Punters ready as Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham chase final two Champions League places
Lack of motivation of teams with nothing to play for could cause upsets in form calculations
The curtain comes down on the English Premier League season tomorrow night with almost all of the issues already decided. Manchester United, Chelsea, Swansea and Wigan have picked up major silverware, while Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham have not. Wigan, Reading and QPR are relegated, and most of the other teams are simply relieved still to be there.
The only question is the finishing order of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham as they chase the final two Champions League places. Chelsea are guaranteed one of them, but it is important to finish third because that gives direct entry to the Champions League, whereas the fourth-placed team must go through a qualifying round.
All three will be looking for victory, then, and that's always welcome for punters. The trickiest part of betting in the closing weeks of the season is trying to work out whether a lack of motivation by a team with nothing to play for will play havoc with form calculations.
On form, Arsenal are the safest bet of the three Champions League chasers. Tuesday's 4-1 win over Wigan, which condemned the FA Cup winners to the drop, took Arsenal's run against teams outside the big six to 15 wins and two draws since their last defeat in that category on December 1.
The Gunners have won their last five on the road in that category - the last dropped points coming in a 1-1 at Southampton on January 1 - and they should be able to make it six against Newcastle, whose recent home form is poor.
Newcastle have shown glimpses of last season's form in home wins against Chelsea (3-2) and Tottenham (2-1) and it is possible they will play with more freedom now the threat of relegation has been lifted. But they have also lost eight out of nine against big-six teams, including a 7-3 defeat at Arsenal in December.
The goal difference for Newcastle against big-six teams is -21 (14 goals to 35) and they have not kept a clean sheet in any of their 11 games in that category. Arsenal have won eight of 10 on the road when scoring against teams outside the big six and they rate the banker on the Premier League programme.
Tottenham should beat Sunderland at home, but it is worth noting they have been let down this season by their record against the lesser teams at White Hart Lane. Manchester United set the standard with their record at home to bottom-half teams (a perfect 30 points from 10 games), followed by Manchester City on 27 points, Arsenal on 26 and Chelsea on 23.
Tottenham's haul is an average 17 and they look set to pay the price for that relative under-performance by missing out on the Champions League.
Chelsea are no certainties either at home to Everton, as they have won only three of the last 14 meetings between the clubs (draws figure highly, with eight). Everton may be inspired to perform well one last time for David Moyes but, as with Sunderland at Tottenham, their devotion must be taken on trust.
It is fair to assume Manchester United will want to win at West Brom in Alex Ferguson's last game in charge and they are worth chancing at the odds. United haven't lost on the road since mid-November, winning seven out of 11 during that run (two of the draws were against Arsenal and Tottenham).
West Brom's best form was in the first dozen games of the season, when they were fourth in the table, and they have played more like a relegation team in 2013 with just four wins out of 17.
The rest of the Premier League games are of no real significance, but punters could choose to back against teams whose form has tailed off dramatically in recent weeks. There is no better example than Fulham, who have taken one point from their last seven games and are away to Swansea.
West Ham, at home to Reading, are another bet to consider. Aston Villa look the most solid handicap pick away to Wigan.
Another bet worth having is Manchester City win-win on the HaFu at home to Norwich. City have won all nine at home to bottom-half teams (by an aggregate of 25 goals to three) and seven of them have been achieved with a half-time lead.
A general trend is for plenty of goals on the final day of the season. Apart perhaps from the three games involving Champions League chasers, over 2.5 goals is the best option.
Arsenal, Manchester United, Swansea, Frankfurt, Hannover, Deportivo, Betis.