BEN CLEMINSON AND BILL ESDAILE PREVIEW THE BEST OF THE WEEKEND’S FOOTBALL AND RACING ACTION
SUNDAY’S North London derby at White Hart Lane could provide the final confirmation that the balance of power between Tottenham and Arsenal really has shifted up the Seven Sisters Road.
A home win would see Spurs extend the gap between themselves and their fiercest rivals to seven points and would increase the pressure on Arsene Wenger as his team battle for that lucrative place in the top four.
After being dumped out of the FA Cup and League Cup by lower division sides, and seeing any hopes of European glory practically extinguished in that 3-1 reverse to Bayern Munich, a Gunners defeat on Sunday will only see the fans’ revolt gather pace.
Tottenham have no such fears as Andre Villas-Boas’ men, led by a rampant Gareth Bale, have swept all before them of late and are unbeaten in their last 11 league games. They may have let leads slip in the last two North London derbies – losing both 5-2 – but the early dismissal of Emmanuel Adebayor blighted the cause back in November and they’re a stronger outfit now.
Arsenal also haven’t won a league game at Tottenham since September 2007 and I can’t see that changing on Sunday. The home win is 11/8 with Star Sports and I’d snap that up.
Bale was as big as 25/1 at the start of February to win the PFA Player of the Year Award, but is now as short as 1/2 in places as a consequence of his stunning recent form. The Welshman has hit eight goals in his last six games and has 19 for the season in all competitions.
The 23-year-old is 6/1 with Coral to net two or more goals. Considering he’s hit three braces in his last four matches, that must be worth a small bet in what is typically a high-scoring fixture.
On the other side of town, Rafael Benitez’s troubled time as Chelsea boss hit its turbulent peak on Wednesday evening when the Spaniard spoke out against the incessant abuse from the stands and his ‘interim manager’ job title after the FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough.
Chelsea did, though, set up a quarter-final tie with Manchester United by beating ‘Boro, but West Brom’s visit tomorrow promises to be a much tougher assignment.
Steve Clarke has turned the Baggies’ form around with successive league wins, including a memorable 2-0 success at Anfield. They also won the reverse fixture with Chelsea at the Hawthorns with goals from Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie clinching a 2-1 victory.
Yet one of Clarke’s key men this term, Romelu Lukaku, cannot play due to his loan arrangement from parent club Chelsea.
He has netted three goals in his last two matches and his omission tomorrow will be a big loss for the visitors, even if Long, who has scored twice in their past three away games, is a decent replacement for the big Belgian.
Benitez has seen his side win only three of their past eight Premier League fixtures and the atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge promises to be worse than ever after Wednesday’s outburst.
And it doesn’t help that Chelsea’s fragile back four has not kept a clean sheet in six games, so backing the draw at 7/2 with Coral is preferred to siding with the hosts at heavy odds-on.
Tottenham at 11/8 with Star Sports
Gareth Bale to score two or more at 6/1 with Coral
Draw (Chelsea v West Brom) at 7/2 with Coral