Manchester United, conceding goals in the 89th and 93rd minutes, respectively.

While Chelsea are always among the league leaders with players who toil for their respective countries during the international break, few have drawn as much speculation in the recent recesses than striker Olivier Giroud.

The France international, who has just one goal this season and yet to break his duck in league play, once more tried to put an end to the talk he is unhappy at Chelsea as Sarri has played the hot hand between Giroud and Alvaro Morata – the only two true strikers on the club.

“I feel like I’m going back a few months with these questions, so I asked the same questions before the World Cup,” Giroud told Telefoot after converting a penalty in Les Bleus’ 1-0 win over Uruguay in a friendly. “I’m at peace, happy with this title of world champion, and that’s the best thing I could do in my career, I’m putting a lot of things in perspective.

“I do not need to put a lot of pressure on me to have more play time. I’m not going to let go, I’m going to continue working to make my way in. Today there’s no question of moving, of changing anything, I’m going to hang on, do not count on me for give up.”

While Morata may be Sarri’s first-choice striker, the Italian may be forced into a change in the midfield as Mateo Kovacic was held out of both of Croatia’s matches due to a knock. If he is unable to go, Ross Barkley would take his spot in the starting XI to the left of Jorginho in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 set-up.

Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) may finally be ready to kick on after an early season of uneven play, especially in the Champions League. In fact, their lack of success in the continental tournament – the Lilywhites still have heavy lifting to reach the knockout round – has brought a sharper focus in grinding out league results.

The Spurs have six wins in their last seven top-flight matches, the lone reverse a 1-0 defeat at home to City. Last season, their inspired Champions League play in which they finished atop a group with eventual three-times champion Real Madrid led to a lull domestically that contributed to City easing to the Premier League title.

“We are up there. Maybe we haven’t played the best football we have showed for the last few years. But we have still got the points. Sometimes that is necessary,” winger Christian Eriksen told The Mirror. “That is how it goes and at some point if it clicks and we get the points, then we will be different.

“We will go for it and we will see where we end up. We will do our best and then, if we are lucky or not lucky , we will see.”

The big issue for Mauricio Pochettino heading into this match is depth on the back line. Left back Danny Rose and centre back Davinson Sanchez remain long-term injury absentees, and right back Kieran Trippier is unlikely to play after suffering an injury in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace prior to the international break.

Jan Vertonghen was expected to be sidelined until next month, but the Belgium international could be in line to make a return for this contest. If Pochettino wants to be conservative and not reunite Vertonghen with his compatriot Toby Alderweireld, Juan Foyth would get another call to central defence.

Serge Aurier would get the call should Trippier not be able to play.

This match kicks off an intense eight-day stretch for Tottenham, who have a must-win Champions League encounter at home versus Inter Milan midweek before a north London derby at Arsenal on Dec. 2.

The road team won both matches last term, with Dele Alli helping Spurs end their 28-year run of misery at Stamford Bridge with a brace four minutes apart in the second half of a 3-1 victory. Chelsea recorded a 2-1 win at Wembley as left back Marcos Alonso completed his brace on 88 minutes, making sure an own goal by Michy Batshuayi would not result in a draw.

Chelsea have an impressive 30-19-6 record versus their London rivals in the Premier League era and have taken points in 16 of the last 19 meetings in all competitions (9-7-3).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are slight favourites to claim all three points and further burnish their title credentials with 6/4 odds for a victory. Spurs have 17/10 odds to pip the Pensioners for third while handing Sarri his first defeat, and there are 12/5 odds on the teams finishing in a deadlock.

There are 27/10 odds on Chelsea winning with more than 2.5 goals, with Spurs offering a 3/1 return on such an outcome for them. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has 15/4 odds, and both sides have 11/2 odds on a victory with less than 2.5 goals. A 2-2 draw and higher has 17/2 odds.

