with Nick Pulford
Manchester City and Arsenal go head to head tomorrow at Eastlands in a mouth-watering clash that will go a long way towards showing whether they can handle the pressure of a title chase.
With Manchester United reeling from Wayne Rooney's loss of form and now his lost love for the club, City and Arsenal are best placed to challenge leaders Chelsea, and tomorrow's match is crucial in building some momentum.
City are doing that already, having engineered the first turning point of the season with their 1-0 home win over Chelsea four weeks ago, and the form figures certainly point more strongly to them at the available odds.
Going into the match against Chelsea, City were seven points behind the champions but now the gap is down to two points with City on a four-match winning run and Chelsea having dropped two more away points at Aston Villa last weekend. That has put City in a truly challenging position for the first time and it will be fascinating to see how they react.
City's home form, particularly in this type of match-up, is one of their strong points. Last season they won five out of nine at home to top-half visitors, including a fiery 4-2 victory over Arsenal, and this season they have 10 points out of 12 at home.
There is still some room for improvement if City want to close the gap between the fringes of the Champions League and the heart of the title race, because Chelsea and United outstripped them by six and five points respectively last season just in the small sub-category of home games against top-half opposition.
That puts the onus on City to follow the win over Chelsea with another three points tomorrow to give their title push more credibility. Roberto Mancini is likely to follow the same strategy - a tight defence protected by two holding midfielders, with Carlos Tevez the lone striker and City looking to hit Arsenal on the break. But the real difference this season could turn out to be David Silva.
The Spaniard has settled in quickly and looks an excellent signing. He gives City the poise and control they lacked last season and turned the game when he came on as substitute in last week's 3-2 win at Blackpool.
Arsenal, having lost at Chelsea and more damagingly at home to West Brom, have raised fresh doubts about their ability to sustain a title challenge and defeat tomorrow would be another hammer blow to their hopes.
The Gunners' away form remains unconvincing, particularly their low number of clean sheets, and they won only two out of nine away to top-half teams last season. The defence looks no better now and the failure to sign a goalkeeper in the summer could haunt Arsene Wenger throughout the season.
City do well when scoring at home - winning 15 and drawing four out of 19 since the start of last season - and those figures make them the pick on the handicap.
Carlos Tevez, who has been on the score sheet in eight of Mancini's 15 home games in the Premier League, with six as first scorer, looks fair value to be the breakthrough man again.
By the time City and Arsenal kick off tomorrow, the pressure is likely to have been cranked up by Chelsea, who should move five points clear tonight with another home win over Wolves. The champions won the equivalent fixture 4-0 last season and a similar scoreline looks on the cards, with Wolves slipping badly after a reasonable start.
United are also likely to be playing catch-up on Chelsea when they go to Stoke tomorrow. Although they won at the Britannia last season, that does not make them a good bet at such short odds.
Tottenham rate a good home chance against Everton. Harry Redknapp's team are formidable at White Hart Lane, where they have won 26 of 38 for their manager. This is a rare chance to back Tottenham at decent odds for a home match against a team from outside the elite and it has to be taken.
Liverpool steadied the ship with a goalless away draw at Napoli in the Europa League and they have a winnable chance at home to Blackburn. The odds look more than fair given the talent in their squad and Blackburn's poor away form, but perhaps it would be wise to hold off on Liverpool for now.
The best away bet in the Premier League is Aston Villa, who go to Sunderland in good form. Villa, along with Chelsea and United, were one of only three teams to win at Sunderland last season and their counter-attacking style could catch out the hosts again.
Clean sheets for Arsenal in eight games this season: 1
Goals to nil for Chelsea in four home matches: 14
Shortlist: Tottenham, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Sevilla, Villareal, Udinese, Monaco, Roma, Juventus, Schalke.
Top five bets
1 Juventus away win
In form after recent draws at Inter and Manchester City
2 Schalke away win
Improving steadily after dreadful start to the season
3 Monaco home win
Lack of goals a problem but this looks a good chance
4 Manchester City on handicap
Have the better defence and that could prove crucial
5 Sevilla home win
Excellent record against long-distance travellers Bilbao