Fly with Canaries in Wales
Norwich look big price to upset Swansea on Saturday's Premier League coupon, according to our tipster Andy Schooler.
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Arsenal are not the side they once were but their decline has been somewhat exaggerated in recent weeks and this game could come at the right time for them. Arsene Wenger will tell you many of the Gunners' problems stem from a heavy fixture schedule. While some may laugh about tired players at this point of a campaign, there's some truth to it - with Champions League and League Cup runs they've played virtually every midweek so far this season. Wenger therefore opted to rest most of his first team in Germany in the week with the aim to focus on this game. That probably isn't great news for the Baggies, who come into this one on the back of successive defeats. The last time they lost back-to-back games they responded with victory but most unexpected good starts usually go awry at some point and this could well be it. However, backing the hosts at 1/2 here is no bet. The Baggies will have their supporters at 13/2 given what Swansea did at the Emirates last week, but that's not for me either. One to swerve.
Stoke claimed their first away win of the season last weekend at West Brom so will go into this one with plenty of confidence. However, midfield lynchpin Charlie Adam is suspended, although the Potters do have Peter Crouch back from injury. Meanwhile, Paul Lambert's men were winners last time out at Villa Park when they edged out Reading and some encouraging results suggest they are an improving outfit. The win over the Royals was, however, just a third win in 20 league games on home turf where their fans have been known to grow restless on occasion. The value here may well lie in the draw. History shows five of the pair's Premier League meetings have ended all-square, including three of four at Villa Park. Eight of those 20 aforementioned games have been draws, while Stoke have drawn four of eight on the road this season. All in all, 23/10 seems a fair price.
I highlighted Jason Puncheon's form in last Saturday's preview. As with many big-priced scorer bets, it's often worth backing them in a string of games rather than just one and that's what I intend to do here. Reading's defence looks ripe for the picking having - how shall we put it? - failed to distinguish itself against Manchester United last week. That was on home soil and a look at their away record shows just two points have been claimed in seven games with 13 goals conceded. Saints have scored in all their home games bar one (back in August) and with Puncheon, a scorer against QPR and a real threat in several other recent games, at 7/2 we can't resist backing him again.
It's back to Premier League action for Chelsea this weekend after their ultimately worthless 6-1 Champions League win in midweek. With Fernando Torres back in the goals, Rafael Benitez must now turn his attention to sorting out the Blues' Premier League form - it's incredible to think they're still third in the table given they haven't won for seven league matches. If they were to handpick opponents this weekend, Sunderland would surely be pretty high on the list, though they at least have won in the league inside the last month - 3-1 victors at Fulham in mid-November. My colleague Nick Hext was bang on the money by flagging up David Luiz to score at 6/1 in midweek and if you want to follow the line of backing Chelsea defenders you can get Luiz at 7/1 and Gary Cahill at 8/1 here. But only one of their last nine Premier League goals has been scored by a defender (John Terry v Liverpool). The 5/6 Blues should justify odds-on quotes, but their form hardly makes it a cast-iron guarantee.
Swansea grabbed the headlines with their 2-0 win at Arsenal last weekend but it may be the bookies have overreacted to that in pricing up this contest. Boasting a real goalscorer in Michu and having added plenty of other quality with the likes of Pablo Hernandez and Chico Flores, the Swans are a decent side, make no mistake, but here they are up against another with fine form and proving difficult to beat. Norwich are now unbeaten in eight league games - nine in all - with Chris Hughton having shored up their defence in recent weeks. Take out the nine goals conceded in early-season humblings at Chelsea and Fulham and the Canaries have conceded just five times in six away games. Norwich are prepared to put in the hard yards to gain a result - note their last-minute equaliser at Everton and last weekend's ground-out victory over Sunderland. They look a tad big at 19/5 to win at the Liberty Stadium, something they managed last season (they also won the reverse fixture at Carrow Road). In short, it's worth a small play.
Wigan have conceded 15 goals in eight home games so far, while Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa are both out suspended. Such defensive problems must give QPR hope that they can finally notch their first win of the season. They've at least shown signs of improvement under Harry Redknapp, with both games under his guidance having been drawn. First came their first clean sheet in 24 away games at Sunderland and that was followed by a game they could easily have won at home to Aston Villa. The R's also performed admirably in defeat at Manchester United after Mark Hughes had been sacked. Basically there are plenty of reasons to suggest this could be QPR's day but sadly the price is hardly one to get you salivating. A best of 11/5 is there and I simply can't recommend that when this is a side which hasn't won all season and has not claimed victory away from home since Neil Warnock was in charge.