No love lost as Arsenal and Manchester United fight over the scraps from the top table
Visitors to the Emirates Stadium are the handicap pick despite midweek trip to Spain in the Europa League as Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho renew hostilities
Arsenal against Manchester United, for so long one of the tastiest clashes of the English Premier League season, has turned into a fight over the scraps from the top table when they meet on Sunday with Champions League qualification hanging in the balance.
As it stands, Arsenal and United are outside the Champions League places in sixth and fifth, and the prospect of both clubs missing out on Europe’s elite competition will increase if there is no winner, while the losing side will find it hard to recover with only a handful of matches to play.
The need for victory is pressing, although that could ease if Manchester City or Liverpool fail to collect he anticipated three points against Crystal Palace and Southampton.
Assuming there are no slip-ups by the teams in third and fourth, United will start the match four points off a Champions League place while Arsenal will be nine points adrift, albeit with games in hand.
United have another route to the Champions League by winning the Europa League and Jose Mourinho’s side increased their chances of doing that with Thursday night’s 1-0 win at Celta Vigo in the first leg of their semi-final.
Their Premier League position would become irrelevant if they won that competition and finished outside the top four, which would make them a fifth English entrant to next season’s Champions League along with the top four finishers.
These are not the sort of permutations that United faced when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge; back then, the most serious calculation was often how many points their league-winning margin would be.
Nor have Arsenal fans had much cause to ponder life outside the Champions League places in Arsene Wenger’s two decades with the Gunners.
The stakes are different now, but this is still one of the biggest matches of the season, especially with no love lost between Wenger and Mourinho.
Famously, Wenger has won only one of their previous 16 meetings and has never beaten his nemesis in the Premier League.
United’s punishing schedule left them in no position to challenge for the title this season, but they have had an increasingly impressive campaign.
Since the reverse fixture against Arsenal at Old Trafford in November ended 1-1, United have lost only two out of 39 in all competitions and have picked up the League Cup as well as progressing in the Europa League.
Arsenal have reached the FA Cup final, but their season has been more haphazard, with 11 defeats out of 31 since that last meeting with United.
Most notably, in that period they have struggled against high-class opponents, with six defeats out of nine against teams from the Premier League top six or the Champions League.
That makes United the handicap pick, even with the disadvantage of playing away only three days after their trip to Spain in the Europa League.
The bet of the weekend in the Premier League is Everton on the handicap away to Swansea City.
The home side’s need for a win is obvious, as they are in the relegation zone with three games to play and Hull City - the team immediately above them - have a two-point advantage and a home game against relegated Sunderland.
But it is not so obvious how Swansea will find the form to beat Everton, who are undefeated in 11 matches against teams in the bottom six.
Hull are short odds to beat Sunderland and that is hardly surprising given the visitors’ dismal record and the Tigers’ excellent home form under Marco Silva.
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Hull have won eight out of nine at home, with one draw, since the new manager arrived in early January and that includes victories over Manchester United and Liverpool.
Leicester City are also short odds at home to Watford and should win, but there are a couple of better-value home teams in Bournemouth and Burnley.
Bournemouth have hit a rich vein of form to climb out of trouble and up to 10th place, only a point short of last season’s total with three games to play.
That is a considerable achievement by Eddie Howe’s side and a key part has been played by Josh King, who has scored 12 goals in 16 Premier League appearances in 2017.
With that sort of firepower, Bournemouth have a good chance against Stoke City, who have been struggling to score all season and especially in recent matches.
Burnley still rank as the sixth-best home team and they rate well against West Bromwich Albion, whose good form has evaporated.
Bournemouth home win
Stronger attack should prevail
Burnley home win
Can add to good home record
Everton on handicap
Solid form against struggling teams
Manchester United on handicap
Much more reliable than Arsenal
Bilbao away win
Can continue winning run
Premier League games without defeat for Jose Mourinho against Arsenal