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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Wenger-Conte renew rivalry; Wayne Rooney makes Old Trafford return

John Brewin previews the weekend's Premier League action and highlights five key storylines to watch.

Can Wenger continue to frustrate Conte?

Of all of English football's big-hitting managers, only Arsene Wenger managed to beat Antonio Conte's Chelsea squad twice last season. And none of Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola or Mauricio Pochettino could boast that they forced Conte into a tactical rethink, as happened on Sept. 24, 2016, when an inspired Arsenal destroyed Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates. That said, Wenger became little but a bystander as once Conte had bedded in his 3-4-3 formation, Chelsea breezed to the title while Arsenal slumped down to fifth.

Arsenal also won the FA Cup final, their zest unpicking Chelsea for a 2-1 victory, and August's Community Shield on penalties after a 1-1 draw. The key to victory on both occasions was a greater energy that made Chelsea look sluggish. Wenger's team selection in the Europa League on Thursday, where he picked a second-string lineup, suggested preservation of that energy for Stamford Bridge.

Wenger finds himself on the unfamiliar Thursday-Sunday treadmill of the Europa League. Having beaten FC Qarabag 5-0 on Tuesday, Chelsea have enjoyed two extra days to recover. Arsenal began life in Europe's second-tier competition with Thursday's scratchy and delayed 3-1 win over FC Cologne, though Alexis Sanchez's second-half performance and goal will have heartened those who feared he might take it easy as his Gunners contract is run down.

Chelsea's home, though, has been a much tougher nut to crack than Wembley for Wenger. The last time Arsenal won at the Bridge was October 2011 when Andre Villas-Boas was Chelsea's manager, and Robin van Persie scored a Gunners hat trick. It also might be recalled that until last September, Arsenal had gone five years without beating Chelsea.

Chelsea will start Sunday's game as firm favourites to win.

Rooney back at United

Wayne Rooney returns to Manchester United on Sunday, and all ears will be on the reception he receives from the Old Trafford faithful. Expect it to be warm, though not completely rapturous. For someone who holds the club's all-time scoring record of 253 goals, Rooney was never quite taken to heart in the manner of demigods like Eric Cantona or the 1960s triumvirate of Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton now celebrated by a statue on the stadium's forecourt.

Rooney's recent omnipresence in UK tabloids after a drink-driving charge probably means United fans have not yet been able to sit back and rationalise Rooney's 13 years in Manchester, even if he is Everton's player again. For the boyhood club where Rooney returned in July, there are definite problems. Despite two goals so far in the Premier League, he is as guilty as anyone for Everton's stalled start to the season. Thursday saw a Europa League 3-0 embarrassment at the hands of Atlanta.

Preseason ambitions of challenging the top six after hefty spending now look far too lofty, and one of the issues Ronald Koeman faces in a team that has not won since beating Stoke 1-0 on opening day is a lack of pace. Rooney is back in blue, but the days when his jet heels inspired the Toffees back in 2004 -- before Sir Alex Ferguson snaffled him for United -- are gone.

Roy to the rescue?

Roy Hodgson has waited 51 years for his chance at Crystal Palace. In 1966, the Croydon-born local left the club he served as a youth player to join non-league Tonbridge Angels, having failed to make the grade at the club he supported from Selhurst Park's Holmesdale Road stand as a schoolboy.

His reign at Crystal Palace begins on Saturday, with a home match at Selhurst Park against Southampton. A glance at the list of fixtures pinpoints this as one that Palace really must get a result from, since trips to Manchester City and Manchester United await, and after the international break that follows them, Chelsea travel to SE25.

It's distinctly possible that Palace might not collect a single point from any of their first seven matches, but Hodgson is an experienced rescuer of relegation situations, having pulled both Fulham (in 2007-08) and West Brom (in 2010-11) back from the brink. Palace's owners already have pressed the panic button to eject Frank de Boer, and the former England manager surely will receive longer to make his presence felt.

With just two points to their name so far, and coach Mauricio Pellegrino himself already the subject of murmurs of discontent, Southampton look like ideal opposition for Hodgson to gain that first result and consign the De Boer disaster to history.

Liverpool's dodgy defence

Have Liverpool sprung a leak? The last week has seen Jurgen Klopp's team concede seven goals: five in a loss at Manchester City and two in Wednesday's draw with Sevilla. Chaos is reigning among a defence in which the failure to land Virgil van Dijk from Southampton could be long lamented.

Burnley, who pulled off a surprise 3-2 victory over Chelsea on opening day, are dangerous opposition, with New Zealand striker Chris Wood in rich form. But Klopp must hope his team can repeat the clean sheets they have kept so far in the Premier League at Anfield, in beating Palace 1-0 and Arsenal 4-0. And perhaps the return of Philippe Coutinho can lift the pressure on that wobbly defence.

Can Howe turn it around?

De Boer lasted just 77 days after Palace failed to win any points from four matches, but there should be few such fears for Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, despite his team also failing to collect a single point.

Bournemouth is built in his image. Despite other opportunities, Howe has stayed to push on a project that has become his life's work. He definitely will be given time. Steely underneath the smiles, there is unconcealed irritation at his team's performances, and Howe will accept nothing less than victory in Friday's South Coast derby with Brighton.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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