Ivan Gazidis, chief executive officer of Arsenal Holdings. Photo: Bloomberg
You Bet
by Nick Pulford
You Bet
by Nick Pulford

Arsenal look like the selection in the weekend's big match

Blues might be early pacesetters, but they are showing signs of fragility ahead of derby

Arsenal v Chelsea is the grandstand opener to the Premier League weekend and, with Manchester United v Tottenham to end the night, there should be entertainment from start to finish.

Arsenal's visit to Stamford Bridge was one of the games of last season, as the Gunners ran out 5-3 winners, and a good start to this season for them promises another exciting spectacle - certainly better than the goalless draw at the Emirates last season.

Chelsea are the early pacesetters and are one of four unbeaten teams - a group that also includes Arsenal. This is the biggest test so far for Chelsea, who have played four of the bottom eight in their opening five games, and there are some question marks.

Eden Hazard has brought much-needed creativity in midfield but Fernando Torres still does not look a £50 million (HK$627 million) striker and Arsenal will be pleased by the departure of Didier Drogba, who terrorised them over the years.

In defence, too, there are concerns despite four clean sheets in five league games. The failure to hold on to a two-goal lead against Juventus in the Champions League was a sign of weakness and their lack of pace at the back looks ripe for exploitation by Arsenal.

The Gunners have had a tougher opening set of games, which makes their good start all the more impressive.

This is their third match against a fellow big-six team, having taken four points out of six from the previous two, and their fightback against Manchester City last weekend suggested a new steeliness.

Arsenal are far from the best bet of the weekend, but the odds are decent enough and they are the selection. Over 2.5 goals looks likely too.

United v Tottenham is easier to assess, judging by the head-to-head stats at least. United have won the last six league meetings at Old Trafford by an aggregate of 15 goals to three and overall they are Tottenham's biggest bogey side. United have won 29 of the 40 Premier League meetings and lost just three times - all at White Hart Lane, with the last defeat more than a decade ago.

The slight concern with United is that they lack the midfield creativity and goalscoring power of previous years, although in Robin van Persie they have the most potent striker in the Premier League (already averaging a goal every 63 minutes for United). Tottenham are playing better than their results suggest but will have to improve.

United on the handicap is worth a bet at the odds and this looks one of the weekend bankers for over 2.5 goals.

Punters will need a lot of faith to back Manchester City and Liverpool at odds-on for their respective visits to Fulham and Norwich. City started last season in blistering form on the road but it faded and since Christmas they have won only five out of 13 away games. Four of those wins were against struggling teams.

In the same period that City have spent struggling on the road, Fulham have won nine out of 12 at home, with only one defeat. There is no doubt City are a better team than Fulham, but on form they are poor odds and it might be better to side with Fulham on the handicap.

Liverpool have easier opponents in Norwich, but they have shown little form and look a big risk.

The standout bets in the Premier League are Newcastle and Sunderland, with West Ham another possible.

Newcastle continue to be underrated despite finishing fifth last season and they look solid on the handicap against struggling Reading. There is no sign that Alan Pardew's team are any worse this season - their current position of 10th is influenced by the fact that they had early visits to Chelsea and Everton, who are both in the top three. Newcastle have taken seven points out of nine in their other three games, which is in line with their excellent record last season.

Sunderland have become draw specialists (nine in their last 12 league games) but, with a solid defence and Steven Fletcher in good scoring form, a win cannot be far away. Tonight's home game against Wigan looks their easiest yet.

West Ham look a little underrated for Monday's trip to QPR, who are six points behind the visitors in the table. Apart from defeat at Swansea, the Hammers are unbeaten.




1 Newcastle on handicap The best bet in the Premier League
2 Sunderland home win Midweek cup win may be the spark they needed
3 Blackburn on handicap Solid form despite last week’s defeat
4 Brighton home win Sixth straight win beckons against demoralised Birmingham
5 Hoffenheim home win Have roared into form in the past week



Newcastle, Sunderland, Blackburn, Wolves, Brighton, Tranmere, Hoffenheim, Malaga.



TODAY (10pm unless stated) Arsenal v Chelsea (7.45pm), Everton v Southampton, Fulham v Manchester City, Norwich City v Liverpool, Reading v Newcastle United, Stoke City v Swansea City, Sunderland v Wigan Athletic, Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur (00.30am Sun)

TOMORROW Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion (11pm)

MONDAY Queens Park Rangers v West Ham United (3am Tue)


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Arsenal look the selection in weekend highlight