Weblog: The football punter

Solskjaer's perfect start can continue at Emirates 

FA Cup fourth round

BBC1, 7.55pm Friday

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can make it a perfect eight when Manchester United kick off FA Cup fourth-round weekend at Arsenal.

Two clubs with a top-four finish on their minds can put Premier League priorities to one side and serve up a decent match at the Emirates.

Expect changes from both managers, a lot of attacking ambition, goals and a United win.

Solskjaer has won seven out of seven since succeeding Jose Mourinho last month and has sent their confidence rocketing.

Players who weren’t doing well, and were often told as much, are enjoying themselves once more and the results are there for all to see.

Premier League standings

They have ridden their luck from time to time during Solskjaer’s brief reign, most obviously in the 1-0 win at Tottenham, though they were also hanging on against a decent Brighton side last weekend.

But they are basically unrecognisable from the uninspired rabble which Mourinho would send out. There always has been pace to burn in this side and Solskjaer is letting it flourish.

He will make changes for the game but should send out a stronger team than the one which beat Reading 2-0 in round three. And they look a fair price.

Unai Emery will also change his personnel around, as he did at Blackpool in the last round, when the Gunners won 3-0 with two goals from Joe Willock and one by Alex Iwobi.

Arsenal were excellent last week in beating Chelsea 2-0, though the Blues were awful. There was a toothlessness about them and Arsenal won well enough, keeping just the fourth clean sheet of their league campaign.

Chelsea didn’t test them out but United surely will, and there’s a likelihood of goals in this contest.

Arsenal’s league matches this season average 3.5 per game and United’s 3.4. Sixteen of Arsenal’s 23 matches and 18 of United’s have produced three goals or more. Over 2.5 is long odds-on, while over 2.5 and both teams to score is a more attractive 20-23.

Seven of the teams' last ten meetings have produced three goals or more and both sides have scored in eight of those ten.

Arsenal are certainly up and down at the moment. Their last nine fixtures have produced four wins, four defeats and one draw.

Entertaining going forward and blessed with real potency in the shape of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they remain a liability at the back. Pace hurts them and that is something United have in abundance.

Whether Solskjaer deploys all his speed merchants is debatable but they still have the tools to make life unpleasant for the hosts, who were this week rocked by an injury to Hector Bellerin, one of their own crucial attacking outlets. Bellerin has never been the greatest defender but is an ace wing-back and Arsenal are much weaker without him.

Manchester United
Both teams to score & over 2.5 goals

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Match in Focus


Man City v Tottenham

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Man City have lost only once at home in the Premier League this season.
Expert verdict
Following their Champions League humdinger, Manchester City and Tottenham reconvene in the Premier League and the game is unlikely to be anywhere near as pulsating. With City not needing to press for early goals, they can play their usual free-flowing game and make it seven wins in nine matches against top-six opposition this season. Only one of those eight meetings so far have featured over 4.5 goals and punters should expect a narrow win for Pep Guardiola's side.