The Longshot: Toon offer tough test for Arsenal

Both sides have lost just a single game in the league this season
The Longshot: Toon offer tough test for Arsenal

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe (right) on the touchline during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium last season. His side need to win if they want to maintain hopes of keeping pace with their high-flying opponents tonight.

WE have FA Cup action next weekend interrupting what is building nicely to what looks like could be another interesting race for the Premier League title.

But before that we have more midweek Premier League games to conclude what was a very busy cross-channel Christmas schedule.

Leaders Arsenal (11/10 to win for the first time since 2004) saw a couple of the chasing party slip up over the weekend and they now deservedly sit seven points clear of champs and slight favourites Man City (5/6).

They welcome third-placed Newcastle this evening having lost just once in the league so far this term (as have Newcastle).

They will likely be in the market for a striker in January, as the injury suffered by Gabriel Jesus at the World Cup could be costly as the season progresses.

Another Brazilian, midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, is at the heart of most of the positive play for Newcastle he will need to be at his best in North London tonight.

This time last year, the Magpies were sitting bottom of the standings, but Eddie Howe and Saudi money mean they can be confident of challenging for a Champions League spot.

They have 15 points from eight away games his season. They have also gone nearly three months since they last conceded a goal at home, showing how mean their defence can be. They slipped up with a stalemate against Leeds at St James’s Park on Saturday.

Arsenal’s top-four bid was stymied by defeat on Tyneside last season.

Having not yet faced second-placed City, a meeting with the Toon is their most difficult game so far this season

Mikel Arteta’s men have dealt with, and it’s screaming draw to me and 14/5 is a decent price.

The battle to avoid relegation from the top flight also looks to be one of the most competitive in years with only five points separating the bottom eight teams heading towards halfway in the season.

Tomorrow sees the bottom two meet, Southampton hosting Notts Forest.

The Saints have not had any real bounce yet since Ralph Hasenhuttl was shown the door after four years in charge.

Former Luton boss Nathan Jones was planted in the hot-seat and he has yet to have them playing with the verve that the Hatters had during his two times in charge there and he will not be given a whole pile of time to turn things around at St Mary’s.

Despite being at the foot of the table, Southampton are third favourites at 10/11 to avoid the drop.

Forest and Bournemouth are both priced at 1/2.

The latter face a tough trip to Old Trafford tonight with United looking like they can challenge for Champions League places too.

Since the restart,Ten Hag’s men have won three games in a row without conceding — a run that continued as Marcus Rashford came off the bench to score the winner against Wolves on New Year’s Eve.

Back-to-back 2-0 defeats for Bournemouth have left them on the brink of the drop zone. They are 10/1 to win tonight but a 4-1 win for United at is worth a speculative lob instead at 18/1.

Napoli on cusp of recreating Maradona glory days

SERIE A is back tomorrow after its extended break, waiting over a week longer than other leagues in Europe returned, even though Italy played no part in the recent World Cup AC Milan ended an 11-year wait to get their hands on the Scudetto in 2022 and their cross-town rivals and 2021 champions, Inter Milan went into this campaign as favourites.

But there is a new runaway leader in the race for the Scudetto.

Luciano Spalletti currently has Napoli looking unstoppable and he’ll be hoping the World Cup break hasn’t put any stop on their momentum when Serie A returns.

Napoli finished third last season, and have been runners-up four times in the past 10 years). They have only won Serie A twice (when inspired by one Diego Maradona) and are already eight points clear at the top of the table.

Still unbeaten, they have won an incredible 13 of their 15 Serie A games so far, only dropping points in draws against Fiorentina and Lecce.

But those draws came all the way back in August, with Napoli going on an 11-game winning streak since, including victories over Roma, Atalanta, AC Milan and Lazio.

Napoli’s closest rivals are defending champions Milan, who are currently second with 10 wins from their opening 15 games. As well as the defeat to Napoli, Milan also lost to Torino before the World Cup break and drew with Cremonese, which saw them dragged into what is a close top-four battle.

The men from Naples face an Inter side at the San Siro tomorrow that trail them by 11 points.

The match will be broadcast on BT Sports 1 and the away side are 2/1 outsiders in the game, with the hosts 5/4.

Spalletti’s men are 4/9 to lift a third league title, 33 years after their previous win.

AC and Inter are 6/1 and 7/1 respectively, with the team that has won the most, Juventus, (on 36 titles, Inter come next on 19) 16/1 outsiders.

A Christmas encounter

THERE I was on Stephen’s Day when up he sidled next to me at the bar.

“I used to read your betting pieces back in the day.” 

“Oh yeah.” 

It always pays to be non-committal when there is sidling involved.

“The tips were bad enough. But I remember you used always do these stupid Christmas stories too.” 

“I’m glad you read them, at least.” 

“I noticed there was none last week.” 

He took the stool one down from me. I gave him the once over.

Green and white beanie, tired eyes and a big bushy white beard, a whiff of Bensons off him.

He took a sup and half his pint glass vanished into his fuzzy face.

“You haven’t remarked on the resemblance.”


“Most people on first meeting me say I look like Santy.” 

“And do you mind that?” 

“I do a bit.” 

“You remind me more of Buster Merryfield. But don’t you invite such comparisons with a beard like that?” 

“Uncle Albert was bald. I’ve got plenty of hair left under this hat. And why should everyone with a white beard get Santa jibes? I’ve had this beard a long time. I got old. It went white. Big swing.”

 “Fair enough. But you were the one who brought the resemblance.” 

“You remind me a bit of Rodney.” 

“I look nothing like him.” 

“Not in appearance, no. More like you’re a bit gormless.” 

“I’ll leave you be,” I said, thinking of a quiet corner with the crossword.



“Don’t you want your Christmas Wish?” 

“Will you ever feck off?” 

And just like that he disappeared in a puff of smoke.

- Get on Man Made of Smoke in the final race at Wolverhampton this evening at 7/4.

The Bet

IT’S always nice to have a big-priced accumulator on the year ahead.

Former Russian president and Putin puppet Dmitry Medvedev had a crack last week, forecasting: oil at $150 per barrel, Poland and Hungary seizing the western parts of Ukraine, Germany creating the Fourth Reich and the civil war in the US for 2023. He signed off: “Happy New Year Anglo-Saxon friends and their happily grunting pigs.” 

I can’t see any of that happening, but might be just as deluded suggesting this double: McIlroy for the Masters and Liverpool to shrug off domestic woes and win  the Champions League (both 9/1) at 99/1.

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