Rely on Robin to Haunt Arsenal
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1.5pts Robin van Persie to score United's first goal at 3/1 (bet365).
1pt no goalscorer in Norwich v Stoke at 9/1 (Sky Bet, Coral).
1pt Aston Villa to beat Sunderland to nil at 11/2 (General).
0.5pt no goalscorer in Sunderland v Aston Villa at 9/1 (Sky Bet).
1pt e.w. Gareth Bale to score first v Wigan at 6/1 (bet365, Blue Square 1/3 unlimited).
1pt Manchester City to beat West Ham by one goal at 3/1 (Ladbrokes).
Manchester United v Arsenal (1245)
Both these sides were involved in gruelling Capital One Cup ties but Arsenal's extra 24 hours recovery isn't likely to count for much come kick off. Indeed, Arsene Wenger won't commit to sticking with Theo Walcott despite his excellent performance against Reading and the confirmed absence of Gervinho. If either side does suffer it'll be the Gunnners, who made fewer changes in their cup tie. United have looked vulnerable at times this season but have only lost to Everton and Spurs and, having won six of the last seven meetings of the sides, they're well worth odds-on quotes. The trouble for Arsenal is that early-season defensive competence has quickly disappeared and attacking options remain limited, factors which have combined to negate what on paper and in practice is a very strong midfield. Jack Wilshere's return is clearly a massive boost and if he's truly ready for this, Arsenal could win the midfield battle given the continued excellence of Santi Cazorla and the unheralded but highly effective Mikel Arteta. They'll need to, though, as Robin van Persie is likely to return to haunt a defence which remains wobbly at best. The Dutchman is no bigger than 9/2 to open the scoring here and with United having seemingly lost their nasty habit of conceding first that's a more than fair price, given his proven ability to perform on the big stage confirmed again by his opener against Chelsea last Sunday. I feel he will guide United to victory, although there must be a note of caution that Arsenal have performed well against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea this season, with mixed results. Indeed, ignore the Reading game and Arsenal have not yet conceded more than once in any of their away games, so those hoping for a repeat of last year's 8-2 thumping may be left underwhelmed. Everything considered, there's no obvious value in the match markets nor the handicaps, with United no bigger than 15/8 even conceding a goal start to the visitors. So I'll play a small bet on van Persie scoring United's first goal, as opposed to the first in the game. He's 3/1 to do so with bet365 and that's more than fair in relation to his price to score the game's first goal, one which clearly carries a good deal more risk.
Verdict: Manchester United 2 Arsenal 0
Fulham v Everton (1500)
Perhaps two of the Premier League's greatest achievers over recent years go head to head at Craven Cottage and, unsurprisingly, bookmakers struggle to split them. Everton's excellent start to the season is well-documented and they deserved a point against Liverpool last weekend in a fixture that has traditionally seen them struggle. Fulham, meanwhile, weren't overly impressive in beating Aston Villa 1-0 last time they played at home, but that's three wins in four at the Cottage, all to nil, and one 2-1 defeat to the reigning champions. So, what gives? Well, Everton's prospects look to be boosted by bullish reports surrounding the fitness of Kevin Mirallas and with Steven Pienaar back from suspension they should be close to full strength. However, similar comments apply to Fulham which doesn't help to solve the issue of who wins. Fulham's home record is so strong that they always look value at 7/4, but once it's considered that Everton have lost once all season and won here last term that price makes less appeal. History suggests that one or both teams not to score is to be considered at 13/10, but both managers have attacking quality to choose from and for the life of me I can't split these sides. Therefore, anyone wishing to bet should try the draw at 12/5, but we'll sit this one out.
Verdict: Fulham 1 Everton 1
Norwich v Stoke (1500)
Norwich are quite hard to assess but, on the face of it, they look to be improving. One or two shockers have been thrown in along the way - notably a 5-2 defeat at home to Liverpool and an opening day 5-0 thumping at Fulham - but victory at Arsenal, a worthy point at Aston Villa and Capital One Cup success over Spurs set them up nicely for this. Stoke are Stoke. Hard to beat and with enough about them to create and convert chances, they look on course to finish somewhere towards the middle of the table again. Of course, they're always a better side at home, but they've only lost to Chelsea and Manchester United on the road and probably should've beaten Reading on the opening day. Given that Chris Hughton's defensive influence looks to be finally sinking in, a goalless draw is perfectly possible here. After all, Stoke have been involved in three already this season and Norwich one - there have only been six in the Premier League. Peter Crouch has a fine record away from home and Grant Holt is back in form so if there are goals they look the likely sources, but 9/1 no goalscorer is clearly the way to go. The more cautious should consider anything bigger than 2/1 about the draw as very solid value - Stoke have shared the spoils six times in nine games and Norwich four - but we'll be more specific and chance 0-0.
