August 23rd (late game)
Everton V Arsenal
Everton were rewarded with a point for their efforts on the first day – a hard-fought affair against Leicester at the King Power stadium. And while opening day games can often be written off as glorified test drives, the Toffees know getting past Arsenal will likely be a tougher proposition. That said, Roberto Martinez’s men brushed the Gunners aside with aplomb last time around, at a crucial point of the season during a seven-game winning streak through March and April, too, and so won’t have any fear of their slightly more illustrious opponents rolling into town. A huge blow to Martinez would have been the injury to Ross Barkley of course; a lot of Everton’s preparation for the season would have been planned around his skill and ability, especially at home, and another year of experience will probably see him even more effective in that creative role. But he isn’t available, and the Goodison Park outfit must now find a way of beating one of the strongest teams of the division without him.
Arsene Wenger has strengthened his team very well this summer – Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers are all welcome additions in the right areas – and the performance in the Community Shield was strong. It’s fair to suggest that the Gunners found it tougher on the opening day against Crystal Palace than they would have expected, but Wenger’s men still emerged with all three points. Arsenal also played a Champions League qualifier on Tuesday, and so common sense would dictate that they’re probably going to be further along the line in terms of their match fitness due to playing two extra first class games than Everton. Theo Walcott, Mikel Arteta, Yaya Sanogo and Kieran Gibbs will miss the game through injury.
Arsenal’s record on the road against good teams last season was actually pretty poor and they were comprehensively outclassed in this same fixture last time around. Everton are likely to be strong on their own patch this season, and I am personally swaying more towards a home win. Mathieu Debuchy is overloaded on Arsenal’s right hand side; Everton are traditionally very strong down the left and Sanchez hasn’t really found his feet yet. He’s also not really used to defending and tracking back an awful lot and so this is where the game could be won and lost. I’ll take Everton at +182.
The prices are very close on the goals market too; +100 on Unders and -108 on Over 2.5. Both sides’ games went Overs on the opening day of course, and I’d expect a decent level of chance creation on Saturday night, but there’s always the chance that the two sides could cancel each other out and the game descends into something more attritional. On balance though, Overs is probably the call. It’s a decent price considering the amount of attacking quality across both teams, and so I think I’ll take -108 on three goals or more.
Everton win @ +182
Over 2.5 goals @ -108
Sunderland V Man Utd
You’d be either very brave or very foolish to steam into United at quotes of -125 or shorter. Like many, I expect much better from them under Louis van Gaal but last week’s defeat to Swansea serves as a timely reminder that changes don’t come quickly at any club, let alone one of the biggest in the world. The crumb of comfort for those taking the plunge is the fact that they were better away from home under van Gaal’s predecessor, picking up 34 points on the road compared to just 30 at Old Trafford. However, that’s more a reflection of how poor their home form was and 10 wins from 19 on the road doesn’t make -125 anything more than fair.
Sunderland can’t boast a particularly strong record at home but they did produce when it mattered most last season and their performances against the top six or seven sides in the league suggest an ability to compete in this type of game. Indeed, they knocked United out of the Capital One Cup at the semi-final stage and while it’s 17 years since they won this fixture in the league, times have changed. It’s hard to know what to make of Gus Poyet’s side following a 2-2 draw at West Brom, but I like what they’ve done over the summer in terms of transfers and expect them to be very competitive here. Robin van Persie’s potential return complicates things somewhat, but my overriding feeling is that United will not have this their own way so I’m backing Sunderland on the handicap with a one-goal start. This simply means it’ll be a winning bet if the Black Cats can avoid defeat and, at +110, it makes sense to effectively lay United at what’s too short a price.
Sunderland +1 @ +110