North London doesn’t seem a particularly happy place to be a football fan at the moment, does it?
A cursory look at the Premier League table tells you as much, but even the fact that Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal lie in seventh and eighth places respectively with just nine Premier League wins between them doesn’t give you the whole picture and as both clubs continue to stumble along in the midst of discontentment among their fans, the meeting between the two at the Emirates takes on even more importance than normal.
This seems to be par for the course for Arsenal supporters, who have grown increasingly used to seasons lurching between despair and triumph, only to plateau by finishing third or fourth, which has become the limit of their ambition to such an extent that manager Arsene Wenger ludicrously equates that to winning a trophy.
Well, that’s what seven-and-a-half years without one will do to you, but if Wenger is clinging on to that delusion, the fans are now irritated. Arsenal’s only league wins this year have come against newly-promoted West Ham and Southampton, rock-bottom Queens Park Rangers and bang average Liverpool, and the flaws in Arsenal’s team now go beyond the obvious and into parody.
The much-trumpeted ‘Steve Bould Effect’ needs a bit of fine-tuning: while everybody was getting carried away by three consecutive clean sheets against Sunderland, Stoke and Liverpool, I noted that I’d need more proof that Arsenal were now George Graham-like in their defending than shutting out three notoriously shot-shy teams.
What has happened since? One clean sheet in 14 matches. And it’s not just their defending that is a worry: the Gunners just aren’t playing very well. The last two games have seen them blow a 2-0 lead twice, against Schalke in the Champions League and Fulham in the Premier League.
The game before that was the disgraceful showing at Old Trafford. The match before that, they contrived to concede five goals against Reading. Their only win inside 90 minutes in their last seven games was a 1-0 success over QPR, which could well have finished goalless had Rangers not had a Stephane Mbia sent off late on.
In case you aren’t getting the picture, I think Arsenal have been very poor this year, hence why they are 11 points behind Manchester United in the table already.
I have wavered from been anti-Arsenal from a punting point of view all year, but no more, and I certainly won’t be backing them at 9/10 to beat Tottenham. But does the 11/4 on Spurs interest me? I’m not sure that it does.
Something just doesn’t seem right at Tottenham and it isn’t just performances on the pitch. Andre Villas-Boas’ side are just one point above Arsenal and they haven’t really got going from either a performance or results perspective, while there are too many worrying murmurs leaking from the Spurs camp that suggest all is not well.
If it’s not the goalkeeping situation, where Hugo Lloris waits frustrated in the wings as Brad Friedel retains the jersey, or the strange Jermain Defoe/Emmanuel Adebayor conundrum that AVB seems unable to solve, it is the scepticism from match-going fans towards the Portuguese boss that seems to be growing by the week.
As Manchester City prove, you can cope with that if you are winning, but Tottenham aren’t. Since beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, Spurs have won just three of their last nine matches and have lost three of their previous four.
So I don’t trust either at the moment, which makes the draw at 13/5 appealing, but instead I am going to play the 3/5 that there are over 2.5 goals because I think that is a certainty.
Arsenal never keep clean sheets, but Spurs don’t keep many either: in fact, they have kept only three all season and I don’t see them keeping one on Saturday.
Since the first three games of the season and those infamous clean sheets, ten of Arsenal’s 14 games have had over 2.5 goals, while five of Tottenham’s last seven have also featured at least three strikes.
What’s more, this match has a recent history of providing goals galore. Each of the last six have had over 2.5 goals and there have been 29 strikes in those matches, which is a result of the way both sides play and the the gap between the sides closing considerably over the years.
And when you see that Liverpool v Wigan is 13/20 for over 2.5 goals despite their poor goalscoring records, I think the 3/5, despite being odds-on, is a touch of value and it is what I’ll be on come Saturday lunchtime.
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