Gunners to edge out Liverpool

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2006, 12:00am

Blackburn, Everton and Manchester City should also be worth following

From London to Liverpool, and from Munich to Madrid, there will be plenty of knocked-out teams trying to pick themselves up after midweek disappointment in the Champions League.

Some of Europe's biggest clubs must now look towards next season's Champions League, and there are major clashes around the continent this weekend that could decide the make-up of the competition.

Nowhere more so than in the Premiership, where the race to finish in the top four (or preferably one of the automatic qualification spots for finishing in the top two) will be in the spotlight as Chelsea host Spurs tonight and Arsenal face Liverpool tomorrow night.

Chelsea will be back in next season's Champions League despite their midweek exit at Barcelona, but Spurs are desperate to join them by clinging on to the coveted fourth place in the table. Spurs' record against their London rivals is poor, however, and there is little encouragement in their away form this season.

Arsenal v Liverpool is a fascinating clash, and there is little to choose between the teams on overall form. Three factors may give the edge to Arsenal - they are on a high after making it to the Champions League quarter-finals, their attack is better, and Liverpool's away form is tailing off (four defeats and just two wins from seven against Premiership and Champions League rivals in 2006). Under 2.5 goals could be the best bet. Sixth-placed Blackburn, who have emerged as surprise contenders for a Champions League place, can maintain their challenge with a home win over Aston Villa. The visitors' solid away record merits respect, but Blackburn have beaten Manchester United and Arsenal at home in recent weeks and should be too strong.

Everton also rate well for a home win over Fulham, though it is worth bearing in mind that Everton rank as the sixth-worst home side in the Premiership and Fulham usually perform well against that class of opposition (last season three of their four away wins came against the worst six home sides). The best away bets are Manchester City and Wigan.

Like Fulham, City's away form is much better against struggling teams and victory over Portsmouth would give them a hat-trick of wins over the teams in the relegation zone. Wigan owe their top-half position largely to their ability to beat the sides below them and they can boost their fine away record with victory at Sunderland.

The other away bet to consider is Middlesbrough though they look best on the handicap for their visit to Charlton. The big game at the bottom of the table is Birmingham v West Brom, and it is tough to call. Birmingham's home form has shown signs of revival, but still they have lost more times than they have won at home to bottom-half teams.

West Brom might appeal on the handicap if it wasn't for their low goals tally on the road (five in 13 games). It could end in a stalemate, but Birmingham are the narrow pick for those keen to play on this game. In France the strongest chances lie with three home teams - Lyon, Lens and Rennes.

Auxerre and Bordeaux don't rate far behind, and perhaps the best bet at the odds is Lens who host Troyes.

Best homes: Blackburn, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United, Lens, Lyon, Rennes.

Best aways: Manchester City, Wigan.

$1,000 wager: $150 win on Celta Vigo, Chievo, Leverkusen, Manchester City, Sevilla and Wigan. $100 win on Juventus.