In a match with attacking superstars, Kane rises highest to be the odds-on favourite to open the scoring at 10/3, followed by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard at 9/2. The striker tandem for the Blues — Morata and Giroud — follow their teammate as the Spaniard has 5/1 odds and the Frenchman 11/2. Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente rounds out the top five at 6/1, and there are a host of players at 8/1 — Heung-Min Son, Erik Lamela, Willian, Lucas Moura and Pedro.

Kane is narrowly better than even money to score during the course of the match at 91/100, with Hazard above the threshold at 7/5. Morata’s form makes him a 17/10 selection, edging out Giroud (7/4). Llorente is further back at 19/10, and the group of scorers at 8/1 for the first goal are again lumped together for an any-time marker as Willian, Pedro, and Moura are 5/2, while Son and Lamela are 13/2.

PREDICTION

This is a match that could go in any direction, especially with Spurs seemingly threadbare at the back in which Alderwiereld — the one wooed by Manchester United in the summer transfer window — the last one standing of the back four. This is also a curious clash of styles — Pochettino is able to strategise on a match-to-match basis and likes to push opponents wide, yet going through the flanks is how Chelsea operate once Jorginho initiates the offence.

Giroud’s comments were interesting, but also interesting is that no one seems to have any idea if Chelsea will add a third striker in the January transfer window. One of the appealing parts of Sarri to Chelsea was the gaffer’s perceived indifference to the comings and goings on of the market, but it also seems impossible a man who gets to granular levels on tactics is wholly ignorant of who is available and more importantly, who can help Chelsea.

And that is the issue right now because despite not having a loss, Chelsea need help. Or at the very least, Morata and Giroud must score goals. Both have played well in spurts and both are willing foot soldiers, but at some point, they have to put goals on the scoreboard. Otherwise, these late concessions that have already cost the Pensioners four points on two occasions will cost them three in one.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 1, Chelsea 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)
Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview — West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)

Pep Guardiola must find a new left back as Manchester City return from the international break minus Benjamin Mendy heading into their match Saturday at West Ham United against former manager Manuel Pellegrini.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(Editor’s Note — The expectation is for Gundogan to start for Bernardo Silva)

Mendy, who is tied for the team lead with five assists — which is also good for second in the Premier League – suffered a left knee injury that required surgery while on international duty with France in Nations League play. It is not the same knee that required reconstructive surgery last season, and Mendy is expected to be sidelined at least a month.

Luckily, the bottomless pockets of Manchester City (10-2-0) means Guardiola does not lack replacement options at the position. The top two options are Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko, both of whom have played there earlier this season when Mendy dealt with niggling injuries. Another option for Guardiola is to switch Danilo from right back, with the Brasil international fully healthy after suffering an ankle injury in the October international break.

Delph is likely the frontrunner for the spot, having captained the England side in their 3-0 victory over the United States in a friendly during the break.

“I have no doubts about Fabian. He was important for us last season and he will be again this season,” Guardiola told Man City’s official website earlier this term.

City maintained their unbeaten start with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at home before the break. While the Citizens moved 12 points clear of their eternal rivals by claiming the first Manchester derby, they have yet to create separation from the top of the table as fellow unbeatens Liverpool and Chelsea are two and four points back, respectively.

Sergio Aguero, who scored in the win over United and has netted eight of his team-high nine goals in league play, also has a pair of assists in the last two league contests and four overall. City have a Premier League-best 36 goals while conceding just five, matching Liverpool for the best mark in the top flight.

Like City, West Ham United (3-3-6) also have some issues with injured personnel at outside back. Ryan Fredericks, who limped off late in the Irons’ 1-1 draw at Huddersfield Town prior to the break, has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a shin injury. Fredericks adds to a lengthy long-term injury list that already includes summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid, and Carlos Sanchez.

The good news for Pellegrini is he will have midfielder Jack Wilshere and forward Andy Carroll available after both missed lengthy spells due to injury. Midfielder Mark Noble also returns after serving a three-match ban for a direct red card, but fellow midfielder Robert Snodgrass must sit out this match due to a yellow card accumulation.

