Two And a Half Goals: Back goals at the Emirates and St James' Park
The Inside Man is back with his Two And a Half Goals column and thinks there'll be goals in north London and in the Tyne-Wear derby...
"As for Stoke, they might be lower down the table than they’d have wanted, but that isn’t down to any problems in defence. In fact, the Potters defence stands out as having conceded by far the fewest goals of any side in the bottom half of the table, including 20 goals less than the team directly below them, Aston Villa."
I fear for Norwich in this game. After all, their away form is terrible, with just one win from 15 games. And this week they travel to a side, who at home, score twice as many as they concede.
Arsenal have also proved ruthless against sides in the lower reaches of the table, as shown by their wins over Southampton (6-1), West Ham (5-1), Newcastle (7-3), plus last week's 4-1 victory over Reading. This does not bode well at all for Norwich, who have already conceded four goals or more to each of the top three sides in the table.
Now they must try to contain the 5th place Gunners, who are currently fighting tooth and nail with Chelsea and Spurs for two valuable Champions League places. Norwich still need another four or five points to be sure of avoiding relegation and will probably take a cautious approach into this game. But it's unlikely to matter. With the Canaries conceding, on average, two goals per game on their travels, it's hard to see them holding out an Arsenal side who've scored at least twice in four of their last five matches.
Back Over 2.5 goals @ [1.53]
Last week, by holding at bay a Liverpool side who had been awash with goals, West Ham proved that when they put their minds to it, they can be one of the better defensive sides in the division.
It's a side to them which the Hammers showed when also holding reigning champions Manchester City to a goalless draw back in November. There's no doubt they have the defensive players to concede less goals than they actually do. I suspect though, that such defensive integrity has been sacrificed to an extent, in a bid to bolster a lack of firepower up front.
There's nothing like a relegation battle though to focus the mind, and with West Ham just three points away from the magical 40, it's likely they'll now be going into games with the mindset that a nil-nil will do them nicely.
Southampton meanwhile have beaten both Chelsea and Liverpool in recent weeks. But the surprise factor of their revival under Mauricio Pochettino is no longer such a surprise. And whereas during Nigel Adkins' reign, sides went to St. Mary expecting to feast, they will now arrive with their expectations tempered.
Back Under 2.5 goals @ [2.12]
What a wonderful scenario for the latest Tyne-Wear derby, with both sides still in danger of the drop, and knowing that victory here might drive a significant nail into the relegation coffin of their close rivals.
If recent games at St James' Park are anything to go by, then we should expect a flurry of goals. Of Newcastle's last five home games, four were high-scoring, producing 18 goals in all. And out of those games, Southampton, Stoke and Reading all found the net on Tyneside, which suggests Sunderland have a strong chance of doing the same.
December 22nd was the last time Sunderland managed to keep a clean sheet on their Premier League travels, so it's very hard to see them managing it this weekend against such motivated opponents. But they do carry a significant goal-threat themselves, having scored in each of their last five away games. And given that they now face the 3rd weakest defence in the division, I have to believe there's a big chance the Mackems will find the net once again.
Back Over 2.5 goals @ [2.04]
This might look like a one-sided fixture to some, but I expect nothing of the sort. Man Utd come into this game in what, for them, is relatively poor goalscoring form. Only once in their last ten matches have they scored more than two goals. As a result, six of those ten games have been low-scoring.
Importantly though for United, their defence has been holding firm, and that's enabled them to rack up a series of low-scoring victories, including two 1-0 wins in just the last three weeks.
As for Stoke, they might be lower down the table than they'd have wanted, but that isn't down to any problems in defence. In fact, the Potters defence stands out as having conceded by far the fewest goals of any side in the bottom half of the table, including 20 goals less than the team directly below them, Aston Villa.
Stoke's defence is as good as ever, but statistically they have the worst attack in the division., which leads me to expect yet another low-scoring, hard-fought encounter at the Britannia Stadium.
Back Under 2.5 goals @ [1.86]