1) Arsenal's resilient backbone will dash Fulham hopes of an upset

When Fulham travelled to the Emirates last season Arsenal let a two-goal lead slip, before eventually salvaging a 3-3 draw. Arsène Wenger's side came close to doing something similar in Monday night's 2-1 victory at Villa Park, but the resilient backbone they have developed over the last 18 months held firm. Much of the credit for that has gone to Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at centre-back (unbeaten as a pair in the league since January 2012), but it's a different emphasis throughout the team that's really making the difference. Wenger's best teams may be remembered for their passing and their flair, but it's the hard defensive work of Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere, and even Mesut Özil that is allowing Arsenal to close out the narrow wins that in past years have eluded them. Fulham may never have won at the Gunners in their history – in any competition – but they have managed draws in the last two seasons at the Emirates, so this match provides Arsenal with ample opportunity to demonstrate the change they have undergone and the growth that has taken them to the top of the table.

Paul Wilson on Arsenal's new-found grit
Fulham have bid rejected for Ravel Morrison

2) Pulis' quest for points is crystal clear in Stoke reunion

Tony Pulis should be hailed by Stoke fans as a hero. The man who guided the club from mid-table Championship status to Premier League stalwarts, who took them to an FA Cup Final, who signed Ricardo Fuller. The football may not have been attractive, but it was effective – they were never a soft touch, and the lowest top-flight finish was 14th. However, it's not that simple. That stolid style of play, coupled with a large outlay on transfers and wages, left fans disgruntled and there were few tears shed when he was shown the door at the end of last season. Mark Hughes was appointed to unpick the conservative tactics – which was more than apparent in the helter-skelter 5-3 loss to Liverpool last week – but it's proving an arduous task. Meanwhile, Pulis has taken charge at Crystal Palace, and will face his old team for the first time on Saturday. Will the travelling support cheer? Will they jeer? Palace may be languishing at the bottom of the table, but a win could well lift them out of the relegation zone, and will put them just two points behind Stoke. One can't imagine there'll be any gratitude shown by the visitors for Pulis's long service if they travel back to the Potteries without all three points.

From office to Premier League, the rise of Jedinak
John Guidetti signs for Stoke on loan

3) Hughton receives dreaded vote of confidence

Now Chris Hughton has received the dreaded vote of confidence how much longer can he last? It's unclear what the Norwich chief executive, David McNally, hoped to achieve with his interview on BBC Radio Norfolk – but his words did have distinct element of menace about them. "The brief for Chris was to keep us out of the bottom three – we're not in the bottom three," which of course begs the question what happens when they are in the bottom three? "In any position at the football club, if you don't produce results then ultimately that's how you'll be measured. Are we disappointed this year with performances? Yes. Are we disappointed we are 15th in the league? Yes ... Clearly the results haven't been what we'd like." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? And, of course, that drop into the relegation zone could happen this weekend if they come a cropper against Hull City. What then? Norwich haven't done much business in the transfer window – Jonás Guttiérrez has arrived on loan, but there have been no permanent additions, which seems at odds with McNally's insistence on the primacy of Premier League survival. "We would not contemplate relegation at our club," says the chief executive. "In a sporting sense, it's worse than death. We are absolutely focused on making sure this great club stays in the Premier League." So might the club be waiting to see if Hughton is still in charge before freeing up significant funds to secure their top-flight status?

Hull City agree deal for Shane Long
Chris Hughton must steer clear of the drop zone

4) Holt ready to make villains of doubters

Aston Villa's home record may be woeful, seven losses in 11 games is relegation form, but the results away from Villa Park have been much stronger – and with a 3-1 win on their last trip to Anfield Paul Lambert will be hopeful of an upset against Liverpool. The Villa fans may not have been too happy with the loan signing of Grant Holt, but the introduction of the hefty No9 to support Christian Benteke could be a masterstroke. Lambert's youthful set-up means that his gaggle of promising players don't have anybody to look up to, or learn from – their most experienced attacker is Gabriel Agbonlahor and at 27, and still infuriatingly inconsistent, he isn't well placed to act as anybody's mentor. Holt on the other hand has a wealth of experience, from Singapore, to non-league, to the Premier League, he's been witness to the vagaries of footballing fortune – and that sort of old head could be just what the dressing room needs. It also shouldn't be forgotten that in his last top-flight outing he scored against Manchester City at the Etihad – no mean feat – and he's even got previous at Anfield. A goal there again on Saturday will soon change the doubters minds.

