Middlesbrough v Arsenal
Monday 17 April, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports 1
It's almost certainly going to be two from Middlesbrough, Swansea, and Hull that will join Sunderland in being relegated at the end of the season, and although the Teessiders are huge favourites to be one of those clubs they did at least receive a tiny lifeline at the weekend when other results went their way.
Boro are six points from safety with two games in hand, which means that given their much better goal difference than the clubs around them, matters are actually in their own hand.
The problem however is that Steve Agnew's men haven't won a single league game since the middle of December, a run stretching 14 matches, and they haven't tasted victory all season against a club currently 15th or higher in the table. Given then that they still have to play the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Chelsea, their Relegation odds of 1.06 accurately reflect their chances of survival.
Agnew has been in charge for four games since the departure of Aitor Karanka and he has named different line-ups each time. Last week's team selection at home to Burnley - a back four, three naturally defensive midfielders, and both top scorer Alvaro Negredo and lightning fast Adama Traore left on the bench - left a lot to be desired.
Your guess is as good as mine as to how Boro will line-up against Arsenal.
Following a run of just two wins from their previous seven league games, a run that included four defeats including reversals to Watford and West Brom, Arsenal weren't exactly firing on all cylinders when they travelled to Crystal Palace last Monday night, but the 3-0 defeat they suffered at Selhurst Park was arguably the Gunners' worst performance of the season.
The defeat means that Arsene Wenger's men have taken just seven point from the last 24 available; only the bottom three clubs in the Premier League, plus West Ham and Burnley, have accumulated fewer points in the same period.
Away from home Arsenal haven't won a league game since early January and they will arrive at the Riverside Stadium on the back of four consecutive away league defeats, conceding exactly three goals in every one of those reversals. However, in their other away games to relegation-threatened Sunderland, Hull, and Swansea, Wenger's men won each time and scored exactly four goals in each of those three wins.
If I'm being 100% honest then I have to admit that this market is a real head-scratcher. Given Middlesbrough's current form, an Arsenal team at anywhere near close to their best would easily be the call at odds of 1.60.
But the Gunners are nowhere near their best, and their recent form is a huge worry, so much so that suddenly 1.60looks extremely miserly.
The problem is, it's impossible to make a case for Middlesbrough, even at 6.80. Remember, they haven't won a league game since mid-December, they are by far thelowest goalscorers in the division, and the only clubs they've defeated this term currently sit 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th in the table.
The draw may appeal to some at odds of 4.40, but at the back of my mind is that in my opinion Arsenal are stronger in every department, and even in their hugely disappointing loss to Palace last week they still enjoyed 72% possession and registered 11 shots at goal.
And remember, away to Sunderland, Swansea, and Hull this season, the other three clubs in the bottom four, the Gunners won each time and scored 12 goals in the process. I think Arsenal will win but I just don't like the price. Instead, we'll get the away victory on our side via some Sportsbook markets.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
If Middlesbrough are to have any chance of avoiding the drop then they simply have to take something from this game. If Arsenal are to get back into the race for a Top 4 Finish then they have to take all three points.
In each team's respective quest then, it's effectively a must-win game, so I think Over 2.5 Goals is correctly priced at1.78.
At some point this game has to open up, and it's easy to envisage chances being created at both ends. The Gunners will undoubtedly create more, and they'll probably take more.
Some will point to Boro's low-scoring-game tendencies, but it's worth pointing out that at home to other top six clubs like Tottenham, Liveprool, and Manchester United this season all those games witnessed at least three goals, while in the FA Cup Man City scored two at the Riverside, but should have scored six!
Under 2.5 Goals can be backed at 2.26, but it's not for me.
Given that it's the Easter holidays, it's appropriate that I'm putting all my eggs in one basket by combining much of what I've said already and backing the away win with at least three goals in the game being scored.
Middlesbrough are so poor at the moment that I just can't see them replicating what Crystal Palace did to Arsenal last week, and I fear a bit of a Gunners backlash for the home faithful.
Boro have lost at home by at least two clear goals to the likes of Liverpool, Man City, and United this term, while Spurs also won at the Riverside by scoring twice, so despite their decent defensive record Agnew's men aren't exactly watertight against the big boys.
Arsenal have been poor of late admittedly, but away from home against the bottom sides they've won 4-0 a Swansea, 5-1 at West Ham, 4-1 at both Sunderland and Hull, 3-1 at Watford, and they also scored three at Bournemouth.
I'll be backing a similar outcome at the Riverside on Monday night, an away win with room to spare being my wagers of choice.
Recommended Bets (all Sportsbook)
Back Arsenal Win/Over 2.5 Goals @ 5/4
Back Arsenal -1 @ 8/5
Back Arsenal -2 @ 4/1
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