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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 4:05pm

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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 October, 2010, 12:00am

Only one of the four derby matches on the English Premier programme involves a title contender, with Arsenal hosting West Ham in a London showdown, but that does not mean all the other teams near the top of the table have it easy this weekend.

Far from it, in fact, with Manchester United and Tottenham in opposition at Old Trafford and Chelsea facing a tough battle at Blackburn. Three points for any of those teams would be a considerable plus in the face of the re-emerging challenge from Arsenal.

The Gunners have had a remarkable week, posting handsome away victories at Manchester City in the league and Newcastle in the Carling Cup, and now Arsene Wenger will be keen to see them re-establish the same level of superiority at the Emirates.

The light and shade of Arsenal's make-up have been evident in their results at the Emirates this season, which started with big-margin wins over Blackpool and Bolton but then brought the shock of defeat by West Brom and just a one-goal victory over Birmingham.

Perhaps complacency played a part in those poorer performances, as their Champions League results suggest there was no loss of form. Early in the season Arsenal hammered Braga 6-0 in their first Champions League home game and, even after a gap of five weeks, they were just as dominant in handing out a 5-1 thrashing to Shakhtar Donetsk.

The long-term view is that the big-margin wins are more indicative of Arsenal's true level at the Emirates, although Wenger will be all too aware that the defeat by West Brom is the type of result Chelsea and United just do not allow to happen in their home matches.

There seems little danger of another blip tonight against West Ham, who are bottom of the league after nine games and have taken just five points from 13 away matches this year. The Hammers were beaten 3-0 at Aston Villa and Manchester United in their first two away games this season and their more recent draws did not really indicate improvement, as they came against fellow strugglers Stoke and Wolves.

With the worst goal difference in the Premier League of minus 10, West Ham look ill equipped to withstand Arsenal's relentless probing at the Emirates. Eight of Arsenal's 10 wins in all competitions this season have been by two goals or more and the expectation is that they will register another comfortable victory.

Chelsea will be wary of their trip to Blackburn, where they drew twice last season - 1-1 in the league and 3-3 after extra time in the Carling Cup quarter-finals, before Rovers won on penalties. In both matches Blackburn showed the resilience to recover from falling behind and Chelsea no doubt view their trip to Ewood Park as one of their tougher away matches.

Before last season's results, however, Chelsea had a good record at Ewood, having won on seven of their previous eight visits in league and cup. Low scores are common in this fixture, with none of the last six league meetings at Ewood having more than two goals, and a continuation of that trend looks the best bet.

Short-priced favourites are best avoided in games with low-scoring potential and a draw would not be a surprise.

Manchester United v Tottenham is third against fifth, with only two points separating the two sides, yet it would be hard to gauge that by looking at the odds. United are hot favourites at 1.50 and that makes sense only in light of their excellent record against Tottenham.

Even with their recent improvement, Tottenham have found it almost impossible to stop United home or away. In the past 10 seasons, in all competitions, United have won 18 out of 24 and lost only once. In the seven meetings since Harry Redknapp took charge, Tottenham have had five defeats and two draws (both goalless).

Those figures do not tell the whole story, however. In last season's league match at Old Trafford, Tottenham were level inside the last 10 minutes and the previous season they led 2-0 at half-time before a contentious penalty swung the match in United's favour.

Those United comebacks were back in the days when Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney were almost unstoppable and Tottenham will surely fancy their chances much more this time if they get in front. Since the start of last season, United have won only four of the 15 league matches in which they conceded the opening goal.

If there is ever going to be a reversal of Tottenham's fortunes against United, tonight's match looks their best chance in recent times and Redknapp's team are worth backing on the handicap at least. Since the end of August, United have not won any of their 10 matches against top-level opposition by more than a one-goal margin and, just as pointedly, they have been held to a draw in half of those games.

Manchester City have a great chance to bounce back from last week's disappointing defeat by Arsenal when they travel to second-bottom Wolves. The worry is that Roberto Mancini tends towards the negative, which means City have yet to acquire the away banker status of the other big teams, but low-scoring Wolves have taken only one point from their last six league games.

Shortlist: Fulham, Conventry, Notts County, Peterborough, Bilbao, Milan, Toulouse, Bordeaux

Top five bets

1 Fulham home win

Only beaten by top-six sides and apparent slump likely to prove misleading

2 Notts County home win

New boss Paul Ince can get off to a flyer against overrated Southampton

3 Toulouse home win

Have won four out of five against teams outside the top eight

4 Bordeaux away win

Can make the most of one of their easiest matches so far

5 Bilbao home win

Excellent long-term home strike-rate against teams outside the top six

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