Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion

Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion  With the title challenge almost certainly over with now, Arsenal come into this one knowing they need to keep winning just to keep pace with Manchester City in the hope they make a rare mistake or two. A home game against a Brighton and Hove Albion team who just got thrashed 5-1 is a hard game, though, with the Seagulls looking to make up for what was probably the worst loss of their season.

Arsenal News

Arsenal are missing a few important players, with the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko and William Saliba almost certain to miss out here. Outside of that, long-term absentees Takehiro Tomiyasu and Mohamed Elneny will both have to sit this one out. Zinchenko is unlikely to make it back this season, so expect Kieran Tierney to get a chance to re-establish himself.

Brighton & Hove Albion News

Brighton are missing a few themselves, with Joel Veltman, Tariq Lamptey, and Adam Lallana all guaranteed to miss out. Solly March is a doubt, which would be a shame as he has been one of the Seagulls best players this season. Outside of this, though, Brighton are relatively healthy – if somewhat bruised after the 5-1 defeat to Everton.

Verdict

Arsenal to win, but only just. They are running on fumes, and the only saving grace is that with the loss to Everton Brighton have probably missed out on their UEFA Champions League dream. If Arsenal do pull this off, it will not be by much – Brighton rarely drop consecutive poor games.

Score Prediction: 2-1

Manchester City v Leeds United

Manchester City v Leeds United  If you could pick a game to have as your first in a new job, away to Manchester City would be pretty far down the list. Sam Allardyce steps into the fire as Leeds United job, managing the biggest club he has ever been involved with. Can Big Sam find something in his favour in this crucial first match?

Manchester City News

Expect City to line up in their now-common 3-4-1-2 formation. They are only missing Kevin de Bruyne for this one. Despite his qualities, they have enough depth and cover to be able to comfortably handle the loss of their talismanic playmaker.

Given they play Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League semi finals next week, he likely would not have been risked for this one anyway.

Leeds United News

Leeds have a bit more work to do on the injury front. Tyler Adams is almost certain to miss out, as is Luis Sinisterra after he was injured at the wrong time. Leeds are also without Marcelo Bielsa era stalwarts in Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas. Dallas has missed the whole season and is not likely to return until next year.

Verdict

Really, the best that Leeds can hope for is that self-proclaimed Leeds fan Erling Haaland decides to show mercy on his boyhood team. The Whites have little to no hope of getting anything from a team that looks almost certain to go and win at least the league title – though has its eyes set on a treble. Home win.

Score Prediction: 3-0

Argentina v Saudi Arabia

Argentina v Saudi Arabia  As a game that immediately screams ‘Lionel Messi for top scorer’, Argentina playing Saudi Arabia on opening match of a FIFA World Cup throws up some great opportunities. This game is going to come with some very intriguing match-ups, but the simple fact is that for all of the results Saudi get in the Asian conference they very rarely bring that with them to the biggest stage.

They have only made the knockouts once, and are typically the lowest ranked team in any of the groups they are drawn in. The 2022 FIFA World Cup is no different and they will do very well to take anything from a group involving Poland and Mexico as well as the pre-tournament favourites.

Who will win this tie?

Argentina, easily. They have a hugely motivated Lionel Messi playing in probably his final FIFA World Cup, as well as a host of players who have bedded into a solid unit. Under Lionel Scaloni they have been solid and consistent, and even won the Copa America – their first trophy since the early 1990s – in Brazil, beating the Selecao in the Final itself.

They come here in hot form, having made a huge impression including a beating of Italy in the ‘Finalissimo’ game that matched them up with the European champions. Argentina are nifty, aggressive, crafty, and technically sound. In short, they bring everything to the table that Saudi usually struggle to deal with.

This should be a healthy opening win for Argentina, setting up a run.

VERDICT: 4-1

Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle

Tolworth Novices' Hurdle  The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 hurdle race run over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 216 yards at Sandown Park in January. The race is restricted to horses, aged four years and upwards, who start the season without a win over hurdles. The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle takes its name from Tolworth, Kingston upon Thames, which straddles the Kingston bypass, southeast of Surbiton and less than 19 minutes’ drive from Sandown Park.

The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle was established in 1976, but was not promoted to Grade 1 status until 1991. Since then, Nicky Henderson has saddled seven winners – namely New York Rainbow (1992), Minella Class (2011), Captain Conan (2012), Royal Boy (2014), L’Ami Serge (2015) and Constitution Hill (2022) – and is the leading trainer in the history of the race.

The hitherto unbeaten Constitution Hill, who won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival by 22 lengths, smashing the course record despite being eased down, could easily prove the best horse ever to win the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle. Prior to 2022, that distinction belonged to Desert Orchid who, as a five-year-old, in 1984, justified by odds-on favouritism with a convincing 8-length from Ihaventalight. ‘Dessie’ was subsequently sent off 7/1 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle famously won by Dawn Run but, having matched strides with the illustrious racemare for much of the way, started to struggle approaching the third-last flight and faded out of contention.

The 2023 renewal of the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, scheduled for Saturday, January 7, is unlikely to feature anything as formidable as Constitution Hill, but the race has proved ‘punter-friendly’ in recent years. Look out for strongly-fancied horses, aged five or six, who have won at least once over hurdles, preferably last time out, and have raced within the last four weeks.