Grant Holt joins Aston Villa on loan
Liverpool land Dunkin' Donuts deal

5) Saints face test of nerve

Since the controversial departure of Nigel Adkins Southampton had seemed a model club. A promising young manager, a supportive chairman, an owner willing to inject cash for signings – everything was going swimmingly. But now Nicola Cortese, the chairman, and man who convinced Mauricio Pochettino of the charms of the south coast club, has left suddenly due to disagreements with the owner, Katharina Liebherr. In theory, this shouldn't have much impact on the pitch – what do players care who signs their pay cheque? However, when the manager has felt moved in the past to make such bald statements as: "Basically, my future in Southampton has to be with Nicola," and Luke Shaw welcomed the news by saying he was "gutted" it is clear that it's going to cause some upheaval. Pochettino may have moved to quell the whispers, but if some doubt over his or the squad's future remains then Sunderland must take advantage of any hesitance within the Southampton ranks. Their style relies upon hard work, pressing, closing the space – if any of the players slack off it can fall apart, and Gus Poyet's side will have an opportunity to secure some vital points in their fight against relegation.

Pochettino says he is committed to Southampton
Gus Poyet plans to take advantage of a club in turmoil

6) West Ham must quell anger over Morrison

West Ham are said to be furious over Fulham's alleged tapping up of Ravel Morrison – so much so that they're willing to report them to the Football Association. It's bad enough that they face losing one of the few bright spots in their otherwise disappointing campaign, but to lose the young English midfielder to a relegation rival is clearly too much to bear. But might the owners have been better advised to let the injustice slide, and instead set about renegotiating Morrison's contract, if indeed they are so keen to keep him? When Arsenal successfully charged Chelsea and José Mourinho of tapping up Ashley Cole in 2005 it resulted in record fines for the Blues, Mourinho but also Arsenal's own player. Come the end of the season not only did they finish second behind champions Chelsea in the league table, but they also saw Cole depart for Stamford Bridge a year later,disgruntled now not just by the "derisory" £60,000-per-week contract offer, but the hefty fine he'd been forced to pay to the FA. Did the furore distract Arsenal? Was Ashley Cole performing under-par for the remainder of his time at the club in part because of the £75,000 fine levied? It's impossible to know for sure, but if there is a lesson to be learned it's surely that teams are better off focusing on their own affairs, and not things that are out of their hands. Clubs will always tap up talent that interests them, agents will always seek larger contracts for their clients, and players will always have their heads turned by the next big offer. West Ham cannot afford distractions, they must concentrate on reinforcing the squad and staying in the Premier League, and beating Newcastle on Saturday, rather than petty, lose-lose squabbles with the teams around them.

Lacina Traoré granted work permit for West Ham move
FA sends a warning letter to Alan Pardew

7) City goal machine rolls into town

99 goals and counting. Manchester City may not be at the top of the league, but at home, at least, they appear unstoppable. There was a little wobble in Newcastle, but a helping hand from the referee saw them victorious, and the 5-0 mauling of Blackburn meant it was business as usual for City – with the added bonus of the return to fitness of Sergio Agüero. Manuel Pellegrini may not want to be led into describing his attacking trio as the best in Europe, but he's happy to sing the praises of a strikeforce which is the envy of the league. And that's without the highly-rated Stevan Jovetic, injured for most of the season, but now returning to fitness . It's a huge ask of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Cardiff team to halt them in their tracks and delay the century celebrations – they've managed five clean sheets all season, and only two of those were away from home, against Stoke and Norwich. Peter Crouch and Gary Hooper may have their fans, but they're hardly Agüero and Dzeko. Solskjaer's already a United legend of course, and if he were to match Malky Mackay's early-season victory over City this Saturday he would go a long way to cementing himself in the affections of the South Wales faithful too.

