Saturday 7th November
12.45 Bournemouth v Newcastle United
For Bournemouth, this is a must-win match. Setting aside the nonsensical implications of that term, Eddie Howe’s boys need a win as much as Robbie Savage needs a brain (although his accountant might disagree). Without one, they’ll be even further adrift as Newcastle will pull level with them if they draw and be two points behind should the Magpies win – the latter result would see the two teams swap places and leave the Cherries in the bottom three with only Villa and Sunderland for company and nobody wants to stay at that party for too long.
Undoubtedly, Bournemouth have really suffered as a result of long-term injuries to key players and, in the case of Callum Wilson, their proven goal-scorer. Prior to rupturing his ACL in September – an injury likely to keep him out for most of the season – Wilson scored a hat-trick in an away fixture against West Ham in an exhilarating 3-4 win for the Cherries. At that stage, it seemed like the new boys might have enough attacking swagger about them to give themselves a swinging chance in the league.
Sadly for them, it was a high point, a cruelly deceptive chimera and following the injury to Wilson in a match against Stoke, Bournemouth have lost four and drawn one in the league having scored four and conceded fifteen. If there is some crumb of comfort for them going into this match, it is that Newcastle have only managed two clean sheets this season.
The Magpies have been predictably madcap. Their form over the last five games reads – W1 D2 L2, four points more than Bournemouth over the same period. Their win was greatly aided by a very loose performance from Norwich which led to a handsome 6-2 result, an outcome which came on the back of a 6-1 hammering at the hands of Manchester City the week previous. That they should effect a near reversal following that disaster does speak of the talent and attitude of the players. They lost to Sunderland in a result that still has people shaking their heads in disbelief as they were the better team, even though they were down to ten men for all of the second half. They also managed a two-all draw against Chelsea but it’s hard to know how much currency that holds this season.
Looking at the likely outcome, a draw doesn’t seem altogether unlikely given the propensity of both defences to leak goals but Newcastle seem to carry a greater threat at the moment, even as the away team and can approach this tie with a certain degree of confidence. They can be secured at quite a nice price of 12/5 from Betvictor to win this encounter. For those who fancy a draw, the same bookie is offering 13/5. Worth a ponder.
17.30 Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion
Let’s play a game – how many goals have Utd scored from open play in their last five games? Is it a} 4, b} 2, c) 6 or d) 0? The answer, of course, is b} 2. Their goal against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday was their first in 404 minutes. The fans are enjoying a feast of gargantuan proportions, make no mistake. The eagle-eared amongst you can’t failed to have noticed the roars of discontent from Utd fans as Van Gaal’s charges do their level best to patent a new antidote for excitement and pulse. There were howls of derision during their midweek win when the manager decided to substitute Martial for Fellaini but the last laugh went to Van Gaal as the desert-dwelling Rooney wandered onto the winner.
Albion have emerged victorious from this fixture for the last two seasons and chances are that Pulis hasn’t suffered many sleepless nights in the run up to this season’s encounter. Over the years, he has become a by-word for defensive solidity and structure and he won’t have seen much from Utd’s set up that will deter him from encouraging his players to ‘nick’ something as defensively, they may not be troubled much at all.
West Brom did very well to keep their star man, Saido Berahino, from the siren song of Spurs but his slightly-underwhelming three league goals this season is just a shade under a third of their entire haul thus far. With such a goal-shy team taking on the meanest defence in the league, the Baggies will probably have a hard time adding to their ‘goals for’ column even if they’re not too put out at the back.
Even though Utd come into this game off the back of a win, it’s hard to argue that the performance did much to shed the pessimism surrounding their listless form of late. Enough has been written about the travails cloaking Rooney’s season but his massive drop in performance levels can perhaps be best illustrated from last week’s game when, loitering around the inside left channel, he turned on his heels as he received a lovely through ball heading straight for the penalty area. He did the right thing by stepping over to take no pace off the perfectly-weighted pass but, somewhat poignantly, a decelerating ball still had too much zip for Rooney to catch up with. Fans and trolls alike would recognise that the Rooney of old would likely have buried it.
As you might imagine, Utd are favourites for this but, for the sake of a flippant wager, you could do far worse than giving some thought to the draw. It’s hard to see West Brom scoring with Chris Smalling marshaling the defence to great effect but equally so, it’s a stretch to think that Utd might do much damage at the other end. The margins are with Utd but with Bet365 offering 4/1 for the draw, the limb is stumpy.
Sunday 8th November
16.00 Arsenal V Tottenham Hotspur
Possibly the most intriguing tie of the weekend, the two form teams and fierce rivals might serve up one of the season’s better matches. Arsenal are joint top, Spurs are five points behind sitting in fifth and both have gone about their business in impressive manners.
Arsenal are five wins from five in the league, a run which has included an away-day thrashing of high-flying Leicester and a serious schooling of Utd. Put simply, they’ve been brilliant and their big players have been living up to their reputation. Or at least, they were. There probably weren’t many people who seriously believed that they’d beat Bayern Munich in Germany and given that they’re currently suffering a very Arsenal injury-crisis, a positive result was, if not impossible, somewhat improbable. What transpired, however, was Arsenal’s heaviest away loss in Europe and in a furnace where legends are forged, some of those same players tearing it up in the EPL, were nowhere to be seen when the team needed real leadership. Arsene’s kingdom for a Viera.
Spurs have been praised in these pages on more than one occasion this season, largely because it’s enjoyable to see a work in progress that becomes cumulatively better in the making, building its own head of steam as it goes. So many EPL teams take a step forward, a step back and a sit down for a coffee but Spurs, under the guidance of Pochettino, definitely have the whiff of an upward curve and with the likes of Korean forward, Son, fit to play again, they will relish the thought of proving to their city rival exactly how good they are.
As alluded to above, some of the confidence may have been shaken from the Gunners after their thorough examination courtesy of the fists of Munich. The most ‘Arsenal’ thing that could happen here would be for Spurs to win 1-3 against ten men. And here’s how that might happen – Spurs play a high pressing game and, as Guardiola noted earlier in the week, if you press Mertesacker and Koscielny, they will just it forward for Giroud and given that Mertesacker doesn’t have the pace to then push high, a few well-placed passes should Spurs pin them back. Young right-back, Hector Bellerin, might not be fit enough to start and that is a huge loss for the Gunners as he has been one of the stand-out players this season. The player he usurped, French international Mathieu Debuchy, enjoyed a very impressive start to his Arsenal career until he suffered a serious injury and in truth, he hasn’t been the same player since. You can be sure that Spurs will be looking to exploit that area of Arsenal’s defence should the French man start.
This will be a litmus test for Arsenal’s league title aspirations. In season’s gone by, they have often crumbled in the face of a chastening result. This is Arsene’s chance to prove his doubters wrong and wrest a performance worth a win from his shaken players, which, according to the evidence, would buck the trend. This column has its issues with Arsene/Arsenal but still holds the stump of a candle for them because when they’re playing well, there’s not a team in the EPL that can touch them. But Arsenal FC is the High Priest of False Dawns and if they stutter, Spurs will pounce. With due regard for the evidence available, this column must hunker down with the facts and call a Spurs win. Engage with the people at Bet365 for a very generous 17/4 if that outcome tickles your fancy