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19/12/2008 No.22
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Dan Roebuck
Friday Dec 19, 2008
Having already been stung twice this ­season after offering attractive odds about Arsenal, the bookmakers seem ­determined not to be caught out again when the Gunners face Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium this weekend.

Before the matches at home to Manchester United and away to Chelsea, ­layers quoted rarely seen prices of 9-4 and 9-2 respectively about Arsenal victories. On both occasions punters were duly rewarded thanks to 2–1 wins for Arsène Wenger's side. Against Rafael Benítez's team this Sunday, Arsenal are quoted at just 7-5 (Boylesports and Sportingbet) to defeat the current league leaders, who trade at 11-5 (general) with the draw on offer at 9-4 (general).

Beating the best at fancy prices but letting down punters when odds-on is a trend at Arsenal this season, much to the frustration of Wenger and anyone hoping to get the coupon up every Saturday. Those inconsistencies have contributed to Arsenal's title odds lengthening to a current best of 22-1 with Extrabet and Victor Chandler.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have yet to really convince the bookmakers they are the real deal, despite since reaching the top of the league at the start of this month. The Merseysiders have never been shorter than 3-1 and can generally be backed at 9-2. Chelsea remain 6-5 (Paddy Power) favourites with the defending champions, United, 15-8 (general).

Recently it has been difficult to back any of the "big four" with any real confidence. A month ago, all of Arsenal, Chelsea, ­Liverpool and United failed to score on the same weekend — prompting Paddy Power to offer 400-1 it would happen again in the following round of fixtures. It didn't but last weekend the big four all drew at cumulative odds of 366-1 to once again scupper betters who had backed the favourites. Regular punters also missed out on a spectacular opportunity — had any included draws for Celtic and Rangers alongside those in the Premier League they would have enjoyed an accumulator that paid a massive 4774-1 with Ladbrokes.

Liverpool's only two defeats in 27 matches this season have come in north London — against Tottenham in the ­Premier League and Carling Cup — and their record against the big four clubs, like Arsenal's, is excellent. Wins at home to United and away at Chelsea mirror the Gunners' achievements this term which, in part, leads me to believe the draw at 9-4 is the best bet.

After four seasons and 10 games without a stalemate between Arsenal and Liverpool, the last campaign saw three out of four meetings end all square. And with Arsenal lacking creativity in midfield — central midfielders are too often employed in wide positions — and Liverpool minus their most potent attacker, Fernando Torres, chances will perhaps be at a premium on Sunday. Tellingly, IG Sport have been forced to cut their total goals spread from 2.4-2.6 to 2.3-2.5 after a customer sold the initial quote for £7,000 per goal.

Perhaps rather oddly though, the same firm has seen buyers of bookings at 46 and they now go 44-48. I say oddly, as the average bookings make-up in league games in the past five seasons between Arsenal and Liverpool has been 35.5 — 37 at the Emirates or Highbury and 34 at Anfield. Sporting Index quote their bookings market at 48-52 and this looks to be a sell.

The high figure is almost certainly because Howard Webb, whose games make up an average of 44.7, is in charge. However, Arsenal v Liverpool encounters are rarely explosive; the two high profile Champions League quarter-finals between them last season produced just two cautions and there were contentious penalty decisions (one given, one not) in each of the legs. Only once in the past seven league meetings in north London would sellers at 48 have not shown a profit.

Arsenal and Liverpool are the teams that have forced the most corners in the Premier League this season — 134 and 130 respectively. However, when they have come up against other top four sides their corner count has dropped dramatically. Arsenal's average is 7.9 but that drops to 3.5 in matches against Chelsea and United. Similarly, Liverpool's falls from 7.6 to 3.5.

Punters can profit if the trend continues this weekend by either selling total corners in the match with IG Sport and Sporting Index at 10.5 or by backing fewer than 10 corners in the game at 11-8 with William Hill. The more cautious better is offered 8-13 there will be fewer than 12 with Extrabet.

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