Two previous Premier League champions, with different but immediate problems meet at lunchtime on Saturday in a massively important game for both the sides that are involved; it has to be Arsenal vs. Blackburn Rovers.
There was a time when Arsenal were considered challengers in this year's title race, but a shaky start, followed by inconsistent form and most recently a goalless draw at Bolton means that the London side are ruled out of the title race, they are currently 500/1 to lift the Premier League trophy this year. Currently sitting seventh in the league, Arsenal are 3/1 to record a top four finish and even 1/6 in the soccer odds to record a top six finish.
The sportsbooks really seem to have it in for Arsenal as they have the Gunners ending the season as the top London club at 10/1, behind both Chelsea and Spurs.
Rough at the bottom
Blackburn by comparison seem entrenched in the relegation zone. After their midweek defeat to Newcastle United on Wednesday night, Rovers find themselves third bottom of the table, just two points away from safety, but three points away from rock bottom Wigan. Blackburn are 4/7 to go down and 7/2 to end the season flat bottom of the league.
Who’d be a manager?
Both teams’ managers are under fire, with the Blackburn fans being considerably more vocal in their chants of “Kean out!” while Arsene Wenger, who for so long seemed to be one of the Premier League’s “untouchable” gaffers, finds his decisions being questioned and a great deal of disheartening rumbles coming from certain corners of Arsenal's fan base.
Steve Keane is second favourite (behind Mick McCarthy) at 9/2 to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post and Arsene Wenger is 20/1. Le Professor is hardly the bookies’ favourite, but it might be worth a cheeky bet as around the Emirates something has gotta give. A bad result against Blackburn will only shorten those odds, so if you fancy Wenger for the sack race bet now.
Failure is not an option for anyone
I'm tempted to say neither side (or manager) can afford to lose this game, what's more Arsenal can't afford to draw this game either. The Gunners have pretty much waved goodbye to any title aspirations this year and are playing for just a respectable position in the league. While Blackburn are playing simply for survival and Steve Kean is taking his managerial career one game at a time.
What a difference a win would make
Three points would do wonders for both teams, as Blackburn could theoretically overtake both Bolton and Queens Park Rangers as Blackburn’s match is at 1PM kick-off on Saturday, ahead of both QPR and Bolton, who kick-off at three.
Arsenal would also overtake both Liverpool and Newcastle, who are just one and two points ahead of them respectively, although a draw would keep them in seventh (due to Liverpool’s superior goal difference).
Blackburn have managed 26 games without keeping a clean sheet and gone 30 games without recording a goalless draw, something that the bookies aren’t expecting against Arsenal either as 0-0 is at 18/1. With just one point from their last four games a generous defence might be just what Arsenal need and Arsene Wenger admits his players must treat every match "like a cup final," if they want to hold onto their Big Four status. Arsenal winning this “Cup Final” is at 3/10, and you should remember that the lowest Arsenal have ever ended a campaign under Wenger is fourth.
Steve Kean would be pulling his hair out (if he had any) after barracking Newcastle United to no avail, "We've had enough chances to win three games,” he said on Wednesday night. Blackburn may well feel aggrieved that they did not salvage at least a point against Newcastle as they had 23 shots (12 on target) compared to Newcastle's nine, five of which were on target.
There is two pieces of good news the Blackburn fans and Steve Kean. Firstly the last time these clubs met Blackburn ran out 4-3 winners in the FA Cup last September, and the last time this fixture was played in the Premier League (last April) Blackburn held Arsenal to a goalless draw.
I think Blackburn will score against Arsenal as Arsenal have conceded goals in three of their last five games and Blackburn have scored in four of their last five. However, I do think Arsenal will score more than Blackburn so I'm going to be backing a home victory and spreading my correct score bets around, on 2-1 at 7/1, 3-1 at 10/1 and 3-2 at 22/1.
At the risk of sounding contrary I'm also going to make a “left pocket change” bet on Blackburn getting something from this game, as it's symptomatic of this season that the unpredictable happens, who can forget Blackburn's victory over Manchester United or indeed Arsenal's defeat to Swansea. Any Blackburn victory is at 9/1. A draw (which would be celebrated like a victory for Rovers and bemoaned like a defeat by Arsenal) is at 9/2.
Prediction: An unpretty encounter and a 2-1 Arsenal victory.