|By PAUL GOUGH
It's hard to have a season-defining game in the first month of a nine-month season but the clash between fallen English Premier League giants Liverpool and Arsenal on Sunday is shaping as exactly that with the loser likely to come under tremendous early season pressure.
The once dominant clubs have been overtaken by Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea as the power clubs of the competition and now even threaten to fall further behind the likes of Tottenham, Newcastle and Everton with neither far from certain of the top-four finish they used to take for granted this season, thus guaranteeing Champions League football.
The season might be just two games old but already the table is not shaping up as pretty reading with the Gunners in 12th spot, following two 0-0 draws to start the campaign, while Liverpool are in 16th spot after copping a 3-0 hiding from West Brom on the opening day before restoring lost pride with a 2-2 draw at Anfield against reigning champions Manchester City last week.
And on the strength of that performance, online bookmakers Luxbet have Liverpool as the $2.02 favourites to win at home on Sunday with the Gunners at $3.60 and the draw at $3.30.
But after watching Liverpool struggle to a 2-1 aggregate win over Scottish Premier League battlers Hearts in the Europa League midweek, it's hard to tip the Reds with any confidence just as it is equally hard to tip Arsenal, who are clearly finding life without recently departed superstar striker Robin Van Persie difficult to adjust to.
However, the Gunners have won two and drawn one of their past three visits to Anfield and are surely better value than the Reds - particularly if new strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud can start finding the back of the net.
But the draw at $3.30 does look the safest option, while if you fancy the Gunners to be involved in a third successive 0-0 draw you can get odds of $9.75 at Luxbet on this game ending in a scoreless stalemate while a 1-1 draw is attractively priced at $6.25.
|Newcastle to lead at both half- and full-time v Aston Villa at $2.40 at Luxbet
||Liverpool and Arsenal to draw 1-1 at $6.25 at Luxbet|
Meanwhile in the other two EPL games on Sunday, Newcastle and Manchester United are both at short odds but should win against Aston Villa and Southampton respectively.
Villa have been awful in the league so far under new manager Paul Lambert - losing both games to West Ham and Everton - although they did show some improvement with a 3-0 win over lower division Tranmere in the League Cup in midweek.
However, Newcastle are one of the most improved teams in Britain since Alan Pardew took over and can be forgiven for their 2-0 loss to early season league leaders Chelsea last week and they did reach the group stages of the Europa League in midweek.
The Geordies are deserved $1.60 favourites at Luxbet with the draw at $3.70 and Villa at $5.50 while Newcastle look a good bet to lead at both half-time and full-time at $2.40, and they are at the juicy odds of $7.25 on Luxbet's correct score market to win 2-0.
United, who are without Wayne Rooney for up to a month following the gashed leg he sustained in last week's 3-2 win over Fulham, are even shorter at $1.52 at Luxbet to beat newly promoted Southampton away.
The Saints, who have lost both games since being promoted including a 2-0 home loss to perennial battlers Wigan last week, are already shaping up as relegation contenders and even at $5.75 offer little betting attraction while neither does the draw at $4.10.
However, United have conceded three goals in two games so far and could concede again here so when it comes to correct score betting on this game, why not have a saver on United to win 3-1 at the appealing odds of $11 at Luxbet.