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Hard to back Arsenal with any confidence

Mourinho's Chelsea have a good record against the Gunners who are patchy at home to elite sides

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 10:37pm

While the other major European leagues prepare to go into winter hibernation, the English Premier League is ready to serve up Christmas crackers to keep everyone entertained. Each match day of the English festive season features a big-six clash, starting with Arsenal v Chelsea on Monday night.

Arsenal are in need of a confidence boost after last week's 6-3 defeat at Manchester City. As discussed last week, results in the big-six clashes may not be as vital as they have been in previous seasons but it could be difficult for the Arsenal players to keep that sense of perspective if they lose top spot on Saturday night to Liverpool, which seems likely, and then have another setback on Monday.

Arsene Wenger's side can take heart from this season's home results against other big-six teams - victories against Tottenham (1-0) and Liverpool (2-0). That is already an improvement on last season when they managed only one home win out of five against their major rivals, but there are still doubts over their form against elite teams.

Since the turning-point victory at Bayern Munich in March, Arsenal have won nine out of 13 at home in the Premier League but the four failures to win included draws against Manchester United and Everton (twice). In addition, they have lost at home this season to Borussia Dortmund (2-1) in the Champions League and Chelsea (2-0) in the League Cup.

The latter result may not be as significant as it looks because Chelsea were much closer to a full-strength side, but still the fact remains that Arsenal at home to elite teams in all competitions have a less than 50 per cent win rate in 2013 (four wins, two draws and three defeats).

That makes Arsenal hard to back with confidence and another reason is Jose Mourinho's unbeaten record against Wenger in England - his Chelsea sides have won five and drawn four out of nine against Arsenal in all competitions.

Mourinho has problems of his own, however, and chief among them is the lack of a marauding centre forward in the mould of Didier Drogba, who was so often the destroyer of Arsenal during Mourinho's first spell in charge.

That has forced Mourinho into a safety-first approach in this season's big-six clashes and, with doubts over both teams, the best bet may be under 2.5 goals - an outcome that has occurred six times out of nine when Mourinho has faced Wenger.

Liverpool are likely to overtake Arsenal at the top on Saturday night by securing a home victory over Cardiff in the early kick-off. Inspired by Luis Suarez's goals, Liverpool have been irresistible at Anfield in recent weeks, winning their last five by big scorelines against Crystal Palace (3-1), West Brom (4-1), Fulham (4-0), Norwich (5-1) and West Ham (4-1). Like those teams, Cardiff are among the strugglers and the odds are predictably short for over 2.5 goals and Liverpool on the handicap.

All strings of results come to an end and at the odds it may be worth swimming against the tide by backing under 2.5 goals. Cardiff have had 10 out of 16 under 2.5 goals, including six out of eight on the road, although the Malky Mackay situation could well unsettle them on Saturday.

Along with the Cardiff issue, five more of the weekend's Premier League matches involve teams that have recently appointed a new manager or are waiting to appoint one, which makes it difficult to know whether to rely on longer-term form that may no longer be valid or to go on the limited evidence of recent results.

Judged simply on results this season and the quality of their squad, Tottenham look overpriced for their trip to Southampton. As much as the Saints have improved under Mauricio Pochettino, they have taken 43 points from 32 matches since he took charge, while in the same period Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas took 59 points.

That seems an accurate reflection of the current standing of the two teams and arguably Tottenham should be close to favouritism for Sunday's match. Bad results against Manchester City and Liverpool ultimately led to Villas-Boas' departure, but against teams outside the big six they have an excellent long-term record, especially on the road (11 wins and four draws since their last defeat).

One manager who is happily settled is Roberto Martinez, whose only defeat in his first 16 league games in charge of Everton was at Manchester City. His side have won seven and drawn five out of 12 against teams below them, which suggests they are a solid handicap bet away to Swansea on Sunday.

Swansea, by contrast, have lost five and won only one of their seven games against teams above them in the table.