Portsmouth v Arsenal, Premier League, December 30, 2009
Arsenalâ€™s home defeat to Chelsea at the end of November appeared to signal a two-horse title race, the Gunners however had other ideas and in December surged back into contention whilst both the Blues and Manchester United failed to take the initiative.
Four Premier League victories in December mean the Gunners head to Fratton Park high in confidence after their 3-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday but are expected to be without Cesc Fabregas who tweaked a hamstring scoring the second goal during his 28-minute run out. Arsenal will likely also be without Denilson who tweaked his back injury against Villa. (Arsenal are EVS to score in both halves.)
The carrot for Arsene Wengerâ€™s side is that should they see off Portsmouth they will cut down the deficit to Chelsea to four points ahead of their game in hand next Wednesday against Bolton, another side deep in the relegation mire.
All signs point to an Arsenal win, even without captain fantastic Fabregas. Despite weaknesses that have long been apparent (Almunia in goal and struggles at set pieces) the Gunners are coming good and are building the crucial commodity of momentum at just the right time. (Arsenal are 8/11 to fail to keep a clean sheet.)
In particular the midfield duo of Alexandre Song and Abou Diaby are playing the best football of their careers and provide a solid spine in front of the central defensive pairing of Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas. And up front Andrey Arshavin may have been relatively quiet in recent games but the diminutive Russian is arguably the architect of Arsenalâ€™s renaissance with fine performances against Stoke and at Anfield.
Portsmouth also picked up some important results in the last few weeks and installing Avram Grant has paid dividends in terms of points gained. The Israeli masterminded fine home wins over Burnley and Liverpool and Pompey also picked up a crucial point at Sunderland. (Portsmouth are 33/1 to win both halves.)
Nevertheless, Portsmouth still look in grave danger of heading to the Championship. The 2-0 defeat at West Ham on Saturday was one of their worst performances of the campaign and it is difficult to see the south coast side launching a great escape.
Added to Pompeyâ€™s tale of woe is the transfer ban due to owed fees which means they are unlikely to strengthen in January. Indicative of the general feeling around the club, it has been a mystery as to whether they would have their African players available for the clash against Arsenal.
Hassan Yebda, Nadir Belhadj and Kanu are expected to be available and Portsmouth hope Aruna Dindane will also play despite the fact Emmanuel Eboue will be missing for the Gunners having left for the African Cup of Nations in Angola. Arsenal have also received dispensation to hold on to Alexandre Song who should find his life in midfield a little easier as Jamie Oâ€™Hara is suspended after picking up another booking at Upton Park on Saturday.
Pompey will likely look to Kevin Prince-Boateng to provide some invention in midfield and Frederic Piquionne can provide a physical option up front. But, in truth it is hard to put a good case forward as to why the bottom team in the Premier League can shock one of the form teams in recent weeks. (Portsmouth are 40/85 to score more than 1.5 goals in the game.)
Portsmouth havenâ€™t beaten Arsenal since a 5-4 victory in March 1958 (10/11 to be more than 2.5 goals in the game). The Gunners have already recorded a comfortable 4-1 victory over Pompey in August with Diaby bagging a brace and Gallas and Ramsey also on the scoresheet. A similar scoreline seems more than likely unless the Fratton Park faithful can inspire their boys to a surprise performance.
101gg predicts: Portsmouth 0 â€“ Arsenal 3 (13/1)
Full match odds here.