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When you’ve just played a game in which your goalkeeper made eight saves and you still got beat 7-0 anyway, you probably don’t want your injury-ravaged squad to face another top side. Yet that is the position in which Marcelo Bielsa finds himself. The Argentine has plenty to ponder when next enjoying his morning cuppa while sat on his blue bucket.
Saturday 5.30pm – Leeds v Arsenal
Watch on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League
For his direct opponent here, things are looking up. Mikel Arteta has steered his side firmly into the battle for a fourth-place finish and will fancy his chances of collecting three points here. But, things may not be straightforward.
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Arsenal fans would love nothing more than if Arteta can prove himself to be the second coming of peak-era Arsene Wenger and guide them back towards title contention.
The problem the Gunners currently have is that they are playing more like late-era Wenger sides. They win the home games you would expect them to but make them travel away from home, particularly to the north (where we do what we want), and they crumble like your Christmas Day stilton.
There’s no shame in losing at Liverpool or the Manchester clubs, but Everton? Come on Mikel, have a word. And even when they have won on the road, which they did at Burnley and Leicester, the stats from the matches suggest they were fortunate to do so. Bottom of the table Norwich City are the only team in the Premier League who have generated fewer expected goals than The Gunners in away matches this season.
While Leeds haven’t been spectacular at Elland Road, the underlying numbers imply they should have taken 13 points from their last five matches there, rather than the nine they did accumulate. Bielsa’s boys also should’ve won this fixture last season, but it ended in a goalless draw.
In short, this match is a battle of numbers versus results. According to the data, this game has the biggest discrepancy between the expected goal prediction and Paddy’s odds for any match in the Premier League this weekend.
But, while the stats strongly favour the home side and make them an excellent value bet, an xG model has no knowledge of their absentee list. We’ll play more cautiously and back Leeds to win or draw.
Considering last three league games of The Whites contained a total of 16 goals, only four of which were scored by them, a tip for a low scoring match here might not sit right. But, four of their eight league games at Elland Road have had fewer than three goals this season, and the same is true for Arsenal’s away matches. Those 50 per cent trends hold firm if we tack the 2020/21 campaign on to the figures too.
And while Arsenal struggle to create chances away from the Emirates and have taken some heavy beatings along the way, only three teams in the division have kept more clean sheets on the road – so opt for under 2.5 goals.
If Leeds are to get a positive result, then they will almost certainly need Raphinha to deliver. Not only because he is their top scorer – and joint-fourth top in the Premier League, with seven goals – but, because their injury list, it means that the rest of the players Bielsa has available at the time of writing have scored just five league goals between them this season.
Raphinha is also in the top 10 for shots per 90 minutes, so he will be involved in the attacks Leeds have, and is their very obvious shout for a goal scorer bet.
Nicolas Pepe was sent off in this fixture last season for one of the lightest head butts you’ll ever see. It’s not that he shouldn’t have been shown a red card, but the dirty Leeds side of the 1970s would’ve been mortified by his effort. While the current day heroes of Elland Road don’t have the same reputation as their illustrious predecessors, they are top of the total cards table for the Premier League in 2021/22.
Leeds’ eight home matches have seen an average of five yellow cards each – plus a red for Pascal Struijk in the defeat to Liverpool – and there have only been fewer than four bookings in three of them.
Arsenal’s away games have been light on bookings, but with referee Andre Marriner (who has averaged 4.6 cards per match this season) in charge a bet on over 3.5 cards looks safe enough. And there’s always plenty of cards at this time of year, isn’t there? Merry Christmas!
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