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Weblog: The football punter

Arsenal can pile on the misery for Mourinho

Premier League
BT Sport 1, 8pm Wednesday


Jose Mourinho won his sack race showdown with Mark Hughes on Saturday but the beleaguered Manchester United boss is still under massive pressure.

Mourinho is favourite once again in next-gaffer-to-go betting following Hughes’s dismissal by Southampton and a visit from buoyant Arsenal looks like the last thing the United boss needs.

A fixture that was all about title shootouts back in the Fergie-Wenger heyday has a very different feel about it this season, especially at Old Trafford, where Mourinho is crying out for a positive result.

A reputation for getting things right in big matches might encourage some punters to believe that this is the type of tussle where Mourinho delivers, and those results at Juventus and Chelsea demonstrate he can still get a tune out of his dysfunctional team when needs be.

But defensive concerns were magnified at St Mary’s on Saturday evening and that makes them look highly vulnerable against a Gunners outfit who bear little relation to the one Arsene Wenger left behind in May.

Arsenal, who have appeared flawed but are still unbeaten since August, look as though they can avoid defeat.

Unai Emery deserves plenty of praise for masterminding this 19-match unbeaten run, a streak which culminated in that thrilling 4-2 defeat of Spurs on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a different Arsenal under Emery, an Arsenal who will put their foot in and who will press the ball. Those defensive doubts which existed under Wenger are still there and it’s extraordinary how slowly they start matches – they’ve yet to be ahead at the interval in any of their 14 league games.

It shows, if nothing else, how well they finish matches – 75 per cent of the goals they’ve banged in this term (24 out of 32) have come in the second half of games. And against a United defence who are nowhere near full-strength and short of confidence, expect drama to the last.

United, on the other hand, just aren’t improving. They were poor at Southampton just as they had been against Crystal Palace a week before and as they have been so often. Neither Ander Herrera nor Marouane Fellaini is the solution. Paul Pogba should be but he’s simply not leading as a supposedly world-class player should.

Two clean sheets in 14 is perhaps to be expected from a team who have deployed eight different central defenders already. Title contenders in August, now their ambition is to finish above Everton. Could it get any sorrier?

Maybe they’ll surprise us all and turn it on but there’s virtually no evidence to suggest that’s worth betting on.

What punters are betting on, understandably, is goals, although the odds are inevitably short – both teams to score, for example, is a 1-2 shot, while over 2.5 is 7-10.

Arsenal’s matches top the Premier League goals parade at almost 3.6 per game with United’s matches not far behind. Only three keepers have made more saves than David de Gea this term while Petr Cech and Bernd Leno combined have produced more saves than even De Gea.

Each Arsenal match this term has produced at least two goals and this one looks unlikely to be any different.

Recommendation
Arsenal draw no bet

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Match in Focus

17:30 TODAY SKY

Man City v Tottenham

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • City scored in the opening half of 16 of their 19 home league games last term
Expert verdict
Manchester City beat Tottenham in three of their four meetings last term and an early season duel at the Etihad should see the Citizens uphold the form. Spurs supporters may feel they won 2018-19’s most crucial clash – the 1-0 first-leg victory at their new stadium that saw the Lilywhites advance into the Champions League semi-finals at the expense of Pep Guardiola’s men. But while Guardiola has yet to crack the code in Europe with City, his team have barely put a foot wrong domestically. Fast starts against Liverpool in the Community Shield and at West Ham suggest they will look to seize the early initiative.