Premier League bets of the weekend: back Arsenal and City to triumph in top-four clashes
Leaders Leicester tackle Gunners away while Manchester City and Tottenham fight it out
Sundays don’t come any more super than this: Arsenal v Leicester followed by Manchester City v Tottenham as the top four in the English Premier League go head to head. Third versus first, fourth versus second.
The scenarios are fascinating. The top four might squeeze closer, leaving no more than five points separating them with 12 games to play; Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City could end up anywhere from second to fourth; or, perhaps most remarkably, Leicester could find themselves seven points clear if they can add victory at Arsenal to last week’s stunning 3-1 win away to City.
One thing’s for sure: whatever happens, Leicester will still be top with at least a two-point lead on Monday morning. That puts them in a strong position – for now, all the pressure is on their title rivals as they try to close the gap on the surprise leaders.
Arsenal appear to have frozen in recent weeks but they managed to end a four-match winless run with victory at Bournemouth last weekend, which should boost their confidence for the Leicester clash. So, too, should the memory of their 5-2 win in the reverse fixture in September, when Leicester tried to fight fire with fire and ended up badly burned.
That is the only poor result on Leicester’s record, however, and they can approach this match differently, using the same counter-attacking ploy that exposed the holes in City’s defence. Potentially they could have the same devastating effect on Arsenal – remember how Anthony Martial, then at Monaco, cut through the Gunners at the Emirates this time last year to send them out of the Champions League.
READ MORE: Premier League’s super Sunday: 6 title questions that will be answered as top four teams clash
Apart from last month’s 3-3 at Liverpool, the goals have not been flowing for Arsenal. They have had a blank in four of their other seven league games since Christmas and Bournemouth (twice) are the only team they have scored more than one goal against.
Until recently, however, the Gunners have been struggling on without Alexis Sanchez, who scored a hat-trick in the away game at Leicester and is integral to their attack. The Chilean could be the key man and their win percentage is higher (and their defeat rate much lower) with him in the starting line-up.
To some extent, Leicester’s win last week was more about City’s already evident frailty in the big matches. That is also a charge which could have been levelled against Arsenal in previous seasons but they have improved significantly in that respect and it is notable that they have the highest points average in this season’s mini-league of games involving the top six.
Leicester are second-best on that measure but Arsenal are likely to be more effective than City were, and the advice is to back a home win this time.
Tottenham are the form team in the Premier League - just ahead of Leicester over the past 10 games - and their steady move towards the top reaches a crunch moment against City.
Expectation is growing among Spurs supporters and that brings a pressure most of Mauricio Pochettino’s young side have not faced before.
Looking again at that mini-league of games involving the top six, Tottenham must have a decent chance as City rank bottom, but Pochettino’s side have yet to win away in that category or keep a clean sheet. Again, the home win looks the best bet.
On the rest of the Premier League programme, this is one of those rare weekends when there appear to be strong betting propositions in virtually every match - bar perhaps short-priced home sides Chelsea and Everton.
Manchester United and Liverpool look good bets away to the bottom two - Sunderland and Aston Villa respectively. United have improved recently and Sunderland have lost 11 out of 13 against top-half teams, while Villa are similarly poor against the better sides and Liverpool are solid enough at the odds.
Three away teams stand out as good handicap bets - Watford at Crystal Palace, West Ham at Norwich and Southampton at Swansea.
Southampton, who have been the best team outside the top four in the past 10 games, have kept five consecutive clean sheets since the return of goalkeeper Fraser Forster. Swansea, third lowest scorers in the division, will find it hard to win and Southampton rate the banker of those three away teams.
The best home bet in the lesser matches is Bournemouth, who host out-of-form Stoke. The visitors have scored only one goal in their last six games and have gone out of both cup competitions in that period, leaving them vulnerable against much-improved Bournemouth.
Southampton on handicap
Best bet in the Premier League
West Ham on handicap
Going from strength to strength
Watford on handicap
Well set up for away games
Bournemouth home win
Good chance against out-of-form Stoke
Burnley on handicap
Another solid away team
Manchester United, Liverpool, Birmingham.
Of the last nine Manchester City-Tottenham games have had over 2.5 goals