Arsenal welcome West Ham to North London for the rescheduled Boxing Day clash still searching for their first league victory of 2013.
This represents Arsenal’s game in hand and a chance to close the gap to 4th place to 4 points. Anything less than a win could have serious consequences for Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger acknowledged that West Ham would provide Arsenal with a stern test this evening, but wants his charges to focus on their own game.
‘West Ham are a team that have potential and can be dangerous. But I must tell you that at the moment my focus is more on how we want to play because we play at home, we want to dictate with the way we play, so that is vital. Of course they are a strong team physically with a good technical level as well, so it`s important that we defend well against their strengths and impose their game.”
Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce thinks Arsenal are paying the price for a lack of sangfroid in front of goal since the departure of Robin van Persie.
‘When you sell your best players, which is not normally expected of Arsenal, then it is always difficult to replace them,’ Allardyce said.
‘There is no doubt that the players that have come in are very, very good players, but are they better than the ones they have sold?
‘You are selling players for nearly £30million. It is a big ask, even for Arsene Wenger with his huge recruitment policy, to replace those players immediately.
‘I think that is why they have suffered somewhat with the level of results they get. The football is still very, very good, but when you lose that many goals [it is hard].
‘They have suffered particularly with the loss of Van Persie. They are missing more chances than they were before, hence they are not quite getting as many results.’
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal are without Francis Coquelin, who damaged a hamstring in the defeat to Chelsea on Sunday. He joins fellow midfielders Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky (both calf) on the sidelines.
However, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain should return from illness. Lukasz Fabianski (ankle) and Gervinho (international duty) miss out.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Mannone; Sagna, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, A.Santos, Diaby, Frimpong, Ramsey, Wilshere, S.Cazorla, Chamberlain, Podolski, Arshavin, Walcott, Giroud.
Player to watch: Whoever plays in defensive midfield!
With Arteta and Coquelin out and Diaby having already played 3 games in 8 days, Arsenal might have to find a creative solution to the defensive midfield problem.
Wenger has Emmanuel Frimpong in waiting and he admitted in his press conference that he may use a defender there. Whoever it is charged with screening the back four will have a job on their hands. Kevin Nolan is West Ham’s top scorer after all.
West Ham United Team News:
Andy Carooll and James McCartney (both knee) miss the trip to North London, as will James Collins (hamstring).
Marouane Chamakh is inellegible against his parent club. Modibo Maiga is at the African Nations. Wellington Paulista could be in line for his debut.
West Ham United (from): Jaaskelainen, Henderson, Demel, Reid, Tomkins, Spence, Potts, O’Brien, Noble, Nolan, Diame, Diarra, Collison, O’Neil, Taylor, Jarvis, J.Cole, Vaz Te, Wellington, C.Cole, Maguire.
Player to watch: Kevin Nolan
Playing off of a target man- be it Cole, Chamakh or Carroll, Nolan is a constant danger in the penalty area. As you’d expect from an Allardyce side, West Ham are adept with set pieces and aerial balls.
It’s here Nolan so often makes hay whilst defenders are more concerned with target man. Add in the delivery of Joe Cole and Jarvis and there are plenty of supply lines for the Irons’ skipper.
Match Facts & Stats
Arsenal have won eight and lost none of the last 10 matches in all competitions against West Ham.
The Hammers have failed to score in seven of the last nine Premier League games against the Gunners.
West Ham were the last visiting team to win a Premier League game at Highbury and the first to win at the Emirates.
Guy Demel had a short spell at Arsenal as a teenager.
Sam Allardyce has led a team to eight Premier League games away to Arsenal, and although he has never won (W0 D3 L5), his teams have only failed to score in one of those eight visits.
Andre Marriner officiates tonight’s game.
I fancy Arsenal will squeeze a nervy 2-1 win tonight. Nolan will score for West Ham, Giroud and Podolski to score for the Gunners.
Arsenal are away at Brighton and Hove Albion in the F.A. Cup on Saturday. West Ham are away at Fulham next Wednesday night.