Arsenal set to make amends for mauling in Manchester

ARSENAL vs MANCHESTER UNITED

SUNDAY – 4.00PM SKY SPORTS 1

ARSENAL’S title challenge was over before it started this season and if they aren’t careful the gap to the top four could soon be too big to bridge. Back-to-back defeats have left them trailing neighbours Chelsea by four points and, more worryingly for Emirates-goers, Tottenham by a whopping 10.

In truth, the Gunners’ bad patch extends back to defeat against Birmingham in the Carling Cup final 11 months ago, since when they have suffered a series of disappointing and embarrassing losses. None more so than the incredible 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford on a miserable Sunday for the capital’s sides at the end of August, when Spurs fell 5-1 at home to Manchester City.

However, there are reasons to be hopeful ahead of Sunday’s reunion with Manchester United in North London. The Red Devils are hardly enjoying a stellar campaign themselves. Like Arsenal, there has been a heavy loss at home to a bitter rival: 6-1 to City, among other surprising slip-ups: 3-2 to Blackburn at home and 3-0 at Newcastle. What’s more, Channel Five viewers will be treated to a rare sighting of United after they failed to progress from a Champions League group containing Benfica, Basle and Otelul Galati.

Also in Arsenal’s favour is that their home form has stood strong through their troubles. After losing their first Emirates match of the season, they’ve won all but two games there – draws with Fulham and Wolves – and also beat United 1-0 here last season, thanks to Aaron Ramsey’s second-half strike. That result ended a run of four straight defeats to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and I expect this contest to play out similarly.

Sporting Index took an absolute pounding in the 8-2 game, but with neither side in great form I don’t see them being stung again. The advice is to sell goals at 2.8.

Considering they’re hosts, Arsenal are the value call at Blue Square’s 15/8, with United 13/8 favourites. Arsenal’s games have been unusually tight this season – six of their last seven matches were settled by a single goal and the other was drawn. They’ve clocked up three 1-0 home wins in the Premier League and a repeat looks a decent shout at 9/1 with Coral, who are refunding losing bets on first/last goalscorer and scorecast bets on televised games this weekend if there is a three goal-plus winning margin.

But the standout bet is the draw/Arsenal double result at 5/1 with Coral. The Gunners have been level at the break in 58 per cent of their games across all competitions, including in six of their last eight.

MANCHESTER CITY vs TOTTENHAM

SUNDAY – 1.30PM SKY SPORTS 1

TOTTENHAM also have the opportunity to set the record straight on Sunday and it would be a surprise if they suffer anything like the misery City inflicted back in August.

The Spurs team won’t look a whole lot different to the one that allowed City to walk all over them that day – especially with Emmanuel Adebayor ineligible to face his parent club – but since that heavy defeat, which left them bottom of the table, they’ve recovered incredibly. A 15th victory this term on Sunday would pull Spurs to two points behind the league leaders.

Prior to their 1-0 reverse at City last season they had won six of seven visits. Clearly, the current City line-up is vastly improved from yesteryear, but Spurs will remember getting the better of their hosts in May 2010 en route to claiming a top-four finish.

The scale of Tottenham’s task cannot be overestimated – City have recorded a clean sweep of 10 wins from their home fixtures in 2011/12 with an aggregate scoreline of 31-4. But there are cracks for Harry Redknapp and his side to exploit. The Africa Cup of Nations deprives opposite number Roberto Mancini of the Toure brothers and his captain, Vincent Kompany, is still suspended. And City aren’t invincible on their own turf; defeats to United and Liverpool in the domestic cup competitions prove as much.

This is a game where any result looks possible. I’m uncomfortable backing City at odds-on, and while Spurs are interesting at 10/3, Coral’s 5/2 for the draw is preferred, with avoiding defeat the main priority for both managers.

Neither outfit has been free-scoring of late – City have hit four in their last four Prem games and Spurs five in the same time – so sell goals at 2.8 with Sporting Index. Spurs have hit the net in all bar one of their league games, so the 1-1 correct score appeals at 13/2 with Blue Square.

QPR vs WIGAN

TOMORROW – 3.00PM

MARK Hughes would have hoped to have earned his first point as QPR manager at Newcastle last weekend, but his side were undone by a Leon Best cracker. A draw probably would have been the right result, but the Welshman will be expecting a win when Wigan come to the capital tomorrow.

It hasn’t been a happy period for Rangers – the Newcastle defeat was their 10th in 12 games and they are now in the relegation zone. They aren’t a bad side, though, and they should be able to pile the agony on Roberto Martinez’s Wigan, who prop up the table.

The Latics were arguably fortunate to survive last season and they look doomed this time around. They’ve lost six of their last nine away matches and QPR have to be backed at evens with Coral.

Rangers have drawn the first half in five of their 10 home games this season and the same is true in 15 of Wigan’s last 29 on the road. The draw/QPR double result looks fair enough at 4/1 with Coral and spread bettors are advised to sell goals at 2.5 with Sporting Index, with neither side being particularly prolific up front.