Pellegrini hails free-scoring City
Cardiff chase Ravel Morrison and Wilfried Zaha

8) Sherwood must play tactical game to nullify Swans

Swansea may have lost to Manchester United last Saturday, but they did enjoy 61% of the possession, with their three central midfielders able to take control in the middle of the pitch. With a bit more incision it could have proved another bad weekend for David Moyes. At Tottenham, Tim Sherwood is persisting with his switch to a 4-4-2 – allowing Roberto Soldado some much-needed support up front. However, while this may work against the lower placed teams, and when matching up against teams set up in a similar fashion, it seems likely to leave Spurs exposed against sides that overload the midfield. Arsenal have rarely had such a comfortable ride in the north London derby as they did in their FA Cup third round tie, with Sherwood unwilling – or unable – to compromise his vision in order to combat their midfield three. If he shows the same stubborn streak against Michael Laudrup's team expect Swansea again to dominate the possession. The question then becomes whether Wilfried Bony can find a way to break Spurs' resistance at the back, or whether Emmanuel Adebayor has one of those rare good days to get his manager out of jail.

Tottenham prepared to sell Etienne Capoue
Adnan Januzaj proves difference against Swansea

9) Will Special One release the hounds?

After Chelsea lost to Sunderland in the Carling Cup José Mourinho sounded an ominous warning that he was considering a shift in their tactics to help the defence: "If I want to win 1-0, I think I can, as I think it's one of the easiest things in football. It's not so difficult, as you don't give players the chance to express themselves." There swiftly followed a dour 0-0 draw at Arsenal, and Chelsea have conceded just one goal – at home to Liverpool – since the League Cup exit. In truth it was a slightly disingenuous statement – Mourinho had already shown his true colours in just the third game of the season, when he took his side to Old Trafford to play out a 0-0 draw in which neither side seemed to have much interest in pushing for a win. However, those sort of tactics are easy to justify away from home against a strong side – but will Chelsea fans, and the owner, accept a similar performance at home to a Manchester United team looking distinctly wobbly? Moyes's team have played sides from the current top six seven times in the league so far this season, managing only five points and a solitary win from those game. Now shorn of their main attacking threats, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie both injured, they're ripe for the taking. So will Mourinho unleash the hounds – or will United's lingering reputation of strength and his natural conservatism result in another disappointing "Super Sunday" clash at Stamford Bridge?

Robin van Persie: Moyes will turn thing around soon
Wayne Rooney may be out for three more weeks

10) Is Mel a Wenger or more of a Ramos?

When the TV companies picked West Bromwich Albion v Everton for the Monday night match one suspects it was more out of obligation – every team must feature a certain number of times – rather than any great expectations of the quality or excitement at the sporting contest. However, as luck would have it, it gives everybody the chance to witness first hand the club's new manager in his first match in charge. Not much is known about Pepe Mel, sacked at Rayo Vallecano after leading them to the second division, then sacked by Real Betis following a poor run at the end of 2013 it's an appointment that's come somewhat out of left field, and doesn't seem like a significant improvement upon Steve Clarke, who'd enjoyed such a good start to his managerial career last season. The Baggies' fans never seemed wholly convinced with the rationale for disposing of Clarke, and a strong start by Mel will be vital if he's to get them on side and lead the team up the table. Of course, a match against Everton is no easy start – Roberto Martínez's side are maintaining their push for a Champions League place, and have upset far stronger sides than West Brom this season, so the crowd may be wise to reserve judgement until next week's encounter against Aston Villa, direct rivals both geographically and in league positions. Mel is not the first foreign manager to arrive without name recognition on these shores – 'Arsène Who?' springs to mind, as does the similarly timed arrival of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton last year. But then so too do the names Gross, Venglos and Perrin. So what is it to be for Mel, is he a Wenger or more of a Juande Ramos?

Matej Vydra: Pepe Mel needs a great start
Everton sell Nikica Jelavic to Hull City
Sid Lowe on new Baggies boss Pep Mel