It’s a bit of a special Saturday for TV viewers of the Premier League, with two cracking live matches in store. The lunchtime kick off pitches 1st against 3rd as Antonio Conte’s Chelsea travel North to visit Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City; while the teatime game is a traditionally fiery London derby between West Ham and Arsenal.
The Blues have been on something of a renaissance lately – a run of six wins without conceding a goal reminiscent of the Jose Mourinho title-winning season two years ago. That sequence was brought to an end as they let in a Harry Kane goal in the 2-1 victory over Spurs, but they remain in excellent form and are a point clear of City at the top of the table. Pep Guardiola’s big reputation looked justified as he led the Citizens to a 100% record in his first ten games in charge, but the rigours of the Premier League have set in and it’s not been such plain sailing ever since. City beat Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge the last time they met in April, but this game is expected to be much, much tighter.
Arsenal are only three points behind Chelsea in the Premier League table, and although their 19-game unbeaten run came to an end in the EFL Cup against Southampton in midweek, they travel to West Ham as genuine title-contenders. Arsene Wenger rested half a team in that quarter final, so the result is fairly easily ignored, as perhaps West Ham’s 4-1 defeat to Manchester United should be too. Slaven Bilic left captain Mark Noble and playmaker Manuel Lanzini out of his starting line up, and lost both influential full backs during the course of the match. Previously – with a full strength side – the Irons held United to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford and may be best judged on that performance. Although something of a risky proposition, the Hammers are overpriced to avoid defeat on home soil.
Manchester City v Chelsea
Manchester City have drawn three of the last four at home, and with Chelsea’s defensive abilities coming to the fore in recent weeks, this could be a less than spectacular match. The last three games between the two sides have ended 3-0 to Man City twice (league) and 5-1 to Chelsea (FA Cup), but such is the difference between both teams from last season, that anyone expecting similar results may be disappointed.
Middlesbrough, Southampton and Everton have held City to 1-1 draws at the Etihad in their last three home games, and it’s actually just four wins in ten overall for Guardiola. Of course, on their day they can sweep past any side in Europe – as the 3-1 victory over Barcelona demonstrated – but those types of performances have been the exception rather than the rule since the balmy early weeks of the season.
Chelsea started reasonably well under former Italy coach Antonio Conte, but the dramatic improvement since he implemented his three-at-the-back system has been little short of remarkable. Manchester United, Leicester, Southampton and Everton were among the sides beaten without conceding, and the Blues are deserving of their position at the top of the pile. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are starting to look like the players of two season ago, and Kante has added bite to the midfield. This is a huge test of their title credentials, but a draw would be a satisfactory result on the road against a big rival, and Chelsea can be expected to keep things tight.
These big fixtures often result in both teams cancelling each other out, and that could easily be the case here in a low-scoring draw.
West Ham v Arsenal
The Hammers haven’t had a happy home since their high-profile move to the former Olympic Stadium. Crowd trouble, lack of security, and mis-sold tickets have blighted the transition to the new home, but the teams performances have done little to lift spirits. Home victories over Sunderland, Bournemouth and Accrington (Cup) have required last-gasp winners, while Middlesbrough and Stoke have both returned from Stratford with a point this season. However, when assessing this game, a better pointer may be the 2-1 EFL Cup victory over Chelsea. That win came right in the middle of the Blues’ recent winning run, and is indicative of the way West Ham tend to up their game against local rivals and big clubs.
The atmosphere was rocking under the lights that night, and West Ham’s players performed above themselves. They’ll be in much the same scenario for the visit of Arsenal – and this is a game that West Ham love to do well in. Bilic may be shorn of Sakho, Antonio and Cresswell (the latter pair facing late fitness tests) but Andy Carroll may be set for a place on the bench at least. The big hitman scored a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw last season, and will be a thorn in the Gunner’s side if he gets minutes on the pitch.
Arsenal could barely be in better form coming into the game and they’ll have plenty of backers, but betting on Wenger’s side to win away games at odds-on in the Premier League doesn’t inspire enthusiasm. The Gunners held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw in their last away match, but won the previous five – albeit against the likes of Notts Forest, Hull, Sunderland and Burnley. On form and on paper they ought to win this, but preference is for the Hammers battling to a draw at a price in excess of +300 .
Manchester City and Chelsea to Draw
Saturday 3rd December, 12:30 GMT
West Ham and Arsenal to Draw
Saturday 3rd December, 17:30 GMT