Arsenal the team to back with Arsene Wenger ready to exact revenge on Jose Mourinho
The Frenchman is yet to come out on top in 11 Premier League meetings with the Manchester United boss
A quiz question: can you name the two teams from outside the English Premier League big six who have beaten one of those elite sides this season?
The answer will follow shortly, but it is also worth pondering this fact – those two wins for non-elite teams have come from 48 attempts, which suggests the gap between the super-rich and the rest is as big as ever despite Leicester’s title-winning heroics last season.
The key for the lower-class teams in the Premier League remains how they perform against other sides of a similar standard.
Their points tally in that category will determine their level of success, especially in the essential aim of avoiding relegation.
The occasional good result against one of the big six will help, of course, but the rarity value of those successes makes them impossible to rely on.
Which brings us to the answer to that question: only Burnley (2-0 at home to Liverpool) and Watford (3-1 at home to Manchester United) have managed to beat one of the big six this season.
Punters cannot hope to find many of those tasty big-priced winners in a season. The bread-and-butter lies in identifying lower-class teams who perform well against the rest and looking out for the right opportunities in those more plentiful matches.
Already there are some revealing stats this season. Based on results against teams outside the big six, the best of the rest so far (in order) are Everton, Southampton, Watford, Leicester, West Brom, Stoke, Burnley, Hull, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, West Ham, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Sunderland.
In that list Leicester are notably higher than in the actual table (fourth in ‘best of the rest’ rather than eighth) and Burnley are lower (seventh rather than third).
Further down the list, Hull do not seem so bad on this measure, whereas Middlesbrough look worse than in the actual table.
In matches involving teams outside the big six, the sides who have been hardest to beat this season are Watford and Southampton (both with just one defeat in seven games) and the best win record belongs to Everton (five out of eight).
Last season, if we exclude extraordinary Leicester from the results, the teams in that category with the lowest number of defeats were Southampton, West Ham and Everton (respectively sixth, seventh and 11th in the final table) and Southampton had the highest number of wins.
The teams who lost most frequently in that class were Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa, and that played a significant part in all three being relegated. Two of them (Newcastle and Villa) were also among the three lowest winners in that category.
On Saturday there is an interesting match between Watford and Leicester, two of the better performers outside the elite.
Watford look capable of maintaining a top-half position and are a team to watch, but preference tonight is for Leicester on the handicap.
Last season’s champions are only 14th in the table but their underlying solid form is masked by two factors: their involvement in the Champions League and the fact that five of their first 11 Premier League games were against the big six (the joint-highest number of games in that category).
Their results have suffered particularly before Champions League games, with only one point from a possible 12 (11 points out of 21 in other games).
And four of their five away games have been against big-six teams, which means their form on the road is largely untested against the rest of the division.
The main match is the big-six clash between Manchester United and Arsenal, which opens the weekend’s action and brings together Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.
The two managers are the best of enemies and Mourinho has long held the upper hand, with five wins and six draws in 11 previous meetings with Wenger’s Gunners in the Premier League.
Wenger’s only win in 15 matches in any competition against Mourinho came in last year’s Community Shield but he has rarely had a better opportunity than tonight’s match.
Arsenal are unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions since the opening-day defeat by Liverpool, whereas United have been scratching around for points and their best result in the league was the 2-0 win over Southampton in their first home match in August.
All of United’s other wins were against teams currently in the bottom eight.
Mourinho’s record suggests he knows how to stop Wenger’s team but, with only one defeat in 14 Premier League away games in 2016 (albeit on their last visit to Old Trafford in February), Arsenal are on the up and rate a good chance on the handicap.
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Leicester on handicap
Still not a team to be underestimated
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Napoli away win
Very strong against lesser teams