Indifferent Arsenal are against the odds to upset runaway leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge
September’s 3-0 home win counts for little as Gunners travel to the home of the Premier League leaders
Arsenal blew a big chance on Tuesday night with their home defeat by Watford when victory would have set them up perfectly for Saturday’s English Premier League clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The Gunners could have gone into their showdown with the leaders trailing by only six points and with the tantalising prospect of cutting that deficit in half if they managed to win.
Instead they are nine points behind as Chelsea continue to hold a commanding advantage over their title rivals.
Only a single point covers second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool and fifth-placed Manchester City, but none of them has proved capable of eating into Chelsea’s lead for a sustained period.
A key reason for that is their tendency to drop points against the lesser teams, with Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Watford the latest example.
No wonder Arsenal’s fans feel frustrated again as Arsene Wenger’s team have improved in many areas this season, chiefly in attack where they are on course to score 20 goals more than last season, but they still throw in the occasional costly bad result.
Perhaps the problems are psychological, perhaps they are physical, but the heady promise of September’s 3-0 home win over Chelsea has dissipated and the return match with Chelsea is likely to be a different affair.
When his side conceded three goals in the first half at the Emirates Stadium, Antonio Conte immediately switched to a back three and his team have not looked back since.
Chelsea’s subsequent record in the Premier League is won 15, drawn one away to Liverpool, lost one away to Tottenham.
The fact that their dropped points during that run have come against the teams in second and fourth suggests third-placed Arsenal could cause problems, but it is also worth noting that both of those results came on the road.
Conte’s team rank top on home form, with their only failure to win in 11 league games coming early in the season with a 2-1 defeat by Liverpool, which exposed the fault lines in Chelsea’s defence that were exposed again a week later by Arsenal.
Since then, no team has been able to live with Conte’s reshaped Chelsea at the Bridge and in eight home games following the Liverpool loss, Chelsea have taken maximum points and scored 24 goals against just three conceded.
That level of form looks too much for Arsenal to handle, given that their only win in five matches against big-six opponents was that victory against a very different Chelsea set-up.
A draw might be the best Wenger can hope for, and that would keep them in some sort of title contention, but Chelsea rate a pretty decent bet at the odds.
The other teams in the top six all face opponents from the bottom six this weekend, although the notion that those matches are foregone conclusions will be tempered by recent results such as Swansea City’s win at Liverpool and Hull City’s draw at home to Manchester United.
The dynamic has changed at the bottom with the impact made by Paul Clement at Swansea who has managed three wins in four league games and Marco Silva at Hull who has led his new charges to three wins and a draw in six games against Premier League opposition.
Although the revivals might prove short-lived, it is possible that Swansea in particular should be judged by punters more as a lower mid-table side such as Bournemouth than relegation-zone standard.
The three teams hovering just outside the relegation zone by two points now include Leicester City and the danger for the reigning champions is building by the week.
Claudio Ranieri’s side have managed only two league wins since late October and their away form is dreadful.
A positive result at home to Manchester United on Sunday would be a big boost before next week’s crucial trip to Swansea.
Overall this looks a tricky week in the Premier League and there could be a few turnovers of the favourites.
Apart from Chelsea, the soundest bets are West Bromwich Albion at home to Stoke City, who have yet to beat a team above them in the table, and Watford at home to poor travellers Burnley.
Watford had been struggling before the shock victory over Arsenal, but the confidence from that result should help give them the edge over Burnley, who are the worst away team in the division with only four goals scored in 10 games.
Watford are unbeaten against teams ranked in the bottom half on home form.
Watford, Norwich, Hoffenheim.
West Brom home win
Six straight wins at home to teams outside the top six
Chelsea home win
Decent value against Arsenal
Reading on handicap
Bet of the weekend at Ipswich
Aston Villa on handicap
Solid chance at troubled Forest
Hertha Berlin home win
One of the Bundesliga’s best home teams
Win in nine matches in January for faltering Liverpool