This will be Pellegrini’s first match against Manchester City following his awkward departure after the 2015-16 season. It was the Chilean who announced to the public the team had reached an agreement for Guardiola to replace him in late January, completely taking the edge off a City side who were challenging Leicester City for the Premier League title. While his Champions League semifinal appearance that season remains the club’s high-water mark Guardiola has yet to match, their exit at the hands of Real Madrid was so meek It caused chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak to level public criticism.

The Irons come out of the international break looking to push their league unbeaten streak to four matches. West Ham have settled since Pellegrini’s switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation with Declan Rice serving as a shield for the back four, and the Ireland international is thriving in the role Pellegrini has made for him.

“In this position, I also get to play and go forward with the ball,” he explained to the team’s official website. “I don’t try to over-complicate anything. I just play what I see, because once I started overcomplicating things and giving the ball away, there’s nothing worse than having to chase back for the ball so, when I get the ball, I just look to get my head up and give it.”

West Ham have taken four points in their first five matches against the “Big Six,” though the losses to Liverpool and Arsenal came as part of their 0-0-4 start that necessitated Pellegrini’s switch in formation.

Manchester City have won five on the trot in all competitions over West Ham United and posted a 4-1 victory in last season’s corresponding fixture. Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho scored goals, and ex-City defender Pablo Zabaleta contributed an own goal.

The Citizens are 8-5-7 at West Ham in the Premier League era in all competitions, but they have lost just two of the last 14 (8-4-2).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are 1/4 favourites to keep their hold atop the Premier League table for another match day and beat their former boss. The odds of the Irons claiming a point similar to how they did versus Chelsea are a healthy 24/5, while the chances of pulling off the shock scoreline of the season and handing City their first loss are 11/1.

City are expected to score goals coming out of the international break, with odds of a win and more than 2.5 goals scored at 4/6. A 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline offers a 13/4 return, with a low-scoring draw of 0-0 and 1-1 checks in at 7/1. For the Irons supporters, a victory regardless of goal total carries 16/1 odds.

Aguero, as expected, is the top option to open the scoring at London Stadium, getting 13/5 odds. He leads a line of City players that runs seven strong from Gabriel Jesus at 3/1 to David Silva at 7/1 as the pair bracket Raheem Sterling (4/1) and Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez (9/2). Marko Arnautovic is West Ham’s first listing at 17/2, while the sentimental can take Andy Carroll at 9/1 as the Irons striker is slated to make his season debut.

Aguero (4/6) and Jesus (3/4) are better than even money to put one past Lukasz Fabianski, with Sterling, Mahrez and Sane just off that standard at 11/10, 5/4 and 11/8, respectively. Carroll is again the pick of the West Ham litter for an any-time goal at 23/10, with Carroll and Chicharito a joint-second at 13/5.

PREDICTION

There is never a good time to catch Manchester City, but coming off an international break qualifies as one that could work to West Ham’s advantage as the Citizens work off the rust from the international break and go through their gears. There will be some intrigue to Pellegrini’s first match against City since that awkward parting of the ways, but that is more for West Ham players to use as motivation in contrast to the curiosity of how he will be received at the Etihad.

Mendy’s injury may result in a more focused defensive effort for Man City, though Delph has seamlessly contributed from the left back position when called upon previously. The injury to Bernardo Silva makes room for Ilkay Gundogan, who had a goal and an assist in 28 minutes of action off the bench in City’s two matches before the international break.

Such is the life of a big-money team that runs two deep at every position (except goalkeeper… maybe) where Guardiola can simply plug in quality pieces at every position

Marko Arnautovic will challenge Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, and then there is the possibility of seeing Carroll for the first time this season. What he can contribute is unknown, but all the same, the hope is he stays healthy for a prolonged period fo time to try and contribute.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, Manchester City 2.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)
Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)
Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)