You Bet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 February, 2010, 12:00am

Another pivotal weekend in the English Premier League as leaders Chelsea host third-placed Arsenal and Aston Villa go to Tottenham Hotspur with the prize of fourth place potentially on offer for the winners, while Manchester United have the much easier task of a home game against bottom club Portsmouth.

For good measure, there is the Merseyside derby, though the underperformance of both Liverpool and Everton makes that a mere sideshow this season instead of a main event. Punters looking for a good bet should, however, pay close attention to this match.

The derby will be full-blooded and fiery, as usual, and there could be some entertainment too, as both teams are on a run of better form. Liverpool have won four and drawn two of their past six league games, conceding only one goal, and Everton are unbeaten in nine league games since losing the reverse fixture 2-0 at Goodison Park on November 29.

Liverpool's improvement has been based on strong defence, but Everton's revival is linked directly to a better scoring rate. They have scored in all of their last nine matches at a rate of more than two goals per game - almost half of their goals total for the season has come in those nine games.

Tonight's match could come down to Liverpool's ability to stop Everton's scoring run, as Rafa Benitez's side have won only four of the 14 league games in which they have conceded this season, losing seven. That gives Everton a good chance of taking at least a point if they can get on the scoresheet, given that Liverpool's four wins when they conceded were all against teams currently in the bottom seven.

Everton were struggling early in the season and at one time appeared as if they might get dragged into the relegation battle, but they are playing back at their usual level under David Moyes and are much more dangerous than the teams that Liverpool have been able to concede against and still overcome. Liverpool have won only four of their 11 games so far against teams in the top half of the table, including just two out of six at home, and Everton's current form and potency in attack makes them the pick on the handicap HAD.

Sir Alex Ferguson no doubt would be happy to see Liverpool suffer another setback in a difficult season but, as he has admitted, his chief wish this weekend is that Arsenal batter Chelsea in the big top-of-the-table clash.

Most of the form points to that being a forlorn hope. Chelsea have dropped only two points at home this season - in a 3-3 against Everton two months ago - and it was they who did the battering in the reverse fixture, winning 3-0 at the Emirates on November 29. Didier Drogba, the battering ram for Chelsea in that match with two goals, is back to lead the attack and may well terrorise the Arsenal defence again.

Arsenal were fancied at home against United last weekend, but were well beaten; they have lost four out of six league games against the other teams in the top six, winning the other two; the main problem appears to be that they lack the firepower to threaten the best teams.

Robin Van Persie's absence since early November has weakened Arsenal and it is worth remembering that, without him, they wouldn't have been able to win at Chelsea last season.

Trailing 1-0, Arsenal hit back with two quick-fire goals from Van Persie around the hour mark, but at that time Chelsea were starting to unravel under Felipe Scolari.

Later in the season, once they had recovered their poise, Chelsea were able to beat Arsenal twice - 2-1 and 4-1 - and this season's 3-0 win indicated that when Chelsea are on top form they are too strong for Arsene Wenger's side.

Arsenal recovered well from that 3-0 defeat against Chelsea, taking seven wins and three draws from 10 league games before last weekend's loss, but another big match so soon after a demoralising defeat may come too quick for them.

That is not to say Arsenal are definitely out of the title race, because against teams outside the top six they have accumulated a high number of points this season - 43 out of a possible 54, on a par with Chelsea and better than United - and there is no reason to suggest they won't continue to do so.

Chelsea's midweek draw at Hull was another sign that the big teams can take nothing for granted this season; that hint of vulnerability will give Arsenal some hope tomorrow and should continue to sustain them for the rest of the season.

Tottenham v Aston Villa has the makings of a good match, with both teams on a high after recent cup wins and determined to land a major blow in the race for fourth place. Tottenham hold that place at the moment, but Villa have the opportunity to go a point ahead if they win at White Hart Lane.

That is far from out of the question, as Villa's record against the other elite teams is bettered only by Chelsea and United, while Tottenham's is not too strong.

The best bet, though, could be over 2.5 goals as Villa have scored in 10 of their 11 away games this season and five of Tottenham's seven games against the elite have had over 2.5 goals.

Goal gluttons

Of the past six Tottenham clashes with Aston Villa that have had over 2.5 goals: 5

Net gain

Defeats out of 20 for Everton in matches in which they have scored: 4

Aiming high

Games involving Arsenal and Chelsea this season have had over 2.5 goals: 75%

Shortlist: Everton, Schalke, Middlebrough, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, Leeds, Miton Keynes Dons, Lens, Lille, AC Milan.

Top five tips

1 Everton on handicap HAD

On good-scoring form and have lost only one of their past four away derbies

2 Schalke away win

Germany's best away team rate highly against the worst home side

3 West Brom away win

Back on form and can follow up midweek away win against tougher opponents

4 Leeds away win

League form should start to recover now that their Cup odyssey is over

5 Milan away win

Have won five out of seven against teams that rank in bottom 10 on home form