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London lowdown

Will Gunners fan AP McCoy be smiling in the next few days?

Ed Chamberlin - Ed Chamberlin Posted 23rd February 2012 view comments

Super Sunday should be a brilliant day of football.

We start at 1pm on Sky Sports HD1 and I shall be at the Emirates to present the North London derby before handing over to Ben Shephard at Wembley for the Carling Cup Final.

That sees Cardiff (4/1 to win the trophy with Sky Bet) up against Liverpool (1/6).

Wenger: could finish below Spurs for the first time

Wenger: could finish below Spurs for the first time

North London derby odds: 11/8 Arsenal, 7/4 Tottenham, 23/10 draw

It's a huge day for Arsenal Football Club, whose season threatens to implode just as it did this time last year.

Arsenal are out of both domestic cup competitions, the Premier League title race (17 points behind leaders Manchester City) and face an unprecedented task of overturning a 4-0 first leg deficit in the Champions League tie against AC Milan on March 6.

Arsenal have used 16 different back four combinations in 25 Premier League games this season - they have used five different combinations in central defence. None has managed to gel and defend like the Arsenal of old. Any punters backing Arsenal at 11/8 will be in for a rough ride.

Ed Chamberlin
Quotes of the week

This is the earliest in a season (before beginning of March) that Arsenal have effectively been out of contention in all competitions under Arsene Wenger. They last had nothing left to play for this early in a season in 1995-96 under Bruce Rioch.

The 150th North London derby in the League (Arsenal 60 wins, Tottenham 48 wins, 41 draws) could be the best thing for Arsene Wenger but it could also be the worst. Victory for Arsenal would restore some pride and keep them on track for a top four finish; defeat would increase the calls for Arsene Wenger to go.

Wenger has never finished below a team managed by Harry Redknapp in a Premier League table and has finished above Tottenham in all his 15 seasons as Arsenal manager. That is about to change. Tottenham are currently 10 points ahead of Arsenal and have only been 13 points ahead of Arsenal twice in Premier League history, on January 31 this season (Arsenal had a game in hand) and in April 1995.

Arsenal have not finished outside top four since 1995-96 - Tottenham have not finished in the top three since 1989-90.

Why has it all gone wrong for Arsenal? Two reasons stand out for me. First, this Arsenal team can dispense with lesser opposition but doesn't seem able to stand up against the big boys. The eight they conceded at Old Trafford and four last week at the San Siro stand out. Arsenal have lost all four Premier League meetings against the three teams above them so far this season.

Second, is their defending. Arsenal have used 16 different back four combinations in 25 Premier League games this season - they have used five different combinations in central defence. None has managed to gel and defend like the Arsenal of old. Any punters backing Arsenal at 11/8 will be in for a rough ride.

I can therefore see plenty of punters backing over 2.5 goals at 8/11 despite Tottenham's excellent recent defending; they have kept 10 Premier League clean sheets and not conceded for three hours and 10 minutes since the 3-1 win against Wigan in January.

However, when the top teams have met this season the goals have flowed. Incredibly, there have been 38 goals in the eight Premier League meetings between the top four teams so far- an average of 4.75-per-game. In contrast, there were only 23 goals in total in the 12 Premier League meetings between the top four teams last season.

Let's hope we get lots more goals on Super Sunday.

Cheltenham Festival Countdown

Last week there was some sensational racing that really whetted the appetite for the Cheltenham Festival, which is only 19 days away. The star of the show was Sprinter Sacre, who flew round Newbury like an aeroplane.

He'll be many punters' Festival banker now and is down to even money to win the Racing Post Arkle. People are bound to question whether he gets up the hill and plug the chances of Peddlers Cross et al in what looks a vintage renewal of the Arkle. However, Sprinter Sacre looks like a freak to me and banker material.

The race before the Arkle on day one is a wide open Supreme Novices Hurdle for which Sky Bet go 6/1 the field. I hope some of you took some of the 16/1 I recommended about Montbazon last week before he won smoothly at Newbury. He's down to 11/1 with Sky Bet now and could be a major player.

It was such a shame to see one of my horses to follow this season, Darlan, crash out when looking all over the winner in the big handicap hurdle. It was also horrible to watch AP McCoy, and his tender ribs, take such a horrific looking fall.

After all the pain he's been through recently I initially thought his season was over, so was amazed and relieved to see him get up and could not believe my eyes when I saw on Twitter that he'd ridden in the last race and then total disbelief that he'd actually won it. Typical McCoy. The man is made of concrete.

When I went to watch Arsenal with him recently the champ was as depressed about his football team as he was about his potential book of Cheltenham rides. However, things are starting to look brighter and it was great to see Binocular looking more like his old self at Wincanton on Saturday.

AP always says that you can tell what form Binocular is in by the way he hurdles. He looked to have all his old fizz and slickness back in his jumping as he scooted home and along with Zarkandar (11/2) has injected real life into the Champion Hurdle market, which was beginning to look like a one-horse race with Hurricane Fly.

I'm convinced Binocular will go off second favourite and the former champion looks a great each-way bet now at 7/1. What a spectacular day's racing the first one of the Festival is going to be.

Riverside Theatre was also an impressive winner over at Ascot and is down to 11/2 with Sky Bet to win the Ryanair. I don't fancy his chances though as he's a horse that is best caught fresh and lacks the all-important Cheltenham course form. Granted good ground Noble Prince remains my nap of the meeting in this contest.

The eye-catcher of the weekend was Bob's Worth in the Reynoldstown Chase. However, in a week where Paul Nicholls has excelled again keeping punters informed of his horses' well-being, why did Nicky Henderson wait until after the race to tell us that Bob's Worth had only had his first gallop since Boxing Day the previous weekend?

I did my money on the day but in the circumstances, Bob's Worth raced a cracking race to be staying on in second behind Invictus and looks tailor-made for the demands of the RSA.

He'll be much better going left-handed, has excellent course form but will need to brush up his jumping and has the small matter of Grands Crus in his path.

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