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Win is vital for Gunners but champions United won't ease off

Arsenal are Premier League's form team, but they have failed to compete with the elite

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 4:17am

Arsenal's home clash with Manchester United is more vital for the hosts than the visitors, but the prospect of a record points total in the English Premier League may keep the champions interested enough to slow down the Gunners' charge towards a Champions League place.

Arsenal are the form team in the league with nine wins and only one defeat from their last 12 games, but a notable factor is that all the dropped points have come in their only games in that period against top-seven teams - home draws with Liverpool (2-2) and Everton (0-0) and a 2-1 away defeat at Tottenham.

The two league games immediately preceding that 12-match run were defeats by Manchester City (2-0 at home) and Chelsea (2-1 away), which leaves plenty of doubt about Arsenal's ability to compete with the other elite teams.

This season, Arsenal have won only two out of 11 against top-seven teams, with five defeats, and one of those victories - the 5-2 home win over Tottenham - was influenced by the early sending-off of Emmanuel Adebayor after he had put Tottenham 1-0 in front.

There is also an argument that Arsenal have choked in crunch home games - perhaps less so when beaten 3-1 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League than when they were knocked out of the FA Cup four days earlier by Championship side Blackburn - and backers tomorrow will be putting a measure of faith in United failing to treat this match with the same importance now that the title is in the bag.

United, however, need a perfect end to the season if they are to reach a record 96 points and that is likely to appeal to Sir Alex Ferguson as much as keeping Arsenal under United's heel. Since Arsenal won both Premier League meetings between the sides in the 2006-07 season, the balance of power has shifted firmly to Ferguson's side, who have won 11 and lost just two of the last 15 in all competitions.

At the odds United are the pick on the handicap and over 2.5 goals looks a good bet, having occurred in six of United's seven visits to Arsenal's new home at the Emirates.

Tottenham have the chance to put the pressure on their rivals for a Champions League place by claiming a victory at Wigan tonight that would shoot them from fifth to third spot in the table. They should get it too, with Wigan having lost six out of eight at home to top-half teams and Spurs being the Premier League's second-best away side behind United.

Chelsea are short odds to maintain their challenge by beating Swansea tomorrow, although it may not be as easy as expected. On Thursday night, Chelsea were in Switzerland battling with Basel in their Europa League semi-final and it is worth noting they have won only one out of five this season after away trips in Europe.

Swansea are unbeaten in three meetings with Chelsea this season - a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final of the League Cup and home draws in league and cup - and can be dangerous. They are safe in mid-table, however, and have won only one out of six since lifting the League Cup, including defeats by Arsenal and Spurs.

Chelsea should win, but there is enough doubt to steer clear at the odds.

There is also doubt about Liverpool at Newcastle in the absence of Luis Suarez, who has scored almost 40 per cent of their Premier League goals this season. They won only two of the five Premier League games during his ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra and, while they have enough quality to win without Suarez, they are a risk.

Newcastle, however, have won just three out of 17 against top-half teams this season, with 11 defeats, and the best bet is over 2.5 goals with two-thirds of games involving Newcastle or Liverpool going over that mark this season.

By contrast goals could be in short supply in Stoke v Norwich, two of only four Premier League teams who have had a majority of games with under 2.5 goals this season. Consolidation, rather than risk-taking, is likely to be on their minds after last week's vital wins.

Aston Villa v Sunderland is another relegation clash and the hosts are the pick after taking 13 points from the last 15 available against non-big-six teams.

Southampton may be worth chancing at home to West Brom. Mauricio Pochettino's team are unbeaten in six games, while the visitors are becalmed in mid-table safety.



Tottenham, Blackpool, Brighton, Levante, Real Sociedad, Schalke



1 Tottenham away win The best bet in the Premier League against poor hosts Wigan
2 Brighton away win Have hit form at right time to make the play-offs
3 Levante home win Solid at home and Celta Vigo are poor travellers
4 Real Sociedad home win Decent value after stretching unbeaten run to 14
5 Schalke home win Eight wins out of 10 at home to teams outside the top six



TODAY (10pm unless stated)

Manchester City v West Ham United (7.45pm), Stoke City v Norwich City, Wigan Athletic v Tottenham Hotspur, Everton v Fulham, Southampton v West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United v Liverpool (12.30am Sun)


Reading v Queens Park Rangers (8.30pm), Chelsea v Swansea City (10pm), Arsenal v Manchester United (11pm)