Swansea City head to the Emirates to face Arsenal on Saturday snapping at the heels of the Gunners in the Premier League table and that gives you every indication of how the season is panning out for both clubs.
Just one point and one place separates the two sides going into December and whereas the Swans have continued to glide under the tutelage of Michael Laudrup, there is a general air of discontent with what is happening at Arsenal both on and off the pitch and there is the sense that the ill-feeling in north London is close to bubbling to the surface.
There have already been chants of ‘we want our Arsenal back’ from sections of the Gunners’ hardcore away contingent and even forgetting what is going on at board room level (that is a long tale that we haven’t got time to go into now), more concerning are the erratic displays on the pitch.
The past week has summed up the fans’ frustrations. Two away games at Aston Villa and Everton have yielded just one goal, two points and a couple of performances that are so far below what we have become accustomed to from Arsenal over the years, it is no wonder that the fans are despairing at what they are seeing.
A return of 21 points from 14 games is the lowest total at this stage of the season in Arsene Wenger’s 16 years in charge and as they lie in seventh place, five points off the much-coveted fourth Champions League place, there is much work to do for Arsenal if they are to secure a place at Europe’s top table once again next season.
Decent performances at home and abroad have been followed up by completely woeful ones and they seem to have too many players who are inconsistent – most of whom are nowhere near as good as the ones they had in the recent past – to ever rely upon.
I said in my preview of the Everton match that I have been looking to oppose Arsenal since all this became evident and Swansea’s visit to the Emirates hands me another opportunity to do just that. The price on the Swans – 6/1 – looks pretty big to me, as does the draw at 16/5, and you just can’t be taking that 9/20 on a home win, because you deserve all you get if you do.
As well as being roundly beaten by Schalke in the Champions League, Arsenal have won just three of their last nine league games at the Emirates, failing to beat Fulham, Sunderland and Norwich during that run, and I just can’t have that 9/20 on a team who have won just three of their last ten league fixtures.
It makes that 6/1 on the Swans, who are unbeaten in six matches, look huge, and I wouldn’t put anybody off the 8/5 for Laudrup’s side to avoid defeat.
But my play is actually going to be the 23/10 that the first half ends 0-0. Part of this is based on my feeling that Arsenal, having had a bust schedule in the Premier League, Capital One Cup and Champions League, will be a bit tired and leg weary on the back of a fourth game in ten days.
But most of all, the bet is based on Swansea. Six of their last seven league matches have been goalless at the break, while away from home the opening period of their fixtures have been uneventful.
Swansea have scored just one goal in the first half of their away matches, while conceding just three, and a total of four goals in six 45 minutes on their travels tells me a lot about the way Laudrup is setting his side up. The loss of Pablo Hernandez to injury will blunt their creativity, too.
What’s more, Arsenal have been leading at half-time in just two of their league games at the Emirates, while Swansea have been ahead at the break just once on their travels.
So neither team have been too good in the first half of their games and I like the 23/10 that it is 0-0 at the break at the Emirates for the fourth time this season.