The FA Cup third round weekend was a welcome diversion for many, but the Premier League action returns with a bang on Saturday’s with the early kick-off being a sizzling London derby between West Ham and Arsenal.
With both sides notable for their quality going forward, as opposed to their ability to defend, this clash at the London Stadium has all the ingredients of an entertaining one, with the smart money being on there being goals.
They are however two hugely unpredictable teams, and both have seen their season’s fortunes fluctuate wildly. Arsenal, after losing their first two league games to top-six opposition, went on an incredible 22-match unbeaten run – one that had Gunners’ fans dreaming again of the big time – but of late their season has threatened to go off the rails.
Following defeat by Southampton at St Mary’s – which brought the unbeaten run to an end – they then dropped points at Brighton, before being humiliated at Anfield in a 5-1 drubbing. If nothing else, this hitting of the buffers has confirmed that, despite Unai Emery putting smiles back on faces at the Emirates with his new approach, there is still some way to go before they can be considered title contenders.
TOP TIP! – West Ham to win 3-2 @ +2800 / Anderson first goalscorer @ +240
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West Ham’s fortunes have been toing and froing in similar fashion, although they have been helped by the weight of expectation on the shoulders of Manuel Pellegrini being less than those on Emery’s. To be tenth at this stage is about par for the Hammers and in some ways, after a disastrous start to the campaign, this is seen as something of a result.
They continue to confound though and have failed to win their last two league games – against Burnley away and Brighton at home – with both being matches they would have expected to win. They did however pick up a 2-0 home win in the FA Cup at home to Birmingham, while Arsenal were winning 3-0 away in Blackpool.
All things considered, we have a feeling that, despite their inconsistency, this could well go the way of the Hammers, especially with Marko Arnautović fit again and among the goals – even though the Austrian is reportedly keen on a move to the Chinese Super League. Also in their favour is the fact they have performed well against the top six this season, including a win over Manchester United and a draw against Chelsea, with their only disappointment being a 4-0 home defeat by Manchester City.
Arsenal still have that thumping defeat at Anfield fresh in the memory and, while West Ham contain nothing like the potency of Liverpool, they will be nervy and twitchy in defence, particularly with an in-form Arnautović threatening to terrorise them.
As mentioned earlier, we expect there to be goals and with both teams conceding on average around 1.5 goals per game, we can’t see this being a goalless bore draw – neither will it, in our view, be a tight 1-0 either way.
Instead, we have a hunch this could be one of those games that springs into life after an early goal and one that the Hammers will edge. With the Liverpool debacle still resonating, we think Arsenal’s shaky defence will struggle to contain Arnautović down the middle and the pace and power of Michail Antonio down West Ham’s right flank.
It’ll be open and probably end-to-end, so we’re going for a five-goal thriller that will just tilt the way of the Hammers the 3-2 is on offer at +2800 with Bet365. We’re typically tempted by Arnautović as anytime goalscorer at +163 but we see better value in Felipe Anderson at +240 with Bet365.
TOP TIP! – Spurs & Man Utd 1-1 @ +650 / Rashford first goalscorer @ +850
Spurs, despite enduring a difficult season off the pitch, have somehow managed to haul themselves back into the title race. A prosperous festive period, during which both Man City and Liverpool suffered defeats, means the Lilywhites are now just six points behind the table-topping Reds and well and truly in the mix.
The ongoing saga around moving into their new stadium – they won’t now be moving until early March at the earliest – has created uncertainty behind the scenes at Tottenham and one wonders how their season would have panned out for them without these issues. In addition to being third in the league, they are mid-way through a two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final (they lead Chelsea 1-0) and they have an upcoming a Champions League quarter-final with Borussia Dortmund, and so to also be in the Premier League mix in these circumstances is very impressive indeed.
Manchester Utd however will offer them a very stern test at Wembley and buoyed by the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjær in the manager’s hotseat, they appear to be on something of a charge. The shackles imposed by Jose Mourinho have now been lifted and there’s undoubted joie de vivre in United’s play right now. They will be positively salivating at the prospect of Wembley’s open spaces and a chance to drag themselves closer to the top four.
With two good in-form sides going toe-to-toe we can see this being tighter than many are predicting, and there’s even a case for them cancelling each other out. On that basis there’s an argument for a 0-0 +1400 , but we’re even more tempted by the 1-1 +650 with BetVictor. Equally, given his resurgence under Solskjær, we have a strong feeling that Marcus Rashford will open the Wembley scoring +850 with Bet365.
TOP TIP! – Palace & Watford to draw @ +540 / Goalless at half-time @ +163
Roy Hodgson’s Palace come into this one off the back of a fine win at Wolves and a run of three wins in five. A campaign that for the opening months looked set to be little more than a relegation battle has been turned around and they now sit in a relatively comfortable looking 14th place, six points clear of the drop zone.
Watford, meanwhile, have had a fine season and, despite not having won in their last three games, are flying in eighth. The Hornets have entertained along the way and while their goal difference is just in negative territory (-1), goals have not been in short supply.
We expect this to be tight though and Palace are clearly still scrapping for points to stave off a relegation battle. Hodgson will be encouraging his players to not over-commit, especially early on, so it won’t be a gung-ho, end-to-end thrill ride.
One goal either way may settle it, but – as with Spurs and United – we have a strong feeling it’ll be a low-scoring draw. So we recommend the 1-1 with Bet365.
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