Londoners will be keen to close gap on Manchester rivals
The two Manchester giants could be out of sight of some of the lesser title hopefuls before too long, unless Arsenal and Tottenham can find some better form in this weekend's two big matches in the English Premier League.
Arsenal go to Manchester United tomorrow night with only one point and no goals from their first two matches and with United in top form after Monday's 3-0 home win over Tottenham.
United's victory continued their remarkable record at Old Trafford, where they have been almost unstoppable in recent seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo was the original catalyst but even since his departure United have won 35 out of 39 at home in the Premier League, including 10 out of 11 against the other members of what has become the 'big six'.
Arsenal have fared poorly against United since their last trophy success in the 2005 FA Cup final. The 1-0 win at the Emirates in May was only the fourth for the Gunners in 16 meetings with United in that period and it is more than a decade since Arsenal took anything at Old Trafford without shutting out United.
United have won the last 11 at home to Arsenal when scoring and that puts the odds heavily in their favour, given their record of having scored in all but one of their 39 home games since the start of the 2009-10 season.
That exceptional scoring record is the cornerstone of their success at Old Trafford and points to another win tomorrow night. The best bet at the odds, however, is over 2.5 goals, which has occurred in 29 of those last 39 home games.
Having come off second-best against United in their delayed season-opener, Tottenham face another tough test at home to Manchester City in the knowledge that they, like Arsenal, could find themselves well off the pace if they are defeated again.
Tottenham's prospects of a good showing are better at White Hart Lane, where Harry Redknapp has turned them into a match for any team since taking charge in October 2008.
United are the only team from the big six to have won at White Hart Lane in that period, with Tottenham having won eight and drawn six of the other 14 games in that category. On the basis of that record, Tottenham look underrated underdogs tomorrow night.
There has not been much between the two sides in recent seasons. Two seasons ago Tottenham won home and away against City to pip them to qualification for the Champions League - in which they reinforced their strong home form with several good performances at White Hart Lane - and early last season they had the better of a goalless draw at home to City.
Last season's reverse fixture came in May and City won 1-0, but even then they did not look a long way ahead of Tottenham, who had most of the possession and were beaten by an own goal.
It is worth remembering, too, that City were the worst team in the mini-league of the big six last season and were particularly poor on the road, taking only two points and scoring just one goal in five games.
Roberto Mancini has revealed a new attacking intent this season, with City scoring nine goals in three games against Premier League opposition, but it is possible he will revert to type in the big away games.
Last season he seemed happy to play for a clean sheet away to the other big six teams and once again the plan may be to maximise City's points against the lesser teams and to minimise the risks against the elite teams.
Until we know Mancini's approach for sure, it is difficult to back City with any confidence in this type of game. And this season's more attacking game plan has brought problems as well as benefits, with three goals conceded against United in the Community Shield and two more at Bolton last week.
While Mancini is right to give more rein to the forward talent at his disposal, the goals conceded suggest the balance between attack and defence may not be quite right yet.
That could be exploited by Tottenham, who are sure to attack and have a great league record at home under Redknapp when scoring, with 33 wins and only one defeat (by Manchester United) out of 41 games.
Chelsea are the shortest-priced of the big six at home to Norwich, but there is no edge for punters in backing them. They usually hammer the promoted teams at home (10 wins out of 12 in the past four seasons, eight by at least two goals) but they weren't particularly convincing against West Brom in their opening home game and appear to be taking some time to adapt to new boss Andre Villas-Boas.
Liverpool, who host Bolton tonight, have something to prove as well after their stuttering start at home to Sunderland. They might not have won at Arsenal last week without the advantage of having an extra man for the last 20 minutes and, while they should win, it is not a cast-iron certainty.
Wolves have been the surprise package by matching the Manchester clubs with two wins out of two and the stats suggest their run could well continue at Aston Villa. In Premier League history the defeat rate for such teams, when their third game of the season is away, is a low 21 per cent, which points to Wolves as a decent bet on the handicap.
Hannover, Werder Bremen, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Tottenham, West Brom.
TOP 5 BETS
1 Hannover home win
Have won 68 per cent of their home games since the start of last season
2 Newcastle home win
Fulham have yet to score and have had a tough schedule already
3 Tottenham on handicap
Value bet with the market overrating Manchester City
4 West Brom home win
Good at home under Roy Hodgson and Stoke weak away
5 Man United over 2.5 goals
High-scoring games are a regular occurrence at Old TraffordFixtures