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02/11/2007 No.26
Dan Roebuck
Friday November 2, 2007
  Arsenal and United will serve up goal feast fit for top table at the Emirates

Arsenal versus Manchester United is the fixture bookmakers love. From the betting-shop punter with a small stake to the high-rolling regular client, everyone has a view on the top two teams in the country - which means bookies are guaranteed a sizeable turnover.

"Last week's game at Anfield was just an hors d'oeuvre - this is the main course," said the Ladbrokes spokesman Robin Hutchison. "If it's a competitive match the industry could turn over up to £10m, easily the biggest of the season to date."

It is undoubtedly the defining game in the first quarter of this Premier League season. One senior odds compiler admitted to me that should United win tomorrow, they will go a shade odds-on for the title while if Arsenal claim all three points the Gunners would overtake them at the head of the Premier League market. As things stand Sir Alex Ferguson's team are 5-4 (Blue Square and VC Bet) favourites to win the league with Arsène Wenger's side 9-4 (general).

For the match at the Emirates Stadium Arsenal are best at 6-4 (Bet365) to win, United trade at 2-1 (Bet365 and Boyle Sports) with the draw 9-4 (Boyle). And, with opinion split among pundits and punters alike as to which side is playing the better football at the moment, the layers can expect to take hefty wagers on all three outcomes.

But while predictions on the likely winners are divided, the notion that goals will flow is universally held, making the 6-5 (Bet365 and Sporting Odds) available about more than two in the game the best bet. It seems inconceivable that these two attacking teams will not serve up a spectacle worthy of the hype. Arsenal are the only team to have scored in every match they have played in this season while United, after a slow start, have banged in four goals in each of their last four games.

Optimistic punters could back more than three goals at 11-4 with Paddy Power, who also offers five or more at 7-1. Sporting Index has issued a total-goals quote of 2.4-2.6, which looks worth a buy.

Late goals have been a regular feature in matches featuring the Gunners this season. Wenger's team have scored their final goal in fixtures this term, on average, in the 75th minute. In 11 of Arsenal's 17 matches they have scored in the 80th minute or later. One of the reasons mooted for this is the high tempo of Arsenal's play (it may be why Mathieu Flamini is preferred to Gilberto in central midfield at the moment). Their opponents are chasing shadows - and quick ones at that - for much of the 90 minutes and tire late on. The pace of tomorrow's game may be slow to begin with, but it is bound to intensify, with more chances created in the later stages of it. As for United, their slow goal-getting start to the season skews their late scoring averages but it should be noted that 15 of their last 24 goals have come in the second half.

So how can punters cash in on these statistics? Paddy Power offers evens that the final goal of the game will be scored after the 73rd minute, Sporting Odds goes 9-5 on the last goal coming after the 80th minute but a more profitable, if riskier, punt is to buy the time of the final goal at 64 with Sporting Index (a goal scored in the 84th minute will win you 20 times your stake). All three options would have yielded a profit for punters from both games between these teams last season.

First-player-to-score punters might be taken by the form of the 7-1 shot (Coral and Ladbrokes) Wayne Rooney, who has scored eight goals in his past seven games for club and country, or 11-1 (Bet365) chance Cesc Fábregas, who tops the all-competitions goalscoring charts with 10. However, I am prepared to give Alex Hleb, 16-1 generally, another chance in the staking plan. The Belarussian is almost certain to play as a second striker behind Emmanuel Adebayor (it would be surprising if the home team were not unchanged from Anfield) and after another man of the match display on Merseyside it is worth backing him each-way (most firms offer half of the odds on the first three goalscorers) in this market tomorrow.

TIP: Buy the time of the last goal in the game at 64 minutes: 64 (Sporting Index)
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