Back Rooney to strike
We're backing the in-form duo Olivier Giroud and Wayne Rooney to score for Arsenal and Manchester United respectively on Saturday as the Gunners host Stoke and the leaders visit Fulham.
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Meanwhile, Reading, Swansea and Southampton look decent value to win their matches as Ben Coley, David John and Ben Linfoot pick out the best bets on the Premier League coupon.
- 1pt under 1.5 goals in QPR v Norwich at 11/4 (BetVictor) - clean sheets against some of division's best for QPR suggests tight game.
- 1pt e.w. Olivier Giroud to score first v Stoke at 5/1 (Paddy Power 1/3 1-5) - five goals in three games and set to star once more.
- 2pts Reading to beat Sunderland at 6/4 (General) - unbeaten in five at home and full of confidence in front of goal.
- 2pts Swansea to beat West Ham at 23/10 (bet365) - Style of play will be suited to this game and can claim all three points
- 1pt Southampton to beat Wigan at 13/5 (Stan James) - Saints have been getting good results against superior opponents and lowly Wigan struggling at home.
- 2pts Wayne Rooney to score anytime at 11/8 (Boylesports) - Four in four since returning from injury, including against Fulham; always been streaky
QPR v Norwich (1245 GMT)
Not exactly a game that you'd expect to whet the appetite for those which follow but a crucial one in the season of QPR. At the time of writing, Chris Samba has been added to the ranks and while perhaps not an astute decision from a financial perspective, he's certainly better than Rangers have got and will improve their squad immensely from a purely footballing perspective. Immediately I was drawn to no goalscorer here as these early kick-offs can often be slow burners, especially when so much is at stake. However, one away clean sheet in 45 games means Norwich's defence isn't one I can rely on, and instead I'll go under 1.5 goals at a generous 11/4 with BetVictor. Their MK Dons abomination aside, QPR haven't conceded more than once in 2013. That's a run which includes clean sheets against Man City, Tottenham and Chelsea, and it demonstrates that Harry Redknapp has decided that the best way to survive is to start defending properly. Samba's addition only adds to my belief that QPR can keep Norwich at bay, but instead of taking 13/8 about a home clean sheet I'd rather boost the odds based on the fact that - again, ignoring the MK Dons anomaly - QPR have scored one goal at Loftus Road this year. If pushed I'd say they'll probably manage to nick this by a goal, especially if further attacking reinforcements arrive, but 11/4 about a maximum of one looks very good value given recent evidence.
Verdict: QPR 1 Norwich 0 (BC)
Arsenal v Stoke
Much is made of how hard Arsenal find life against sides like Stoke, but that's not the case on their own patch. The Gunners are bidding for an 11th straight home win against Stoke, a run stretching back to 1981, and to be honest if you can get 1/2 they should probably go in your accumulator. Why? Because Stoke have simply lost the knack of defending, the quality which ordinarily makes them tough to beat wherever they go. They've conceded six in their last two away games and let in two at home against Wigan last weekend, so with Arsenal's attacking unit working well the hosts should make hay. Of course, at the back Arsenal remain woefully short of the standards once set so both teams to score isn't the worst bet, but instead the value here lies with Olivier Giroud to score first at a generous 5/1. The French striker has taken a little while to find his feet in the Premier League but five goals in three games suggest he's at his best now and, unlike some members of the Arsenal camp, he has the physical presence to cope with the nature of Stoke's approach. Back him each-way with Paddy Power and you'll make profit if he scores any of the game's first five goals, and that looks very likely should he - as expected - get the nod from Arsene Wenger. This should be relatively comfortable for Arsenal as long as they start quickly, which they tend to do when they've a technical advantage.
Verdict: Arsenal 4 Stoke 1 (BC)
Everton v Aston Villa
It's been a super week for Everton fans. As if watching Liverpool dumped out of the FA Cup wasn't good enough after their side survived their own mini-scare, fans then then saw Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs drop points as Everton battled to victory over West Brom at Goodison Park. Quotes of 5/1 for a top four finish look to underestimate this excellent side, and they should add another three points to their tally against Aston Villa. Paul Lambert's outfit actually looked half decent in the second half of their midweek defeat to Newcastle, but it was quite simply too little, too late as they lost to opponents who hadn't won away all season - hardly the ideal preparation for this game and you have to fear for them on Saturday and beyond. Usually the angle in with Everton is to back them to win by a goal - their last seven Premier League wins have been by one - but if they score early there's no reason they can't run riot against opponents devoid of confidence. I'd never have imagined Everton at 4/11 to beat Villa in any game but right now the price is right.
