Football: Wenger struggles to fill gaps in Gunners

THE SUN was out, the sky was blue and Sheffield Wednesday, preparing for Liverpool's visit, thought they were in for a good season. Three months on, as the return fixtures are played from that opening weekend of the new campaign, expectations have been revised sharply downwards in Sheffield and Derby, but have soared in Sunderland and Leeds, while remaining much the same in the red half of Manchester: today the Treble, tomorrow the world.

It is to be hoped that the more excitable element at Old Trafford today can refrain from prematurely acclaiming United as world champions, when that title still has to be played for in January. Admittedly "champions of Europe and South America" does not have quite the same ring, but Sir Alex never was one for tempting fate. What his team can achieve this afternoon, without any quibbling over terminology, is to regain the lead in the Premiership, as Leeds United's retreat from Sofia late on Thursday means they have been granted an extra day before travelling to Derby County tomorrow.

On the first Sunday of the season a late own goal by Jaap Stam denied United victory at Goodison Park, where the talk was of Bill Kenwright taking over Everton and Roy Keane hedging over a new contract - plus ca change. If it seems hard on Everton having to play Ferguson's team for a second time, when they have not yet met the likes of Bradford City and Watford once. Perhaps, like visiting the dentist or filling in a tax form, it is better to get these things over with.

By three o'clock, it might be Arsenal as well as Leeds whom United have to overhaul to reach the summit again. In order to allow Sky three televised Premiership games this weekend, Arsene Wenger's side have an 11.30am kick- off at Leicester City, where victory would carry them to the top, however briefly, for the first time since United nudged them aside early in May. Arsenal will not have it easy - not only are Leicester in excellent fettle, with eight wins from 10 games, but Wenger is having the strength and depth of his expensively acquired squad tested to the full.

"This is the worst situation I have known for having players unavailable since I came to the club," he said yesterday. Patrick Vieira and Fredrik Ljungberg are suspended and the injury list includes David Seaman, Martin Keown, Oleg Luzhny, Ray Parlour, Stefan Malz and Dennis Bergkamp. Three defensive musketeers in Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn are able to return, behind Marc Overmars and Nwanko Kanu.

While Frank Sinclair's last-minute own goal at Highbury was costing Leicester a point on the opening day, his former club Chelsea (who would also benefit from the same source a week later) were welcoming Sunderland to the Premiership with a performance that brought the first "awesome" of the season from Match of the Day's Alan Hansen. Paradoxically, the 4-0 drubbing appears to have been of greater benefit to Sunderland, whose work ethic has been redoubled to such effect that for today's return at the Stadium of Light they are looking down on their visitors, who have given the impression at times that domestic games are a tiresome interruption to the real business of the season. That business resumes early next week with a glitzy trip to Rome to play Lazio, which does not inspire any confidence that they will be up for a trip to Wearside. Having gone for a much more settled side in recent weeks, Gianluca Vialli must decide whether anyone other than Frank Leboeuf, who is suspended, should be held back for Tuesday.

Sunderland are still paying the penalty for taking their determination a few tackles too far - having reached 50 yellow cards before any Premiership team other than Derby had even got to 40, they have Steve Bould, Paul Butler, Alex Rae and Gavin McCann all banned.

Away wins for Bradford City at Middlesbrough, Southampton at Coventry City, Aston Villa against Newcastle United and Wimbledon at Watford back on 7 August all raised eyebrows to varying degrees and meant that the four sides in question have a chance to complete a double this afternoon. Subsequent form, however, suggests that none of the quartet should be backed with the Christmas box money to achieve one. Bradford and Wimbledon have only won twice since, and Southampton three times, their normal omnipotent form at the Dell suddenly waning.

Villa's Worthington Cup victory over them may have inspired Doug Ellis to make John Gregory his Manager of the Month for December, but Newcastle are on the up, having reached a seasonal high of 15th under Bobby Robson.

Danny Wilson's Wednesday, meanwhile, beaten 2-1 at home by Liverpool, have to look on tomorrow's game at Anfield, just as they have every other one this season, as a new beginning.

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice