Expect goals at the Emirates
Our team bring you their match-by-guide to Saturday's Premier League action, including Arsenal's clash with Liverpool.
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The storm clouds are gathering - again - over St James' Park. You can usually tell all is not right when a manager comes out with the line: "I just feel for the fans really. They were terrific," following a defeat. That was Alan Pardew after Wednesday's League Cup loss to Manchester City. The following day's papers suggested the Magpies boss would consider jumping ship for relegation certs Crystal Palace. That says much about the state of Newcastle as a club. Here they face the new title favourites, who are firmly finding their feet under Jose Mourinho. The Blues have won their last four away games in a variety of competitions, with Steaua Bucharest, Norwich, Schalke and Arsenal their respective foes. With goals coming freely and Fernando Torres looking livelier than for some time, Mourinho's men probably justify their 4/6 quote for victory against a side who have won just once on home turf this season. However, it's also worth considering backing them in the 'win to nil' market in which they are offered at a tasty 2/1. During those four away wins, Chelsea have conceded just a single goal. It seems a price worth pondering at least.
Verdict: Newcastle 0 Chelsea 2 (AS)
Newcastle have netted a joint-league-high five goals from outside the box this season.
Chelsea have averaged two goals per game in their last five Barclays Premier League trips to St James' Park.
Newcastle have failed to score in seven of their last 12 top-flight encounters with Chelsea.
Newcastle have conceded the joint-most headed goals this season (five, along with Fulham).
This is, it must be said, a very difficult game to assess. On the one hand, we all know that Fulham have not only performed with credit at home for many years, but they've produced some big results against big teams - including United - and on their day are a match for just about anyone. United, meanwhile, have understandably struggled to adapt to this new era in which they find themselves. That points to a home win at 5/1 being value. But on the other, there's a feeling that United's struggles have been somewhat blown out of proportion - they're just two points behind rivals City at the time of writing - and they do look to be getting better. Considering they've won their two away Premier League games against vastly inferior opponents, and have won on their last two trips to Craven Cottage without conceding, all of a sudden 8/13 doesn't look too bad. The bottom line is that neither side has me convinced even if both are probably a shade better than you might've been led to believe. That makes for a confusing picture and I'm loathe to provide a tip here. If there is a way to bet, it's United to win by a goal at around the 27/10 mark - their last three Premier League meetings with Fulham have gone this way as well as four of their last five wins in all competitions - but even that doesn't set my pulse racing. Robin van Persie looks to have found his scoring touch again and isn't a bad price at 11/10, but I'd rather back Wayne Rooney, who has scored on his last two trips to Fulham, including the winner last year, and looks back to his very best. Ultimately though this is a no-bet game.
Verdict: Fulham 1 Manchester United 2 (BC)
Fulham have scored a league-high four goals originating from corners this season.
United have a league-high 21 yellow cards this season, only eight short of the total they recorded in the whole of the 1993-94 season.
Robin van Persie has scored six goals in his last seven Premier League away games. Overall he has 16 goals in 22 away appearances for United in the top-flight.
Going low on goals is an obvious play in this one given both sides have managed just seven goals in their nine games so far. The 8/11 about under 2.5 goals looks fair enough but the way I'm going to approach the game is to look for a likely scorer in a low-scoring game. The candidate who stands out a mile is Steven Fletcher. Back to full fitness, the Scot put Sunderland on their way to a much-needed victory over Newcastle last weekend, a result which may just kick-start their campaign. Such a result last season was followed by a victory over an Everton side going well at the time and the Black Cats will hope for a similar benefit in this one. For some time, Fletcher has been head and shoulders above his team-mates in terms of goal threat and a record of 13 goals in his last 33 league starts is not a bad one when you consider Sunderland have spent most of that period battling relegation. Fletcher is 13/2 to score the first goal of the game which, given Hull's own goalscoring problems, isn't bad. However, a safer way to go may be to get with him in the first Sunderland scorer market at 4/1. In the outright betting, the visitors may just be worth a nibble at 29/10 to win the game. Hull had to battle for 120 minutes at Spurs on Wednesday night whereas Sunderland had the week off, giving new boss Gus Poyet the chance to fully implement his methods. Hull are 11/10 shots but is there really that much between the sides? I'd suggest not.
Verdict: Hull 0 Sunderland 1 (AS)
On home soil, Hull remain unbeaten this season (W2 D2), conceding just one goal in the process.
Sunderland have gone 13 games without a Premier League clean sheet. The last manager to see his side fail to score against the Black Cats was David Moyes.
Hull's last seven home Premier League games have gone under 2.5 goals.