Verdict: Everton 3 Aston Villa 1 (BC)
Newcastle v Chelsea
This game comes at a good time for Newcastle, who arrive fresh on the back of their first away win of the campaign and with reinforcements having strengthened a flagging squad. Depth is no issue for Chelsea but harmony is and blowing a two-goal lead at Reading leaves Rafael Benitez under more pressure, coming just days after another lacklustre performance almost saw them dumped out of the FA Cup at Brentford. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that we're not especially keen to back Chelsea at odds-on despite what is a brilliant record in this fixture. Newcastle make more appeal with things looking up but they weren't all that much shorter at Aston Villa in the week and clearly this is a massive step up in grade. If you do want to back the home side, the sensible policy is to take the 11/2 offered by Ladbrokes about a one-goal win. Not only is it hard to see the hosts running riot against such capable opposition, but seven of their nine wins in all competitions have come by the minimum margin. That's arguably the value but with new players to judge we'd rather watch this game with a view to the future.
Verdict: Newcastle 1 Chelsea 1 (BC)
Reading v Sunderland
Straight off the bat, I really like 6/4 about Reading beating Sunderland here. Wednesday's 2-2 draw with Chelsea will have felt like a win given the circumstances and prior to that they'd won five in six in all competitions, advertising that they've really turned the corner. Adam Le Fondre rightly hit the headlines midweek but Pavel Pogrebnyak is equally adept at finding the net and with an average of 2.5 per game in their last six, Reading are having no trouble in attack. That bodes well for the visit of Sunderland, who still look a tad short of creative flair and played out a thoroughly dull draw with Swansea on Tuesday. It's true that they've won three in seven and were far too good for Reading in the reverse, but that came at a time when Brian McDermott's side had won once in 12 and were at a very low ebb. This time, the momentum is with Reading who are now unbeaten in five at home, winning three of those and failing to beat only Swansea and Chelsea, and for me they should be around the 6/5 mark. For those looking at side markets, Reading's last six games have each produced over two goals which can be backed at evens, while Le Fondre is 15/8 to score for the fourth consecutive game which would be fair if he starts. For us, though, this is simple. Reading are riding the crest of a wave and can prove too good for Sunderland.
Verdict: Reading 3 Sunderland 1 (BC)
West Ham v Swansea
Swansea continue to impress under Michael Laudrup and they may well feel aggrieved not to have taken the victory in midweek at Sunderland after a late miss from Danny Graham, who has now departed for the Black Cats. They are unbeaten in seven games and they look a nice price at 23/10 to get three more points closer to the 40 Laudrup covets. Their ball retention away from home is excellent and they have the quality to take their time and pick a way through a West Ham side that is cuirrently going in the opposite direction. They have built this season's foundation on home form but the confidence is stating to ebb away somewhat with just five points from their last nine games and two recent heavy losses at Arsenal and Fulham. I would be confident that the double chance price of 8/13 would payout but I am going to have a little more faith in the visitors and go with them to land the spoils outright in a low-scoring contest.
Verdict: West Ham 0 Swansea 1 (DJ)
Wigan v Southampton
Wigan away represents a significant drop in class for Southampton who have been punching above their weight in the dying embers of Nigel Adkins' reign and during the early stages of the Mauricio Pochettino era. The Saints drew 2-2 away at Chelsea in Adkins' last game while since then they earned a creditable goalless draw at home to Everton before only going down 2-1 at leaders Manchester United after taking an early lead. They were all fine efforts and with Wigan chalked up at a prohibitive 5/4 I'm inclined to think backing Southampton at 13/5 is the value call. Wigan showed plenty of spirit to claw back a 0-2 deficit at Stoke in midweek but they are struggling at home, not winning in their last six at the DW, and they should be bigger than 5/4 for this assignment. Roberto Martinez's team did win the reverse fixture 2-0 down on the south coast but Southampton were just finding their feet in the top flight then and have improved vastly since, as their recent run of results suggests. Take the Saints at 13/5.
Verdict: Wigan 0 Southampton 1 (BL)
Fulham v Manchester United (1730 GMT)
Fulham got a welcome confidence-boost against West Ham on Wednesday ahead of the toughest home assignment of the campaign. It's an assignment they failed at miserably last season when they lost 5-0 and a similar scoreline isn't out of the question given how easily the Red Devils cut through the Cottagers in a 4-1 FA Cup romp at Old Trafford just a week ago. Wayne Rooney scored on that occasion and he bagged a brace in the 2-1 win over Southampton in midweek, taking his tally to four in four since he returned from injury. Rooney's always been a streaky goalscorer and given he's flowing with confidence at the moment the 11/8 about him scoring anytime looks a good bit of business.
Verdict: Fulham 1 Manchester United 3 (BL)