All set for North London thriller
Goals should flow at the Emirates Stadium while we're taking on Liverpool in Saturday's Premier League preview.
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The North London derby is always a big game, but this one has even greater significance. Both sides have made unconvincing starts to a season in which they are both competing in a wide-open race for the final Champions League spot. Arsenal have made their worst Premier League start of the Arsene Wenger era, while Spurs have lost three of their last four league games (and crashed out of the League Cup at Norwich) having apparently hit their stride with a four-match winning run. Arsenal have won just two of their last eight league games at the Emirates (and two of their last eight against Spurs) and are miserable value at odds-on here, but we'd want a bit more than 3/1 for the visitors before getting involved given their poor recent run. One thing we can expect, though, is goals. Spurs have kept just one clean sheet all season and scored in all but one league game, while Arsenal, since starting the season with two goalless draws and a 2-0 win, have just one clean sheet and one failure to score in their last eight. Spurs' games against the big guns this season have featured goals (they won 3-2 at Manchester United, lost 4-2 to Chelsea and 2-1 to Manchester City) while Arsenal's last game was a 3-3 draw with Fulham. Both teams to score is an obvious call here; as well as the sides' current runs the bet would have landed in the last six north London derbies, but the layers are on to that with quotes no bigger than 8/15. Seven of the last nine NLD clashes have produced over 2.5 goals, but again it's priced up accordingly at 8/13. But with both sides scoring and conceding goals aplenty, over 4.5 goals looks value at sportingbet's 4/1. It would have paid out in five of the last 10 clashes between these two great rivals, and three of their last four meetings at the Emirates.
Verdict: Arsenal 3 Tottenham 2 (DT)
Sorry if this column sounds like a stuck record, but Liverpool just aren't that good these days and backing them at 9/20 to win any game at Anfield is not sound business. Their home Premier League record in 2012 now reads won three, drawn five, lost six with one of those games being a defeat to Wigan at the back-end of last season. The Latics have picked up more points on their travels than at home this season and if they can win at Tottenham - as they did on their last away trip - they can win here. The midweek international fixtures will have hurt the hosts' preparation more - key men Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling all saw plenty of action on Wednesday night - and the Reds look easy to oppose. You can get 17/10 in the double-chance market. Frankly we think it would be rude not to.
Verdict: Liverpool 1 Wigan 1 (AS)
What most clubs would give for a crisis like Manchester City's. To make a mess of a Champions League campaign you first have to be in it, and Roberto Mancini's megabucks, megastar side remain unbeaten in the Premier League and only two points off top spot. Their £24million supersub Edin Dzeko stepped off the bench to once again grab the points against Tottenham last time out, a fifth win in the last six Premier League games. They're inevitably prohibitively short against a poor Aston Villa side who nonetheless gave leaders Manchester United a heck of a fright last weekend. We were going to swerve this game until uncovering an eye-catching stat: Joleon Lescott has scored five goals in his last 10 games against Villa, netting in four of those games. His record with City is two in four - including one first goal - so we'll chance an each-way first goalscorer bet on the centre-back at Ladbrokes' standout 28/1.
Verdict: Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 0 (DT)
This looks a trappy game between two teams hard to get a handle on this season. Newcastle have won three and lost three to go with five draws and come into this game on the back of a home defeat to West Ham. Swansea's record is similar - one more defeat, one fewer draw - and they will feel they've left points on the park having mixed a creditable draw against Chelsea and narrow defeat to Manchester City with sloppy results against the likes of Villa, Reading and Southampton. Newcastle at their best would be a decent bet at close to even money in this one, but can we be sure that's the Newcastle we'll get? We won't be having a bet on this one, but - if pushed for a selection - would go for Yohan Cabaye first goalscorer at 12/1. The Frenchman has opened the scoring in two of Newcastle's last three.