I wouldn't put anyone off backing City to win this game to nil at evens. It's been a popular bet for their games against the also-rans at the Etihad and has already come in against Newcastle and Hull. They've also dominated games against Manchester United and Everton, winning both while conceding, but I know which two sides Norwich are more closely related to. Plenty of brickbats have been throw around City of late, most notably regarding Joe Hart. The negative atmosphere surrounding Manuel Pellegrini's men suggests things have gone badly wrong but that's far from the case. Yes, they have lost a little ground in the title race but since their last home game they've played four away games and won three. The one defeat - at Chelsea last weekend - would have been a draw but for a rare error of calamitous proportions. With home form solid, City should win this comfortably. Norwich could well be without one of their most reliable performers in Robert Snodgrass due to an injury picked up in midweek during a heavy League Cup at Manchester United. Beaten 4-0 in that game, the Canaries have also been shut-out by Hull, Spurs, Villa and Cardiff this season. City look likely to do the same.
Verdict: Manchester City 3 Norwich 0 (AS)
Since Norwich returned to the Barclays Premier League in 2011/12, the four fixtures between Man City and the Canaries have produced a total of 25 goals, an average of 6.25 per game.
Sergio Agüero has scored four goals in three Premier League starts against Norwich. He has scored six goals in his last four league appearances.
Norwich are the only team yet to score a goal in the first half hour of a Premier League game this season.
The Citizens have scored in each of their last 54 Premier League home games.
Some may argue the moral of Stoke's season so far is "be careful what you wish for". Out went Tony Pulis in the summer as the Potters searched a new direction to please a set of supporters who wanted a change from the route-one style of football which had pretty much been found out (eventually) by top-flight opposition, and in came Mark Hughes charged with bringing about a new dawn at the Britannia Stadium. But despite improved possession and passing stats, critics will point to the goals-scored column and their lowly position in the table and bluntly say: "They should have stuck with Pulis." After an initially promising start of two wins from their opening three games - and they would have drawn at Liverpool had it not been for a last-gasp Simon Mignolet penalty save - Hughes' men have since slipped down the ladder and currently sit just one place above the relegation zone, level on points with third-bottom Norwich. It's fairly simplistic to say they should have kept Pulis just based on these first nine games because they'd arguably gone backwards in the last two seasons and the results in the second half of the previous season were awful - so they haven't got any worse! This new philosophy does at least give them a chance to improve but it's hard to say when an upturn in fortunes will arrive or whether it will be too late to save their skins. Away from home they've performed much better and were unfortunate not to take at least a point from their 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford on Saturday but it's been more of a struggle at the Brit, where their slower build-up play has made it tougher to break down the opposition, who tend to get men behind the ball. Stoke have only conceded two goals at home in the league but you'd think high-flying Southampton will ask them more questions this weekend with a lung-bursting pressing style which has propelled them up to fifth in the table. The Saints have won five of their last six games in all competitions - including a 1-0 triumph at Liverpool - and the only goal they've conceded in the last seven came during a 1-1 draw at Manchester United in their previous away match. So, those who pay strict attention to the form book will surely want to snap up the 7/5 about Mauricio Pochettino's side picking up yet another three points. The Stoke side of old would typically relish the prospect of bursting someone else's bubble but you'd have to say they're a much softer touch these days.
Verdict: Stoke 0 Southampton 1 (CH)
The Potters have conceded a total of just four goals in their last six games at the Britannia Stadium.
The Saints have kept five clean sheets in their last six Barclays Premier League games.
Stoke have scored with 7.1% of their shots so far this season; the joint-worst conversion rate in the Premier League (along with Norwich).
Of the three Opta stats listed at the end of this preview, I think the most telling is the fact that 66.7% of Crystal Palace's goals - four out of six - this season have come from set-piece situations. So obviously this means the Eagles have netted just two open-play goals in nine games, clearly underlining how toothless they've been up front. And when you think three of their six came in their only victory of the season against Sunderland, then their strike force looks even blunter. However, sometimes statistics can be misleading, especially if a goal-shy side can genuinely point to rank bad luck such as countless shots against the bar, heroic opposition goalkeeping and last-ditch clearances off the line. Now you could say there was an element of this during their plucky performance in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal last time out, when they found Gunners stopper Wojciech Szczesny in tip top form but I'm afraid that example is very much the exception to the rule for Palace this season. Maybe a new manager's arrival could see a very short-lived change in fortunes but I think it's fair to say most realistic Eagles fans - and those in the Selhurst Park boardroom - are already anticipating relegation. On Saturday they travel to a West Brom side who will view this as the perfect opportunity to bounce back from a 4-1 mauling against Liverpool at Anfield last weekend. A win at Old Trafford and a highly-creditable 1-1 draw with Arsenal have been the undoubted highlights for the Baggies this season, while the 3-0 victory over Sunderland suggested they shouldn't be one of the teams looking over their shoulder this season. Overall I can only see any easy afternoon's work for the hosts on Saturday and that's why the price about them winning to nil has plenty of appeal.
