Arsenal welcome Manchester United to the Emirates stadium on Saturday evening for a crucial clash.
That’s right – it’s a big six mini league relegation six-pointer.
Thankfully for Wenger and Mourinho, their teams are so good at brushing aside the dross in the Premier League that they’re not really in any danger of dropping out of the top six. But they’ve clearly been the weakest clubs in the top-of-the-table clashes since the start of last season, so what will happen when they meet?
It’s very tough to call, as their stats from the big matches disagree so violently. Arsenal’s top six matches over the last 15 months have averaged the most total goals per game (3.1), whilst United’s have averaged the fewest (1.6).
This has naturally put them at opposite ends of a table looking at how many times the clubs have seen both teams score or had over 2.5 goals when the big boys have met.
In selecting your bets for this match, you need to decide if both sides’ long runs of form will continue. Arsenal have won their last 12 league matches at home. It’s a mightily impressive record, but it can’t last for ever.
There’s also the issue of whether Jose Mourinho’s wretched away record in big six match ups will continue or not. The charge sheet reads as follows, m’lud:
In his last 11 big six away matches with United and Chelsea, Mourinho’s teams, who are always among the most costly in the land, have only taken five points. They were all from 0-0 draws, and they’ve only scored in two of the games.
However, United choose to play on Saturday (hint: it’ll be really, really defensively), their manager’s barren big game run has got to end eventually. Right?
I’m not so sure. Their attack on the road had been bone dry for two months, and a big win against a Watford team who have not been great at home doesn’t change that. After impressive attacking performances at Swansea and Stoke, United averaged just 0.9 expected goals across their next five away matches. And yes, that includes their win at Watford. Dismiss the nerdy stats at your peril, bettors.
Throw in that Arsenal have only conceded three goals in their last five top six clashes at home, and the odds of 7/2 for the Gunners to win to nil look tempting. Actually, Arsenal to win one, two or three-nil at 4/1 is even better; they surely won’t score four. The odds for Arsenal to keep a clean sheet look about right to me too, so a few pennies at 12/5 is definitely worth your consideration.
But let’s assume that United will score, as these word count minimums don’t fill themselves. Don’t they? No.
After a blistering start to the season, Romelu Lukaku has only scored one goal in his last eleven appearances. The big Belgian is due a goal more than Jose Mourinho is due a ‘Pulis With Money’ tattoo.
Mourinho and Pulis arm in arm, off home to mate and create the biggest thunderbastard manager lovechild imaginable.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) May 18, 2015
The goals dried up for Lukaku after the October international break. Should we blame Roberto Martinez? It does seem the most logical explanation.
But in seven Premier League games since then, United’s number nine has had 20 shots, with 17 of them in the box. He has scored once, but the floodgates will surely open soon, and as one of the four 9/2 joint-favourites to open the scoring, he’s surely worth a few quid.
Ah, but I can hear your inner monologue as you read this. “Shut up, geek, everyone knows Lukaku doesn’t turn up in the big games” (I made it more polite for you). You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment. Oh wait, I can, it’s my column. A look at the goal records of last season’s top strikers against the top six may surprise you.
Granted, Lukaku was playing for Red Ronnie Koeman at Everton then so had more games against the big boys. But if you think that he doesn’t score enough in big games, then it’s fair to say that nobody else usually does either. This is perhaps why he’s a shorter priced any time scorer than Sanchez is, at 13/8 versus 7/4, even though they are joint-favourite first goal scorers.
If you’re looking for longer odds in the first scorer market, then may I suggest Aaron James Ramsey? He has scored a couple of goals recently, but has also missed six of his eight clear-cut chances this season and has underperformed against his expected goals. At 11/1, he could make your Saturday evening an enjoyably profitable one. It’s fair to assume you won’t get much enjoyment from the match itself.
One thing is for almost certain: If United do score first, then Arsenal are very unlikely to win. Since the start of last season, only Leicester and United are unbeaten when scoring first, and the former has done so far fewer times (18) than the latter has (31). Steer clear of the 10/1 on offer that Arsenal can come from behind to take all three points. There’s more chance that Arsene Wenger will admit to seeing Granit Xhaka’s horrendous red card challenge.
So there we are, your tips for the week. What else are you going to spend your money on, Christmas?
* All odds correct at time of posting.