West Ham United v Manchester City
Sunday January 24, 4:30am
After a run of six draws in seven matches, West Ham have got back to winning ways in recent weeks. They’ve won three of their last four, but suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat at St James’ Park last week as they were unable to recover from going 2-0 down inside 15 minutes. As a result, the Hammers have slipped down from the Europa League qualification spot to sixth but they’re certainly exceeding expectations under Bilic. Having been as short as 7/1 for relegation at the start of the season, they’re now 5.1 to maintain their current position and finish in the top-six. Man City, meanwhile, are once again favourites for the title after their 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, despite trailing Arsenal and Leicester by a point. Recently they seem to be coping better without their skipper Vincent Kompany than they have previously as they’ve kept three clean sheets in their last four in his absence.
West Ham United
West Ham lost their opening two home games of the season against Leicester and Bournemouth but they’ve won four out of eight unbeaten matches since. Furthermore, their away record against the top teams is excellent as they won at the Emirates, Anfield and the Etihad in their opening three away games of the season and have since picked up a point at Old Trafford. At home, they have beaten Liverpool and Chelsea, though with those sides languishing down in ninth and 14th respectively in the table, City represent Bilic’s toughest test yet at Upton Park.
Having won their opening five games of the season without conceding, many thought that the title race was over, but things haven’t quite gone to plan for City since. Their problems have largely been on the road where they have a W1-D3-L3 record since those opening five, though in fairness they’ve had tricky trips to Spurs, United, Stoke, Arsenal and Leicester in that sample. With those tough fixtures out of the way and the leaders within touching distance, it comes as no surprise that City are once again favourites for to lift the Premier League trophy but they have yet another tough away game to negotiate here.
Kompany remains side-lined for City and worryingly for them Eliaquim Mangala is also a doubt. That means they’ll like line-up with Argentinian duo Nicholas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis in central defence once again. The only two away games these two have started together this season were City’s 2-0 defeat at Stoke and the 4-1 hammering at Spurs. West Ham, meanwhile, have been boosted by the return of star man Dimitri Payet. The Hammers have scored 54% more goals in the 14 games he’s started this season than in the eight he didn’t, which included three 0-0’s. As a result, and given West Ham’s strong performances against the top teams this season, we’re backing them to pick up at least a point here.
Arsenal v Chelsea
Monday January 25, 3:00am
With the sacking of his nemesis Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger has seen off yet another Chelsea manager, the 15th in his tenure at Arsenal. The Blues are unbeaten since Guus Hiddink took over, but four draws in his six games means they haven’t exactly shot up the table. The Gunners themselves have stuttered somewhat in recent weeks as they conceded a last minute winner at Anfield and were kept to a 0-0 draw at the Britannia. However, the late news that Mesut Ozil would miss the latter game allied to the fact that Stoke have beaten both Manchester clubs and Chelsea at home already this season means that it might not be a bad point after all.
Since a shock opening day defeat against West Ham, Arsenal have been excellent at the Emirates this season with a W7-D2-L0 record. The draws came against Spurs and Liverpool and amongst the seven victories were wins over City and United, leading the former 2-0 at half-time and the latter 3-0 after 19 minutes. Indeed, Arsenal’s home record since 2013/14 is an impressive W32-D12-L4. They’ve scored at least twice in 31 of the 48 games, kept a clean sheet in half and had the W/W HT/FT double in 23.
Chelsea’s win over Crystal Palace in their last road game was only their second this season, the other coming at West Brom early on. Palace were without Yannick Bolasie in that game and have now failed to score in their last five matches so the significance of that victory can rightly be questioned. The Blues have travelled to four of the current top-five already this season but scored just once in those 450 minutes and even that goal came when they were already 2-0 down at Leicester. This is in stark contrast to last season and 2013/14 when Chelsea had a W2-D4-L0 record at top-four finishers for the concession of just two goals. The 3-0 defeat at Man City in their opening away game suggested something was amiss with the champions and that was one of six occasions that they’ve conceded at least twice on the road this term.
This fixture has finished 0-0 in three of the last four seasons and Arsenal have failed to score in their last five against Chelsea. Recent history has been rendered almost irrelevant given how poor the visitors have performed this season, however. Arsenal look set to be boosted by the returns of Ozil and Alexis Sanchez for this game and in the continued absence of Francis Coquelin, lucky charm Mathieu Flamini will hope to extend his record of 54 unbeaten games at the Emirates.
For Chelsea, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are both doubts for the match, with the former the less likely to make it. Chelsea have failed to score in the last three the Spaniard hasn’t started and they’ve lost two of five winless games he’s missed this season.
As a result odds against here about Arsenal looks quite big given how superior Wenger’s side looked against the Manchester clubs, both of whom have undoubtedly been better than Chelsea this season. Since Arsenal have been ahead at half-time in 14 of their last 15 home wins while Chelsea have trailed at the break in seven of their last 12 on the road, Arsenal/Arsenal HT/FT at 3.55 is far too big to ignore also.