Verdict: Norwich 0 Stoke 0
Sunderland v Aston Villa (1500)
More than 400 minutes have passed since a Sunderland player last found the net and it was a strong side which failed to justify short prices against Middlesbrough on Tuesday night. Martin O'Neill has two big problems in attack: one is supplying Steven Fletcher; the other is finding someone else to contribute. The Scot made a fine start to life as a Black Cat but remains their only Premier League scorer and desperately needs help. All of this in mind, backing Sunderland - who've won only once in the league - simply isn't an option at evens, regardless of their opponents. Aston Villa look to be gradually improving under Paul Lambert and although they too have just the one Premier League win, they do look to carry more of a threat than Sunderland. That said they've failed to score in their last two away games in the league so no goalscorer is a fair 9/1 chance against a poor Sunderland side. Indeed, we're keen to get that on side as a saver, with Aston Villa to win to nil our main bet at 11/2. In Christian Benteke, Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor the visitors have three dangerous strikers and this may be the difference between the sides. If they fail to fire, 0-0 is a very realistic outcome.
Verdict: Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 1
Swansea v Chelsea (1500)
Just like the aforementioned Aston Villa and indeed Norwich, Swansea look to be adapting to life under their new manager, in this case Michael Laudrup. Wednesday's Capital One Cup win at Liverpool was reward for a fine effort at Manchester City last weekend, although it's possible to argue that Chelsea represent a sterner test. Roberto Di Matteo's side continue to miss John Terry at the back but with Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata pulling the strings in midfield, they're capable of scoring more than their opponents regardless. It's well known that they were unfortunate against United last Sunday and, having gained revenge of sorts in the League Cup, they'll be raring to go as they look to stay top of the table after the weekend. It's possible that they will be without Mata, though, as unlike his midfield partners he played 120 minutes at Stamford Bridge and he's surely due a rest before Wednesday's crucial Champions League tie with Shakhtar. With that in mind, Ramires could well start and at 5/1 he may be the best of the any time scorer value having scored in three of his last six. Similarly, 3/1 about Michu for the hosts is fair given his record this season, one he could quite easily have enhanced last weekend at the Etihad. Coral's 12/5 about Chelsea winning not to nil is worth a glance given the attacking options on show here, but I just reckon it's a game to avoid. Chelsea should win but there's no obvious value, and a fair few of the likely starting XI have had a very busy week so there are too many imponderables.
Verdict: Swansea 1 Chelsea 2
Tottenham v Wigan (1500)
After three games of the season there were plenty lining up to have a pop at Andre Villas-Boas, but to my mind he's done an excellent job so far and his side look the fourth best in the division. Of course, Wednesday's Capital One Cup defeat was disappointing, but Wigan's visit would look to present a fine opportunity for Spurs to bounce back. Not only did the Latics endure 120 minutes of frustation followed by a penalty shootout defeat to League Two opposition on Tuesday, but they've travelled poorly in the Premier League. Victory at Southampton was simply a case of taking advantage of rabbits in headlights and since then they've lost all three away games, scoring just once. Bar a 1-0 defeat in 2010, Spurs have an excellent record in this fixture - including a 9-1 thumping a year prior to that - and with Gareth Bale fit and firing they're likely to win and win well. And it's Bale who provides us with the best betting opportunity here. Despite scoring in six of his last 11 for club and country and first in each of his last two, he's 6/1 fourth favourite to open the scoring. Consider that he bagged three in two games against Wigan last year and an each-way punt looks a no-brainer.
Verdict: Tottenham 3 Wigan 0
West Ham v Manchester City (1730)
At the time of writing, West Ham sit ninth in the Premier League table after what's been a very solid start to the season. They look by far the best of the promoted sides and survival looks almost a given already. However, it must be noted that their run of fixtures has been very kind - they've faced just two of the current top 10 and both games were at Upton Park. So, Manchester City's visit provides by far their sternest test and they weren't able to cope with an Arsenal side who have subsequently struggled, which serves to underline this task. City, of course, haven't been performing particularly well of late by their high standards. This time last Saturday they were edging past Swansea by a goal and it's reasonable to expect that the Hammers will have their chances. However, instead of taking 4/6 about both sides finding the net, a better bet looks to be City to win by exactly a goal at 3/1 with Ladbrokes. Five of City's seven wins in all competitions this year have come by such a margin, including both away Premier League victories, and West Ham haven't yet failed to score at home. Markets such as West Ham to score first but not win or them to lead at half-time but lose are worth considering for those who want a small, speculative wager at a big price, but City's class should shine through in the end and one goal is comfortably the most likely margin of victory.
Verdict: West Ham 1 Manchester City 2