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Gunners, West Ham likely to give EPL challengers a run for their money

Arsenal look fighting fit at home, while shaky City may struggle away

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 11:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 11:23pm

The English Premier League resumes this weekend with a lopsided programme that means most of the favourites are extremely short odds and punters are faced with trying to predict where the upsets might happen or seeking to boost the value of their bets by looking for likely big-margin winners.

Arsenal will be a popular choice in the latter category at home to Norwich and they look a banker bet. Last season's equivalent match was not that long ago, in April, and the Gunners won 3-1. That scoreline was part of Arsenal's upswing in form in the last three months of the season, which has continued in the new campaign.

Their season started with a shock when they were beaten 3-1 at home by Aston Villa, but that looks such an aberration now that it may well have been caused by a lack of match sharpness. Since then, Arsenal have won nine out of 11 in all competitions and the only team to have stopped them is West Brom twice, in the League Cup (against a second-string side) and again in the last round of Premier League games. Six of the nine wins have been by two goals or more, which suggests Arsenal are getting to the high standards that once almost guaranteed wide-margin wins at home. Leaving aside the Villa setback, Arsenal have won by at least two goals in seven of their last 10 home games against teams from outside the big six.

Norwich can be difficult opponents at home to big-six teams, but in general they struggle on the road. Under Chris Hughton, they have lost five out of seven away to big-six teams and every defeat was by two goals or more. One of the exceptions was their only win in that category, 3-2 at Manchester City, but that was on the final day of last season and does not seem a result to take entirely at face value.

One of the surprises might come at Upton Park, where Manchester City's shaky away form is likely to face a rigorous test by West Ham. City are the only team yet to win on the road apart from the bottom two, Crystal Palace and Sunderland, and West Ham's physical approach might unsettle them further.

City's problems on the road predate the arrival of new coach Manuel Pellegrini and, in fact, they go back almost two years to the late autumn of 2011, not long after their sensational 6-1 win against local rivals United at Old Trafford. In that period they have played 35 away games in the Premier League and won just 14 (40 per cent).

The percentage win rate may seem high at first glance, but not in comparison to United's last 35 away games, which have produced a 63 per cent win rate. United's percentage suggests average odds of around 1.60 would be fair, while City's suggest they are poor value at odds-on unless the opposition is really weak.

Half of City's away wins in those last 35 games have been against teams that finished in the bottom six and West Ham - now eighth-bottom after ending 10th last season - seem unlikely to end up in that category.

Pellegrini may eventually establish a better way of playing on the road - and it is one of his chief tasks if he is to turn City into champions again - but at this stage West Ham look a decent bet on the handicap.

Everton and Swansea are rarely as short as they are tonight at home to Hull and Sunderland respectively, which suggests there is no value in backing them, and it would not be a total shock if Manchester United did not justify short-priced favouritism at home to Southampton.

United have yet to beat a current top-half team in three attempts this season and Southampton, who are fourth, are the only side to have beaten Liverpool. Perhaps United's failure to beat a top-half team is one of the clearest signs that they lack the quality once taken for granted under Sir Alex Ferguson.

The problem for Southampton is that they are extremely reliant on keeping a clean sheet and few teams, even now, manage to shut out United.

Fulham might be worth chancing on the handicap away to fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on Monday night, although it is hardly the most enticing bet. The key stat might be that Fulham have won both games so far against other teams in the current bottom six, which suggests they still have enough quality to win against low-level opponents.

Shortlist: Arsenal, Fulham, Blackburn, Leicester, Wolves, Augsburg, Valencia