Arsenal can overcome Leicester if last season’s results are anything to go by
Take Gunners on handicap against the reigning champions as they beat the Foxes on both occasions during the 2015-16 season and only lost four times on the road as both sides look to bounce back from defeat
The opening matches of the English Premier League season can be an early signal of good times or problems ahead, and Saturday’s big clash between Leicester and Arsenal – both losing favourites last weekend – may give an indication of where they are heading.
These teams were first and second in last season’s table, which means expectations have risen and any defeat will be dissected for signs of weakness. So it was with Arsenal in particular last weekend when their 4-3 home loss to Liverpool was used as another stick to beat Arsene Wenger and run down his team’s title chances.
Perhaps the negative voices are right, but the dangers of reading too much into one result are ever-present for punters. Last season Chelsea’s 2-2 draw at home to Swansea on the opening day – with all its attendant controversy – was indeed a bad omen for their title defence, but Arsenal’s 2-0 home loss to West Ham did not stop them finishing high up the table, while Aston Villa’s 1-0 win at Bournemouth proved no guide to the survival chances of those two teams.
Leicester and Arsenal produced two enthralling matches last season and the Gunners won both, 5-2 away and 2-1 at home. Although those victories ultimately had no benefit in the title race, it was no mean feat by Arsenal as Leicester lost only one other league match (2-0 at Liverpool).
There were some key factors at play, however, and they might not be repeated. The match at Leicester came early in the season and the hosts attacked at full throttle, but it was Arsenal’s dismantling of them that convinced Claudio Ranieri to modify their approach. In the return at Arsenal, Leicester led 1-0 at half-time but were undone by a sending-off early in the second half.
The choice is still Arsenal on the handicap, as they lost only four times on the road last season and were joint-highest away scorers. Wenger still has injury issues but his side are underrated as away performers, even though they possess the right blend of good defence (second for away clean sheets last season) and attacking power.
Manchester City (in the early kickoff at Stoke), Liverpool (away to Burnley), Tottenham (home to Crystal Palace) and Chelsea (away to Watford) are all predictably short odds and, while none is particularly opposable as the form settles down, a couple of them face the sort of hurdle that has tripped them up before.
City won only four of their last 16 away league games last season and they have won just once in eight Premier League visits to Stoke. How Pep Guardiola goes about tonight’s task will be instructive.
Tottenham’s weakness is their home form (only sixth for home wins last season) and Palace could be dangerous if the hosts are slightly off their game.
Even with the caveat that the evidence of one match is not enough to make a conclusive judgement, Everton are worth mentioning in a positive light after starting well with a 1-1 at home to Tottenham.
New manager Ronald Koeman’s Premier League record – seventh and sixth in his two seasons with Southampton – points to them as a danger team this season. Flying winger Yannick Bolasie has been added to the squad this week and, with pace in attack and new signing Ashley Williams in the mould of defender favoured by Koeman, the building blocks are in place.
Koeman’s side rate the best bet of the weekend in the Premier League when they visit West Brom tonight. Everton were a good away side under Roberto Martinez and look likely to be even better now, which means the value in their odds might not last too long.
Swansea look a good home bet against Hull. The hosts looked as if they might struggle after their summer sales but their opening-day victory, albeit against a prime relegation candidate in Burnley, once again demonstrated Francesco Guidolin’s quiet effectiveness as a coach.
The Swans have lost only three of their last 12 league matches and there were signs that the Liberty was becoming a fortress with four wins and a draw (against Manchester City) from their last five home games last season.
Guidolin’s side could go either way and it may take eight games to make a firm judgement, but they have been handed a favourable fixture list and should take advantage in this second match against a promoted side.
West Ham rate another good home bet on form, but their chance of victory over Bournemouth might be compromised by their away trip in the dreaded Europa League on Thursday night.