Talking points,

Sparks fly as title race heats up

It’s Valentine’s Day and the title race is hotting up, Scottish fans are in dreamland and more big-race clues in this week’s instalment of talking points.

1. Arsenal stutter

It’s not quite squeaky bum time, but Arsenal are certainly feeling the heat. City’s loss to Tottenham last weekend let the Gunners off the hook following their defeat at Everton. But this weekend, Arsenal’s misstep at home against Brentford, was followed by an unerring victory from their title rivals.

The Sky Blues have experience in their favour, having won four of the last five Premier League titles, and will be confident they can get a result in North London.

However, they could be without their supercharged Norwegian Erling Haaland, who was withdrawn at halftime on Sunday with a thigh problem.

With all the talk around whether or not Haaland suits Guardiola’s style of play, could his absence actually boost City’s chances of getting a result in North London?

The gap between the teams now stands at three points with Wednesday’s clash at the Emirates a potentially pivotal moment in this season’s title race. Pass the popcorn.

Man City to beat Arsenal @ 7/5

2. Jonbon: shaken but not stirred

It was just after the sixth fence in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Chase at Warwick on Saturday when Jonbon, an easy winner on his previous two outings over fences, realised he was in a race.

As Calico stretched almost five lengths clear he traded as low as 1.34. Ultimately, the classy Jonbon managed to reassert control on the turn for home and settled the contest by five and a half lengths.

The market duly responded with the seven-year-old drifting from 5-4 to 7-4 for the Arkle. El Fabiolo, who finished second to Jonbon by a neck at Aintree last year, now leads the betting at 11-10.

Nicky Henderson, however, was determined to take the positives: He told ITV Racing: “I’m going to look on the bright side. He’s had such easy races, I think it took him by surprise when the other horse attacked him like that and he just shook his head. But he’s done nothing wrong, he’s not had a race since Aintree last year and it was his prep.”

Jonbon to win the Arkle @ 7/4

3. A new dawn

Despite the ongoing T20 world cup, the freshly founded Women’s Premier League is on everyone’s lips.

With teams allocated a budget of £1.2m to build their squads ahead of the new season there was much excitement about what the auctions would bring.

As the news filtered through that two key performers in the national side, Nat Sciver-Brunt and Sophie Ecclestone, had been sold for £320,000 and £180,000 respectively, it called to attention the sea change happening in women’s cricket.

According to Forbes, Viacom 18 will pay 9.51 billion Indian rupees ($116 million) for the media rights to the Women’s Premier League for the next five years. The value per-game working out at around $1 million.

These figures would have been barely conceivable a few years ago and speak to a sport that is on the brink of exploding.

4. Can Scotland do the unthinkable?

As the final whistle blew at Murrayfield and the Scottish fans broke into a heady rendition of Loch Lomond, the significance of the victory was not lost on anyone. They had done what seemed impossible and finally broken the second-game hoodoo.

While the first half was characterised by an attritional pragmatism, in the second half Scotland, spearheaded by the mercurial Finn Russell, emphatically took the contest away from the Welsh to back up their first-round win at Twickenham.

The ruthless exuberance on show has Scottish fans dreaming of a first ever Six Nations title and those two little words…Grand Slam.

Can they do it? Well, they have to go to Paris and win first. But, captain Jamie Ritchie underlined that they will fear no one. He told BBC Sport: “We have belief that if we play to our best, we can beat any team.”

Scotland to win the Six Nations @ 9/2

5. Who wants to finish in the top four?

With Liverpool and Chelsea badly struggling for form and sitting ten and twelve points off Newcastle in fourth, you could forgive the Magpies for dreaming of Champions League nights in front of the Gallowgate.

However, despite the dismal form of the teams below them, Newcastle have drawn five of their last six Premier League games. They have struggled to score goals, and their form without midfield talisman Bruno Guimares is a cause for concern. The question is, can they regain the momentum needed to grab that elusive top four spot.

Tottenham have been there and done that in the race for Champions League football. But just when it seemed that things were moving in the right direction, they followed up an eye catching 1-0 victory over City with a desperately poor performance in defeat at the King Power.

Brighton to finish in the top four @ 5-1

Please play responsibly