Gunners look down barrel of disaster
Cross-town journey to Tottenham could spell the end of Arsene Wenger's Europe aspirations
Two weeks ago Arsenal lost their most realistic chance of a first trophy in eight years when Championship outfit Blackburn knocked them out of the FA Cup and three days later they were all but dumped out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich.
Tomorrow brings another potential disaster when Arsene Wenger's shell-shocked team make the short journey to Tottenham for a north London derby that promises to be a pivotal contest in the battle for next season's Champions League places.
If they lose, Arsenal will trail Tottenham by seven points with 10 games to play and Wenger's optimistic view that his team can still finish second will look even more far-fetched. Even fourth place looks a big ask from their current position, which is two points worse than at the same stage of last season.
The Gunners just sneaked into fourth place at the end of last season, by a point from Tottenham, but to do so again probably will require them to go close to their best run-in of the past five seasons. That came four seasons ago when they won eight of 11 from this stage of the season to finish fourth on 72 points.
If Arsenal do the same again, they will finish on 73 points. It's unlikely they will need quite that many points to finish fourth - 69 will probably be enough - but a repeat of any of their other run-ins from the past five seasons would leave them struggling.
Second place has required at least 80 points in seven of the past eight seasons and it is difficult to see how Wenger can believe that is within Arsenal's reach. Even a perfect 11 wins from now would take Arsenal to only a final total of 80.
In fairness to the Gunners, most of their Premier League form has been good over the winter. Starting with their 5-2 home derby win over Tottenham on November 17, Arsenal have lost only three of 16. The problem is that the defeats have come when it has mattered most - not only in the knockout competitions against Bayern and Blackburn, but also in the league against Manchester City and Chelsea.
That points to further problems against Tottenham. Arsenal have taken only five points from seven games against top-six opponents, with just one win and no clean sheet, and the best team they have beaten on the road is Liverpool. Even that win came early in the season when Liverpool were struggling to find any rhythm under new manager Brendan Rodgers.
Arsenal are hard to fancy tomorrow, but Tottenham's record in the big games is no better. Andre Villas-Boas' side have won only one of six against top-six opponents, with no clean sheet, and their style is clearly better suited to away games. It is notable that Tottenham are one of only two teams (Wigan being the other) to have taken more points on the road than at home.
Tottenham are the narrow pick for the win and on the handicap, but they are a risk.
The goals potential seems more clear cut. The past two derbies have been 5-2 to Arsenal and, although this season's reverse fixture was influenced heavily by an early sending-off for Tottenham, high-scoring matches are the norm. The past seven league meetings have all had more than 2.5 goals.
Those stats are backed up by the difficulty both sides have had in keeping clean sheets against good-class opponents this season. Goals look likely at both ends and over 2.5 goals is a good bet.
The best of tonight's matches could be Swansea v Newcastle, as long as the hosts don't suffer a hangover after last week's cup celebrations.
Swansea were excellent at Wembley but even if they produce the same form it won't be easy against Newcastle, who are one of the Premier League's form teams with three wins from their past four games.
Newcastle might be worth chancing, as Swansea's home win rate is poor and there is the potential for them to under-perform.
Stoke look a solid home bet against West Ham, who are a relegation team on away form. Stoke have played five of the worst eight away sides in the Premier League, winning four and drawing one.
For a long shot, West Brom are worth considering away to Chelsea. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge is likely to be even more poisonous after Rafa Benitez's midweek outburst and West Brom, who appear to be coming back into form, could take advantage.
Stoke, Barnsley, Hull, Nottingham Forest, Atletico Madrid, Hamburg, Catania
1 Stoke home win Highly efficient at home to poor travellers
2 Barnsley on handicap Solid underlying form despite last week’s shocker
3 Atletico Madrid on handicap Dominant against all bar Spain’s big two
4 Hamburg home win Have won five of their past six at home
5 Catania on handicap Strong home form gives them a decent chance
11pm unless stated: Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion; Everton v Reading; Manchester United v Norwich City; Southampton v Queens Park Rangers; Stoke City v West Ham United; Sunderland v Fulham; Swansea City v Newcastle United; Wigan Athletic v Liverpool (1.30am Sun).
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal (midnight).
Aston Villa v Manchester City (4am Tue)