12.45 Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
This contest is a rather exciting way to start the weekend. Much maligned by many (including this column), it seems Arsenal and, more importantly, Arsene Wenger have got their act together in recent games and started to get close to realising their potential on a more consistent basis (W9 D1 L1 in their last 10).
There has been a marked shift in their approach to games lately; instead of living by the mantra of (sterile) possession, they have become willing to cede that holy grail and avail of their speed and incision to hit opposing teams on the counter attack.
The return of Walcott, Ozil and Ramsey can only add to the strength and competition in the team and, crucially, the incredible conversion of steadfast ideologue Arsene Wenger to a more practical and flexible, tactical mindset could well see them put pressure on the top two before the season is out. This theory, however, will be put to the test against a rising Spurs team. Having suffered only two losses in the league since the early November, it is fair to say that they have got their act together after a shaky start to the campaign. In Harry Kane and Christian Erikson, they possess two of the most of the most lethal young players in the division, a goalless draw against Manchester United in late December being the last time either went without a goal in the league.
And if you’re looking for a team to pull it out of the fire in the closing stages of a game, Spurs are yr man, scoring more goals in the last 10 minutes of the 90 than any other team this season. All of the above makes this a very difficult match to call. You have to go back over two years to see a match where more than a goal separated them in the league. Betfred and others have Arsenal as favourites at 13/10 but this column fancies Spurs for no other reason other than that they have a better price. BET365 at 9/4 for that.
15.00 Queens Park Rangers v Southampton
A real glamour tie, this. It should be pointed out that this column has had its chestnuts burnt on more than one occasion this season when trying to paint QPR in a positive light. In all likelihood, they seem a good bet to go down, such is the sheer awfulness of their away form. Granted, they haven’t won a match in their last seven in all competitions (D2 L5, ouch), they have just lost their manager to a previously unheard of knee complaint (cough, cough, bottler, cough) and rumours abound about their future should they get relegated due to alleged financial improprieties.
But, dear reader, if we can’t find hope in the gloom, then why bother? Southampton, although still riding high, have lost their last two encounters and may, just may, be due a wobble. QPR, on the other hand, do have a decent home record and may avail of the oft-mentioned ‘bounce’ a team can get when their manager leaves. Not very scientific but with a price of 15/4 from Betvictor for a QPR win, to hell with ration and reason.
14.00 Newcastle United v Stoke City
Another glamour tie… It seems like Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, has done his sums and decided that there are as many as nine teams worse than his own who are more likely to face relegation come the end of the season. With that in mind, he has decided to stick with an untested, decidedly second-rate manager for the remaining matches rather than splash out and get someone with a bit of experience in instead. He’s a very shrewd businessman, you see. Not that that is of any comfort to the poor, bedraggled Newcastle fans who have to bear the brunt of this decision whilst simultaneously forking out good money to watch a team whose owner has no vision beyond treading water.
Quite how this is supposed to be a sustainable strategy over the long term is anyone’s guess but one suspects that this is simply asset-stripping in slow motion. Sadly, Newcastle probably won’t be only the team left with its core hollowed out as increasing numbers of teams suffer the predations of rampant greed. Still, who says money is ruining the game?
Now, ahem, back to betting. In short, Newcastle haven’t been great and Stoke now find themselves in the top half, albeit only two points ahead of their hosts. Stoke’s Jonathan Walters managed a hat-trick last time out and if that doesn’t bode well for a team whose recent form in all competitions reads W7 D2 L2, nothing will. Newcastle could go mad and score goals to beat the band but the price of 5/2 for the Stoke win from Boylesports is too good to refuse.