Verdict: Newcastle 1 Swansea 1 (DT)
How a team who have won no games by mid-November can be odds-on shots baffles me and I simply can't be going anywhere near QPR here. Yes, Southampton's defence is not good but they offer something going forward - 15 goals scored is bettered only by Swansea in the bottom half - and it's hard to see them being eased aside. It's worth pointing out that West Brom were 8/11 shots to beat Saints at home a fortnight ago - a price we were more than happy to snap up and one which duly made a profit. However, the Baggies are a much better side than the one Mark Hughes has assembled - 16 points between them already proves that - and the 17/20 offered about a home win this time is a real turn-off. OK, Rangers did create some good chances at Stoke last week but the fact they were missed rather sums up the lack of confidence at Loftus Road right now, while the defensive horror show which led to Charlie Adam's winner simply adds to that. Southampton could offer a spot of value at 16/5 but so bad has their defending been - note the gift to Nathan Dyer that cost them all three points against Swansea - that is makes sense to swerve this one and look elsewhere.
Verdict: QPR 2 Southampton 2 (AS)
Here's a stat for you: Everton have come from behind to claim at least a point in each of their last six games. No other side in the Premier League era has achieved that 'feat'. Sadly the bookies are wise to this one and offer just 18/5 about the Toffees stretching that run to seven, a considerably shorter price than the norm. Of course, going behind in the first place is no great achievement and the reason why Everton haven't won more than they have done so far is a leaky defence. David Moyes' Everton teams have been built on defensive solidity over the years but so far this season that's not been the case. Phil Jagielka has been unable to find a regular partner at the heart of the backline and Everton have managed just two clean sheets thus far in the league. What is noticeable when you look at their results is that both sides have scored in Everton's last six (seven if you add a Capital One Cup tie). It's eight out of 11 overall in the league. Reading have scored in all bar one of their games at the Madejski. Again though, the bookies have priced both sides to score accordingly at 4/6. The value here instead would appear to lie with the draw. Everton have drawn five of their 11 games thus far and their top-four hopes would look considerably stronger had they not dropped points at bottom-half sides such as QPR and Wigan. Reading, who have drawn six of 11 and four of five at home, fit into that bracket and could prove tougher nuts to crack than Everton's 5/6 odds suggest. Impressive summer signing Kevin Mirallas is unlikely to play due to injury and his creativity will be missed so backing the draw at 29/10 looks worth a punt.
Verdict: Reading 1 Everton 1 (AS)
West Brom head into this match having taken 15 points from a possible 18 at home, while last week they picked up their first away win to move up to fifth in the table. It's been quite a start by Steve Clarke's men with, as mentioned in the past, James Morrison and Romelu Lukaku in particularly good form - both played a key part in last week's victory at Wigan. My theory with Chelsea has been they've been vulnerable when teams have been prepared to go toe to toe with them - think Shahktar Donetsk, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid. While we're not putting West Brom in that category just yet, the Baggies will surely use their home advantage by getting at Chelsea from the kick-off. Key to success will be dealing with Chelsea's creative midfield where Juan Mata and Eden Hazard have been razor sharp thus far. However, West Brom's midfield is also a strong point with Morrison and Zoltan Gera providing plenty of creativity while Youssouf Mulumbu adds steel. Taking everything into account, 31/10 about a home win looks worth consideration. Sadly it's not the 4/1 offered about the Baggies beating Man City here last month (a game they lost to an injury-time goal) so he'll keep stakes fairly small.
Verdict: West Brom 2 Chelsea 1 (AS)
It's impossible to write about Manchester United this season without reference to one of the more bizarre statistics of the season. United have now fallen behind in 11 of their 17 matches (seven in 11 Premier League games) this season, yet managed to hit back and win on eight occasions (five in the Premier League). It's 7/1 at Ladbrokes for that to become nine from 12 in 18 at Norwich this weekend, and it's a perfectly fair price. Obviously our main concern here is not whether the side that has scored 29 goals will net against the one that has shipped 18, but whether the side with only eight goals to their name can get themselves in front. It's an understandable fear, but the Canaries have already scored first against both Chelsea and Arsenal this season and the 7/1 for United to perform their new favourite trick certainly looks an easier investment than the straight away win at 4/9.
Verdict: Norwich 1 Manchester United 3 (DT)