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11/04/2008 No.16
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Dan Roebuck
Friday April 11, 2008
  Arsenal could catch United cold but final victory is a different matter

Arsène Wenger might believe still that Arsenal can win the Premier League, but the bookmakers do not agree. The French manager was bullish about winning the title - and the Champions League for that matter - before Tuesday's European return leg in Liverpool, but the layers rate the Gunners as 25-1 (Boylesports and Ladbrokes) to overhaul the 1-3 (general) favourites Manchester United.

Arsenal's game at Old Trafford on Sunday is their last chance to persuade the odds compilers that they are wrong. A win for Arsenal would see their title odds slashed to single figures, but the match market suggests that is unlikely. United are 10-11 (general) to win with the draw 12-5 (Coral and VCBet) and Arsenal 19-5 (Bet365) - a bigger price, incidentally, than they were for last season's league visit to Old Trafford when a defeat on September 17 would have sent them to the bottom of the league.

Arsenal won that game at Old Trafford 1-0 to stop an early-season rot. Should they do so again at the weekend, Chelsea will be the biggest beneficiaries and market movers. The Blues' current title odds of 11-4 (Ladbrokes and VCBet) would vanish and conceivably be replaced by odds-on quotes if they beat Wigan on Monday night, an outcome that would put United and Chelsea level on points.

Arsenal's run of only two wins from their last 12 matches will not convince many punters to part with their cash, even at a near 4-1 price - odds you rarely get about the Gunners. In the dozen fixtures United have played since hammering Arsenal 4-0 in the FA Cup, Sir Alex Ferguson's team have won nine. United have won three and drawn one in home league games against the other "big four" clubs since losing to Arsenal in September 2006, while in that time the Gunners have not managed a league victory on the road against their main title rivals.

It is difficult, therefore, to tip an away win, but if Arsenal can start the match as they did at Anfield on Tuesday, it is more than possible they could take the lead - something they have done in their last two away games against "big four" clubs and that can be backed at 7-4 (Bet365). However, Arsenal lost those two fixtures and punters are offered 10-1 (Paddy Power) that they score first but lose on Sunday.

The more adventurous can back Arsenal to be leading at half-time but lose, at 33-1 (Sportingbet). With a day less to recover from their Champions League exertions and with injury concerns about their defence - Nemanja Vidic is out and Rio Ferdinand ended the Roma match limping - United could be caught cold.

Arsenal have problems of their own at the back, with Bacary Sagna still struggling to be fit, and are without a clean sheet in six matches. Defensive uncertainty coupled with the sort of attacking play both teams have shown recently could lead to a goal rush. The last three meetings between the two sides have produced more than two goals, an outcome that can be backed at 6-5 (Stan James). Half of Arsenal's eight games with the other teams in the top four in the league have seen more than two goals, and the same has occurred in three of United's five fixtures. Those statistics suggest the price for three goals or more on Sunday should be odds-on.

Late goals have been the order of the day in Arsenal's fixtures throughout the season. In 31 of their 52 matches so far the last goal has been scored in the 80th minute or later. The average time the last goal has been scored in Arsenal games this term is the 72nd minute, for United matches it is the 67th minute.

Sporting Index offer a spread of a 60-63 about the time of the last goal on Sunday, which is worth buying. Getting high of that quote would have yielded a profit in all of the last five matches between the two clubs, with cumulative winnings of £1,030 to a £10 stake.

More than two goals in the game at 6-5 (Stan James) *****
Arsenal to score first at 7-4 (Bet365) **
Buy the time of the last goal at 63 minutes (Sporting Index) * >>>>>
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