Adrian Clarke returns with his Premier League Insights column for what should be an action packed Gameweek 24…
NO SLIP UP EXPECTED FROM THE NEW LEADERS AT FOREST
Manchester City bared their teeth during a suffocatingly impressive second half shutdown of Arsenal in midweek, and I don’t expect them to suddenly soften up now that top spot is theirs again.
On paper a trip to Nottingham Forest is tricky. Steve Cooper’s side love a gritty one-niler on the banks of the River Trent (four so far) but City should have way too much class to suffer that fate.
After all, Pep’s team plays the part of a flat track bully very well. They have won ten, drawn twice and lost none to opponents currently sat in the bottom half of the table.
Nottingham Forest did beat Liverpool 1-0, and held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw, playing above themselves in both fixtures, but up against top six teams they are yet to score this term.
In those contests they are 18-0 down on aggregate.
Matchbook rate Manchester City as 1.35 shots to take all three points at the City Ground and given the firepower at their disposal that feels fair enough. Erling Haaland (3) and Julian Alvarez (2) both ran amok in the reverse fixture.
All things considered I’m looking to pair an away win with a goals angle to make the leaders backable on Saturday afternoon.
The line I like best is Over 2.5 goals because 13 of City’s 16 victories in 2022-23 have featured at least three goals.
Theoretically that means any kind of City win this weekend has an 81% chance of going Over 2.5, so a jump in price for City & Over 2.5 to 1.98 really does appeal.
A repeat of their 6-0 thrashing of Forest at the Etihad is highly unlikely, and Forest can be resolute well organised opponents, but I do expect Guardiola’s boys to win with something to spare.
FULHAM LOOK TOO BIG AHEAD OF TRIP TO BRIGHTON
Sixth placed Brighton & Hove Albion entertain seventh-placed Fulham on Saturday afternoon in a clash of this season’s proud over achievers.
The market expects an easy home win. Priced up at 1.71 the Seagulls are clearly expected to have no problems despatching 5.6 underdogs Fulham, but I just don’t see it as clear cut as that.
I’ve been super-impressed with Marco Silva’s side. They play with great energy, are fiercely determined and they never ever act like shrinking violets.
There’s a bit of spunk about Fulham, which is why they have been competitive in every single away match this term.
Yes they were beaten at Arsenal, Manchester City, Newcastle and Spurs, but all by just a single goal margin. In each of those matches they had excellent moments too.
Outside of matches against the current Top 5. Fulham have only lost ONE game all season. A 3-1 loss at West Ham in early October.
Their midfield axis of Joao Palhinha, Harrison Reed and Andreas Pereira is strong, and when you have Aleksandr Mitrovic up top you always have a chance of scoring too.
Roberto de Zerbi’s Brighton are a terrific side, we can all see that. I’m not going to sit here and argue otherwise.
What I can say is that their stunning 2-1 success at Old Trafford on the opening weekend is the only time they have landed a victory against anyone inside the Top 8 as it stands. Those thumping home wins came against Liverpool (9th) and Chelsea (10th).
While I do believe Fulham at 5.6 is a decent long shot selection, I prefer the look of Fulham +1 goal on the handicap at 1.79. Only a Seagulls win by 2 or more goals loses.
It’s a selection that would have lost us money in just three of Brighton’s ten home matches, and only once in 11 of Fulham’s road trips.
It feels like the west Londoners are being underrated in the market.
VILLA v ARSENAL MAY BE A WAR OF ATTRITION
Arsenal have hit a slight flat spot, collecting just one point from a possible nine, so the pressure is on for them to bounce back at Aston Villa this weekend.
The notoriously treacherous early lunchtime kick off slot awaits, as does a reunion with former manager Unai Emery.
Will the Spaniard be laid back about this contest and let the Gunners off the hook? I think we all know the answer to that question is a big fat NO!
To beat Emery’s Villa, Arsenal are going to have to work extremely hard for it.
The blueprint for taming Mikel Arteta’s side has been laid out. None of their last three opponents have enjoyed more than 37% of possession, and they have all set up to make themselves a nightmare to break down.
Arteta may freshen up his starting XI for this one, and many fans want that to happen, but the focus must be on finding new ways to break down opponents that set up defensively, and who will do all they can to slow Arsenal’s front men down.
Emery is a master at this, of course. He will set up in a narrow 4-4-2 and be as obstinate as possible. He will want to ruffle feathers and ask questions of the Arsenal defence too, but for the most part I expect this encounter to be a grind.
Keeper Aaron Ramsdale has kept more away clean sheets than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League this season (7), while at the other end, former Gunner Emi Martinez will no doubt be pumped up to keep a shut out of his own.
Villa have defended quite poorly in their last two games, so a reaction is to be expected.
Game state is everything where this selection is concerned. Arsenal have had a confidence hit, and Aston Villa will be very eager not to lose a third successive match.
This has the feel of a nervy, low scoring affair. My tip here is Under 2.5 goals at 1.91 with Matchbook.
- Nottingham Forest v Manchester City – CITY & OVER 2.5 GOALS (1.98)
- Brighton & Hove Albion v Fulham – FULHAM +1.0 (1.79)
- Aston Villa v Arsenal – UNDER 2.5 GOALS (1.91)
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