Stoke look Saturday stick-ons
Chris Hammer and Ben Coley provide a game-by-game preview of Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League.
- Related Content
Arsenal take on QPR bidding to avoid their third consecutive defeat after a lacklustre display against Schalke followed a similarly lifeless effort at Norwich. The problem for Arsene Wenger is that, as we all know, while his first XI are among the best four sides in the country, several of his replacements aren't up to scratch. The good news for Wenger is that Kieran Gibbs should be back to fill the hole left when Andre Santos plays at left back, but Theo Walcott is still out and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains a doubt. Their pace is becoming integral to Arsenal's attacking effectiveness and without it they may again struggle in front of goal. That being said, Wenger could hardly wish for better opponents than QPR, who sit bottom of the table and are without a win in the league. Rangers were a tad fortunate to get a point out of Everton last Monday and, having conceded in every away game, they'll struggle to shut Arsenal out regardless. However, there's no way Arsenal are 2/5 chances on current form and if you are having a bet, it's worth looking for alternative markets. QPR have defended deeply this year and allowed for midfielders to join the attack, so with none of Arsenal's front men looking clinical at present the likes of Santi Cazorla (7/1), Thomas Vermaelen (20/1) and even Francis Coquelin (33s) are worth considering for first goalscorer purposes. Similarly, 7/4 about Arsenal conceding but still winning is one possible angle but with creativity issues well documented we'll leave this game out of the staking plan.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 QPR 1 (BC)
Reading are still searching for their first Premier League victory of the season after three draws and four defeats and I'm backing Fulham to ensure that wait continues beyond this weekend. Despite the lack of points, it would be harsh to say Brian McDermott's men have looked out of their depth considering most games they've played have been pretty close - but the number of goals they're conceding has to be a worry. Only four teams in the top flight have shipped more than 14 and we must bear in mind the Royals have played a game less than everybody else due to the postponement of their clash at Sunderland earlier in the campaign. And although they only lost 1-0 at Liverpool last weekend, the Reds did spurn plenty of chances and I can't see them keeping it tight at the back against a confident Fulham outfit. The Cottagers' superb home form is the main reason why they're enjoying life in the upper echelons of the division at the moment but they've also managed an away win at Wigan and came within seconds of victory at Southampton before Jose Fonte's last-gasp effort snatched a 2-2 draw. They head into the clash on the back of a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa and if the likes of Hugo Rodallega and Dimitar Berbatov are on song, then it could be another tough afternoon for Reading. The away win is a best of 8/5 with Coral and I feel that's the way to go.
Verdict: Reading 1 Fulham 2 (CH)
Stoke begin an important run of fixtures having played Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in four of their last five games. As midfielder Charlie Adam has pointed out this week, it's not those games that will dictate their season but ones against the likes of Sunderland, and I strongly fancy the home side to win this. They were excellent for 45 minutes against United last week and are clearly a far better side at the Britannia, where so far they've drawn with City and Arsenal and beaten Swansea with relative ease. Sunderland's lack of creativity was there for all to see when they needed a late own goal to salvage a point against Newcastle last Sunday and although Martin O'Neill hopes to shift Craig Gardner to midfield soon, he may have to deputise at right-back again and he is missed through the middle. The Black Cats are winless on the road so far and although they won this fixture last season, that was during the honeymoon period at the start of O'Neill's tenure and owed plenty to Robert Huth's dismissal. With Michael Kightly looking an astute addition and Peter Crouch in fine form, it's difficult to look past Stoke and although tempted to go the extra yard and back them to win to nil at 12/5, Ladbrokes' quote of 21/20 about the home win is too good to ignore - they could start odds-on.
Verdict: Stoke 2 Sunderland 0 (BC)
Both Ali Al Habsi and James McArthur have made a point of bemoaning Wigan's bad luck this week but the fact is that Roberto Martinez's side are winless in six with just five points in total. Early signs are that another late-season hurrah will be needed if they're to avoid the drop, but even that may not be enough unless they get competitive in games like this one. In contrast West Ham have started the season well and were good value for their victory at QPR when last away from home. Whether they can carry that form outside of London remains to be seen, but they did impress on the road last season and will have their backers at bigger than 2/1 a week after they smashed Southampton 4-1. If there is value, it's almost certainly with West Ham, but instead I'll make this game my Going For Goals selection. Both teams have scored in each of West Ham's last five games and they've goals all over the pitch, while only Chelsea have shut Wigan out at the DW Stadium and both Arouna Kone and Franco Di Santo look in good shape.
Verdict: Wigan 2 West Ham 2 (BC)
Like Arsenal, Manchester City have what looks an ideal opportunity to bounce back from Wednesday's Champions League nightmare against a Swansea side who have lost their last two on the road. Roberto Mancini might not have yet worked out what it takes to compete in the Champions League but his side are arguably the toughest and most talented in the Premier League and remain unbeaten this season. Swansea have returned to form of late after a mid-September slump but four points from home games against Reading and Wigan is just about par and they'll need to step up here. Of course, bookmakers are well aware of all of this and while City will probably win, they're just 1/4 to do so and aren't at all a tempting price. Instead, it's surely worth chancing Swansea's red-hot Michu to score in some form, given that he's found the net in six of his nine appearances so far. He's a big-looking 5/1 to do so again against a side with just one clean sheet all season, but instead we'll take a chance on him scoring first at 16/1 with bet365, who pay unlimited places each-way. City have conceded first in four of their eight Premier League games so there's evidence in the form book, and while it's possible they'll come out firing it's equally likely that they'll suffer a Champions League hangover before eventually coming good. It's speculative, but a small stakes play on Michu looks worthwhile at the price.
Verdict: Man City 3 Swansea 1 (BC)