Andy Schooler and David John preview Saturday's action in the Premier League with Arsenal to win from behind at home to Reading the headline selection.
Everton could also struggle to justify quotes of 1/2 at home to Stoke and backing the stalemate could be the way to go in that one, while going under 2.5 goals in the lunchtime kick-off between Sunderland and Manchester United is advised....
The doom merchants have already condemned the Black Cats to the Championship after the loss of Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole and they will need to show some character with Chelsea and Newcastle following this game. There could react by showing some defiance but it is hard to expect a sudden positive shift from a team that has won just twice in 2013. Throw in that they have not beaten United in a league fixture since 1997 and you get an impression of the size of the task ahead. The tricky thing for punters will be to try to figure out Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection with the FA Cup replay against Chelsea less than 48 hours later. His side have the chance to move 18 points clear for a short period of time and he will fully expect whichever team he puts out to keep up the relentless charge to the title with three more points. Danny Welbeck is an interesting participant for the visitors on his return to Wearside after a successful loan spell and he will probably have a few followers at 6/4 to score at some stage. United are certainly not the worst 4/6 chance I have seen lately but the bet that appeals most is under 2.5 goals at 10/11. That would have paid out five of the last six encounters and there is enough evidence to suggest the Red Devils will be delighted to narrowly grind this one out.
Verdict: Sunderland 0 Manchester United 1 (DJ)
It's no great surprise to see that the bigger clubs are hit harder by international call-ups that those towards the bottom of the league and that's the case in this game. The additional games and travel have to have some effect - as Arsene Wenger is only too happy to mention regularly - and there is evidence to suggest that is indeed the case. After October's international double-header, the Gunners were lethargic in losing 1-0 at Norwich, while both Manchester United and Man City were slow out of the traps and had to come from behind to beat Stoke and West Brom respectively. In September, Chelsea and City both dropped points, the latter again having to come from behind at Stoke. The Gunners will very much have this down as a win on their remaining fixtures list and they desperately need the three points as they bid to chase down the top four. However, they will be without Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby for this one. Given recent exertions and their absentees, a slow start would be no great surprise - especially against a side under new management and eager to impress Nigel Adkins. They should be expected to start well and Adkins' style has never been to sit back and hope for the best. I wouldn't be hugely confident about Reading adding to their points tally in this one, after all Arsenal have alrerady scored 12 against them this season, but I can see a scenario where they take the lead early on before bowing the hosts' greater quality as the match wears on. The Royals have 'lost' 23 points from winning positions this term and 15/2 about Arsenal winning from behind - as they did against West Ham at the Emirates not so long ago - looks worth a small punt.
Verdict: Arsenal 2 Reading 1 (AS)
While Newcastle's injury list is not as bad as it was earlier in the season, they still have several key men missing and cannot be relishing their trip to the Etihad. They've won just once on their travels this season, conceding 31 goals in just 15 games, a far cry from last term. City were beaten at Everton last time out to all but concede the title to rivals United but they weren't that bad at Goodison where they had a stonewall penalty denied and found home keeper Jan Mucha in fine form. Their home form remains strong with 10 wins from 14 games so far. Their solitary defeat to United remains their only home loss in the league since 2010. It's worth noting that six of City's 10 home wins have been by at least two clear goals. Sunderland, Stoke and Fulham, all close to Newcastle in the current table, have been among those victims and for those looking for a bet on this game, City (-1) at 10/11 is certainly worth considering. The international break may be a worry (see above) but City's home strength should see them cover the handicap.
Verdict: Manchester City 2 Newcastle 0 (AS)
Opposing Chelsea may well be popular this weekend given their schedule - the Blues face Manchester United in an FA Cup replay on Monday before a Europa League quarter-final on Thursday. However, at close to 5/4 I just feel they've hit a backable price. They can't afford to ease up in this one given their top-four slot is far from secure and the depth of their squad is great enough to get them through their hectic schedule. Southampton have admittedly produced some strong performances against the bigger sides, their willingness to attack having paid dividends. However, after beating Man City at St Mary's last month they lost their next match 4-2 at Newcastle and were then beaten at home by QPR. Saints have only won back-to-back league matches once this term and I'm not convinced they will be able to follow up their win over Liverpool. While both teams made changes, Chelsea were 5-1 winners in an FA Cup tie between the sides in January, successfully picking off Saints with Demba Ba causing them all sorts of problems. The attacking talents of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard et al make Chelsea a real threat if Southampton throw too many forward. For me, the price on away win is just too big; I'd expected them to be a shade of odds-on.
