West Brom v Blackpool (Saturday)
This will be Blackpool’s only away game in a run of five Premier League fixtures. Blackpool’s situation is a microcosm of how difficult it is to forecast how this season’s Premier League will turn out. Blackpool finished 2010 on a five game unbeaten streak and it had them sitting 8th in the league.
However, two consecutive defeats have seen them slip to thirteenth in the Premier League and only four points above the relegation zone. Then came a well-deserved win against Liverpool on Wednesday and that sent Blackpool bouncing back into the top half.
The statistics point to Blackpool (together with Wigan) having the lowest points total from home matches this season but it also the case that they have only played eight games at home. So with 18 games left Blackpool have only seven away from including this one against West Brom.
West Brom have experienced a rapid erosion of their league position over the last few weeks. Five consecutive defeats has brought West Brom to within a single point of the bottom three. Only three goals scored and ten conceded encapsulates West Brom’s problem.
Bookies say – West Brom 1/1.35, Draw 2.6/1, and Blackpool 2.8/1
Wigan v Fulham (Saturday)
Wigan have a habit of winning games infrequently but still just doing enough to pull themselves clear of the relegation zone. Seeing that they are now sitting 19th in a 20-team league it looks as if it is time for them to win again.
With only four wins this season Wigan are tied for the fewest number along with bottom of the table West Ham and Saturday’s opponents Fulham. Of note are the drawn games Wigan have been involved in lately – four ties in their last six matches. Wigan’s only loss in their last six was a listless 1-0 home loss to Newcastle on January 2.
Apart from Fulham having earned a point more than Wigan the clubs are separated by a massive difference in goal differential. Wigan are currently a -15 while Fulham are only a -2; a sign of consistency that should hold Fulham in good stead as the season moves towards the business end.
There also signs that Fulham are showing signs of coming to life. Fulham fans will be hoping that a 3-1 home loss to West Ham on Boxing Day constitutes their darkest hour. The Cottagers finally broke their away duck in beating Stoke, were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Spurs and buried West Brom with three unanswered goals last time out.
Bookies say – Wigan 1.4/1, Draw 2/1, and Fulham 1.7/1
West Ham v Arsenal (Saturday)
Avram Grant celebrated the start of 2011 with moving out of the bottom three of the Premier League for the first time since he was appointed manager of Portsmouth in November 2009.
But it must have felt mighty uncomfortable because a 5-0 thrashing by Newcastle sent West Ham straight back to the bottom of the Premier League. However, at least they are still in touch with the other troubled teams – potentially only a win away from the safety of 15th spot.
If West Ham could pick up even a couple of points against Arsenal and next week against Everton it would set themselves up nicely for a crucial three-games-twelve-days run against Blackpool (a), Birmingham (h) and West Brom (a).
Arsenal have won six and drawn two of their last eight meetings between the teams but rarely has it been an easy game for Arsenal. The lapse gasp equalizer Arsenal needed to salvage a FA Cup draw against Leeds and a terrible performance in losing in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg to Ipswich were indicators Arsenal are still some ways away from the consistency they so desperately need to harness.
With two games a week for much of the remainder of the season the chance of Arsenal staying within striking distance of Manchester United may depend on Wenger’s ability to cajole above par performances out of some of the players who to this point have had sub-par seasons.
Bookies say – West Ham 4/1, Draw 2.75/1, and Arsenal 1/2.85
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