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Arsenal and Liverpool seek to halt drift

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GIBBS-FELLAINILONDON, November 28- Arsenal and Liverpool will each attempt to arrest damaging sequences of results when they return to Premier League action this weekend following mid-week exertions in the Champions League.

The two teams have fallen out of title contention over recent weeks, with Arsenal now 15 points behind leaders Chelsea following consecutive losses and Liverpool three points further back after three straight defeats.

Arsenal’s poor form has seen manager Arsene Wenger’s 18-year stewardship called into question as rarely before, amid concerns that a climate of tolerated under-achievement has infiltrated the club.

However, Wednesday’s 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League saw Arsenal reach the last 16 for the 15th consecutive season, boosting morale ahead of Saturday’s trip to West Bromwich Albion.

“We have to show character and that is what makes me really happy for the next few games, because we have to sharpen up in the Premier League as well,” said Arsenal’s German centre-back Per Mertesacker.

“Saturday is a good chance to show to everyone that we are still alive. We have to come back in the Premier League and that is the next target.”

Victory over Dortmund came at a cost, with Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta joining a host of players on the sidelines after injuring his calf.

Jack Wilshere has been ruled out for three months after undergoing ankle surgery, but goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny should return from the hip injury he sustained in last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at home to Manchester United.

Liverpool host Stoke City on Saturday having slumped to 12th place in the table after successive defeats by Newcastle United, Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

They also received a setback in the Champions League, conceding an 88th-minute equaliser to draw 2-2 at Ludogorets Razgrad, but can still secure a place in the knockout phase by beating Basel at home next month.

Welsh midfielder Joe Allen believes Brendan Rodgers’s side should draw encouragement from their display in Bulgaria, saying: “The manager mentioned that it was almost like a fresh start and we see it that way as players.

“It’s up to us to turn it around and it is now back to Premier League action at the weekend. We are looking forward to giving everything to get three points.”

– Fabregas buoyant –

Second-place Southampton’s 1-1 draw at Aston Villa last Monday means that Chelsea’s advantage at the summit has swelled to six points ahead of their visit to 14th-place Sunderland on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho’s side cruised into the Champions League last 16 with a breezy 5-0 win at Schalke on Tuesday and in-form midfielder Cesc Fabregas says their football is as enjoyable to create as it is to watch.

“We have a very young, talented team,” said the former Barcelona player, who has already contributed 10 goals to the Chelsea cause this term.

“The mood is great and hopefully it will grow as the season goes on because you know that for the next two months it’s going to be really, really tough — a lot of games.”

Southampton’s hold on second place faces a stiff test over the next fortnight, with successive games against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United on their schedule.

Third-place City arrive at St Mary’s on Sunday, buoyed by a stunning 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich on Tuesday that breathed fresh life into their Champions League campaign.

United, meanwhile, have crept into fourth place, five points behind City, after their smash-and-grab victory at Arsenal last weekend.

Louis van Gaal’s side host Hull City on Saturday, when victory would enable the 20-time champions to register a third consecutive league victory for the first time since December 2013.

Newcastle, who trail United on goal difference, visit West Ham United, who are a point further back in sixth place after losing 2-1 at Everton last weekend.

There is a basement battle at the foot of the table, with bottom club Queens Park Rangers hosting third-bottom Leicester City, while second-bottom Burnley will be seeking a third straight win when they entertain Villa.

Fixtures

Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):

Burnley v Aston Villa, Liverpool v Stoke City, Manchester United v Hull City, Queens Park Rangers v Leicester City, Sunderland v Chelsea (1730 GMT), Swansea City v Crystal Palace, West Ham United v Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal (1245 GMT)

Sunday:

Southampton v Manchester City (1330 GMT), Tottenham Hotspur v Everton (1600 GMT)

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