Verdict: Southampton 1 Chelsea 2 (AS)
You are probably well aware that Spurs go into this one on the back of three straight defeats with talk of a top-four choke rife. Injuries to Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon (both are doubts) are also a blow. The good news for Tottenham is that Gareth Bale shows few signs of tiring and kept on producing during the recent internationals. Only Manchester United have picked up more points of their travels - they won eight of 15 so far - and while Swansea have been tough to beat at the Liberty Stadium, the fact is they've only won six of 15 home games. The highest-ranked team beaten at the Liberty this season is eighth-placed West Brom, so while Swansea may be tempting at 23/10 in the match betting, it's far from fantastic. If you fancy siding with the Swans, 13/10 in the draw-no-bet market looks the way to go.
Verdict: Swansea 1 Tottenham 1 (AS)
Wigan v Norwich (1500)
I've learned a painful lesson when it comes to betting on Wigan games and have decided the only way to get involved with them is oppose when the opposition is available at a decent price. Their inconsistency must be a constant source of frustration for manager and fans alike - it was summed up recently by the Latics losing 4-0 at home to Wigan one week and winning 3-0 at Everton the next. No team has taken fewer points on home soil this season and certainly they should not be touched at odds-on, even if you are of the opinion that Roberto Martinez's men are about to repeat last season's great escape. Whether Norwich are that 'decent price' at 16/5 is another matter. The Canaries have won just once away from Carrow Road and also have a number of injury issues affecting their squad at present. All in all, this does not look a game to get involved with from a betting perspective.
Verdict: Wigan 2 Norwich 2 (AS)
A couple more victories will be good enough for the Hammers to ensure safety and nine wins at the Boleyn this season have been the basis for their relatively comfortable position. They were only undone by the brilliance of Gareth Bale with virtually the last kick of the game the last time they were in front of their own fans but went on to make up for that with a late win at Stoke. The visitors have ticked along very nicely and a run of 10 points from a possible 15 lately has them close in on an impressive potential top-six finish. The last four meetings between the two have ended in a draw and they certainly look to cancel each other out in terms of home advantage matched up against current good form, so it's not a shock to see the stalemate has been supported again. I would perhaps give the edge to the visitors in something like the double-chance market. But West Brom-Draw is a 4/6 chance and that is not really enough to tempt me down from my position sitting on the fence.
Verdict: West Ham 1 West Brom 1 (DJ)
Everton will be on plenty of acca coupons this weekend with this being their first match since seeing off Manchester City and Stoke having won just one of their last 24 away league games. However, a word of caution for those ready to lump on at 4/7 or shorter. While both Manchester cubs have been beaten at Goodison Park and only Chelsea have left with three points, it should be remembered that Aston Villa, Norwich and Newcastle have all picked up a draw. In addition, it's going to be a patched up Toffees side that takes to the field. Marouane Fellani and Steven Pienaar will be sorely missed in midfield, while Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka seem likely to stay sidelined with injuries. Throw in Tony Hibbert's long-term problem and David Moyes could be without virtually half his first choice XI for a game which is simply must-win if Everton are to contend for European football; they will know their run-in is tough so the pressure will be on here. Stoke are a side they've struggled against in the past too, the Blues recording just one win in their last seven meetings. All things considered, the draw looks tempting at 3/1, particularly when you consider Everton have drawn 12 games and Stoke 13 - that's a draw percentage of 42 across the season. It's also worth considering under 2.5 goals at 4/5 - those last seven matches between the sides have all produced fewer than three goals.
Verdict: Everton 1 Stoke 1 (AS)
- The Sunderland game is being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports with the Everton match on ESPN.