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English Premiership

United focused on task ahead

LONDON, October 22- Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher has warned his side's Premier League rivals that they won't be distracted by Wayne Rooney's desire to quit Old Trafford.
Rooney rocked United this week when he revealed he would not extend his stay at the club beyond the end of his current contract, which expires at the end of next season.

The 24-year-old claimed United’s failure to guarantee the squad would be improved to ensure they can still compete for major honours was behind his decision to end contract talks.

Losing a player of Rooney’s talent would be seen as a massive blow to United’s hopes of remaining a competitive force in the Premier League.

But Scotland international Fletcher is confident his team-mates will use Sunday’s match at Stoke to show they can rise to the challenge of replacing their talismanic striker.

"High-profile players have left in the past but the club itself just keeps going," Fletcher said.

"If anything, it should galvanise the squad because we all need to come together.

"I am confident we can win trophies. We have a lot of exciting, young players who are getting better every day.

"Crucially, we also have a core of experience that has been through testing situations before and won plenty of things for Manchester United."

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Even the Rooney saga won’t keep Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson out of the spotlight if his struggling side fail to beat Blackburn at Anfield.

Hodgson’s team, who have already suffered dispiriting defeats against Northampton, Blackpool and local rivals Everton, will kick-off on Sunday glued to the bottom of the table if West Ham take a point from their fixture against Newcastle on Saturday.

It is an unpalatable prospect for a club more used to winning domestic and European honours and will only add to the pressure on the increasingly beleaguered Hodgson.

But Reds defender Jamie Carragher insists it is the players – and not their boss – who must take responsibility for Liverpool’s plight.

"The manager is the boss and we should be trying to impress him, not the other way around," he said.

"It is a little rocky patch we are going through at the moment but as long as the players, manager and supporters all stick together it won’t be a problem."

Arguably the most intriguing clash of the weekend comes at Eastlands, where Manchester City will keep the pressure on leaders Chelsea by beating an Arsenal team desperate to show they deserve to be considered as genuine title contenders.

City have made an impressive start to the season and are just two points behind Chelsea, but third-placed Arsenal would leapfrog Roberto Mancini’s side with a win on Sunday.

Arsenal manager Arsenal Wenger has received a welcome injury boost ahead of the clash after French right-back Bacary Sagna was cleared to play following a thigh injury.

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Sagna’s return was well-timed as Wenger will be without Thomas Vermaelen for longer than expected after the defender was ruled out for another three weeks.

"I see a real opportunity to have great achievements this season – we have the spirit, talent, hunger and desire," Wenger said.

"I do not say there are no weaknesses – we are conscious of that – but we work very hard."

Chelsea can increase the pressure on their title rivals if they defeat Wolves at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side will be clear favourites but Wolves boss Mick McCarthy is determined to take the game to the Blues.

"We’ve got a chance – it’s 11 versus 11," McCarthy said. "Nobody gives us a chance so why don’t we just turn up and have a go at them?

"They can be pretty awesome when they get going, so we’ve got to go there and be ready for it, which we will be."

Fixtures (1400GMT unless stated):

Saturday

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Birmingham v Blackpool

Chelsea v Wolves

Sunderland v Aston Villa

Tottenham v Everton (1145GMT)

West Brom v Fulham

West Ham v Newcastle (1630GMT)

Wigan v Bolton

Sunday

Liverpool v Blackburn

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Man City v Arsenal (1500GMT)

Stoke v Man Utd (1230GMT)

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