In recent years, all the talk has been about the “Big 4” in English soccer, made up of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. Each game between two of these four comes with excessive hype, tension and analysis, because they often decide who’s standing where at the end of the season. The four giants have finished 1-4 in the final standings of the English Premier League every year since I care to remember until last season.
Liverpool have fallen on hard times, Tottenham snuck into the group with a fourth place finish last season and now the world’s richest club (owners have oil money for days), Manchester City, are sitting second in the league roughly halfway through. Their collection of high-priced talent has gelled into a unit that has many believing they are genuine title contenders.
So today’s game between Arsenal and Manchester City (ESPN2, 3PM EST) has taken on the feel of a Big 4 clash. It’s the first of 2011’s title deciders, so I’ll come out and tell you what’s going to happen.
Bet on Arsenal because of:
- Injuries – Both teams played over the weekend, but Arsenal are the fresher bunch. Manager Arsene Wenger rotated his team through the hectic X-mas glut of games and key players are returning to full form and fitness. Man City’s have struggled for goals this season and are without two of their most potent threats. Mario Balotelli and David Silva got hurt over the weekend and are out (barring miracles – that do happen).
- Friction – City’s collection of star players leave many frustrated and unsettled at a lack of playing time. Yesterday, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor scuffled during practice. It happened in front of cameras and is the second public training ground fracas in recent weeks. The Arsenal group appears to be in harmony.
- No Voodoo – In recent years, Arsenal’s collection of kids have shown they cannot beat Chelsea or Manchester United because of a mysterious hex, “mental block” or “fear factor.” They’re growing up, times are changing (as they showed in last week’s 3-1 win over Chelsea) and Man City have no voodoo over Arsenal. None. They smashed Man City 3-0 earlier this season in an away game. This game takes place at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
I’m calling this one a lock.
(Author’s note – I support Arsenal and this post wasn’t going to turn out any other way)