Verdict: West Brom 2 Crystal Palace 0 (CH)
West Brom have suffered just one defeat in their last six games, winning two and drawing three.
A league-high 66.7% of Crystal Palace's goals this season have come from set-piece situations (four out of six goals).
Marouane Chamakh has appeared in all nine of Palace's Premier League games this season but has had only two shots on target.
West Ham may well have picked up one of the surprise results this season when they stunned Tottenham 3-0 but compared with the rest of their campaign, that victory can pretty much be described as an anomaly. Sam Allardyce's men have only won twice this season - their other coming on the opening day against newly-promoted Cardiff - while they've lost their last three top-flight games at Upton Park and find themselves just one point above the relegation zone. You'd think a side that netted three times at White Hart Lane would have few problems in the striking department but take those goals away and they'd be the lowest-scoring side in the Premier League. It obviously doesn't help having a manager who's always prioritised keeping clean sheets over anything else and at this rate they'll be battling much closer to the bottom in the months to come than the safety of mid-table. West Ham did at least taste that winning feeling in Tuesday night's League Cup triumph at Burnley which should give them a boost of confidence ahead of Saturday's clash against an Aston Villa side also struggling for goals. Paul Lambert's men have failed to find the net in their last three games - two of which were 2-0 defeats - so there are very little grounds on which to predict an entertaining affair at Upton Park. Given their respective runs of form, I'd expect quite a cagey affair with both outfits more concerned about avoiding defeat than throwing caution to the wind in search of a win so if pushed, I'll advise a small wager on the draw.
Verdict: West Ham 0 Aston Villa 0 (CH)
The Villans have lost just one of their last six away games, winning three and drawing two.
West Ham will be trying to avoid a fourth successive top-flight home defeat. This last happened in January 2006.
Villa have gone three games without a goal, no team has produced a run of four scoreless matches in the Premier League this season.
If Christian Benteke fails to score in this game it will be the longest spell without a Premier League goal since last November (four games).
History paints a confusing picture here. On the one hand, Arsenal's home record against Liverpool shows just two wins since 2006. On the other, Liverpool have beaten Arsenal just once in any domestic game since 2007. Does that mean we should back the draw? Well, possibly - last year's renewal ended 2-2 and since Arsenal moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, there have been four Premier League draws in seven here, plus a 1-1 draw in the Champions League. Of course, what this all really points to is the simple fact that, while Arsenal have achieved marginally more in terms of the league, these two sides have been quite closely matched for some time. The current table further underlines this view, with Arsenal two points ahead of Liverpool having enjoyed a slightly easier set of fixtures to get their season under way. Indeed, we're a quarter of the way through the campaign now so the sides in first and third need full respect when it comes to assessing Premier League contenders. This game will tell us more in that regard and Arsenal deserve to be favourites on the strength of three home wins since Aston Villa caused an opening-day upset. There is, however, one big note of caution. Arsenal have hosted three sides of genuine quality this year, and they've beaten one of them; Spurs. It may only have been the Capital One Cup on Tuesday but Chelsea were worthy winners over a strong Arsenal XI, and the same goes for Champions League conquerors Dortmund. While not convinced that Liverpool possess the same level of quality, they can boast arguably the league's most confident and effective attack and both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez will fancy their chances. I see goals here, and I'm encouraged to see that Liverpool's recent games have produced plenty - five with West Brom, four with Newcastle, Sunderland and Crystal Palace. Arsenal's recent hauls haven't been quite as high but their last two home Premier League games have seen five goals produced with Norwich and four with Stoke. Given that both these sides are at their best in the final third and with those records plus last season's 2-2 draw in mind, 13/8 about over 3.5 goals is appealing in a game whose result may hinge on individual moments of brilliance rather than a predictable pattern of play.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 Liverpool 2 (BC)
Arsenal won each of their last three league games at Highbury against Liverpool but have won only two of seven since they moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.
Liverpool won each of their last three league games Highbury but have won only two of seven since the Gunners moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.
Daniel Sturridge has scored a single goal in eight of his (and Liverpool's) nine league fixtures this season, with Southampton the only team to shut him out.
- The Newcastle and Arsenal games are being televised live in the UK on BT Sport and Sky Sports respectively.