Upton Park, London
December 26, 2013; 15:00 GMT
Arsenal FC travel to Upton Park on Boxing Day to regain some much needed momentum in their title quest after having seen their 5 point lead at the top of the table disappear within 2 games. West Ham meanwhile will be hoping to end the year on a high and keep their heads above the relegation waters with a busy period coming up. This provides a perfect opportunity for the Gunners to go top as Liverpool travel to the Etihad later in the day.
Arsenal’s dip in form has shown on the point table, with a mere 2 points out of 9 from their last 3 games, the Red and Whites find themselves in the middle of a mini-crisis and any bad result here on could lead to a full blown one. West Ham float on the same boat as Sam Allardyce’s men just can’t buy a win in the league but they would know that if there is any best time to face Arsenal it is now. The game is unlikely to be an end to end affair as one would expect West Ham to be pragmatic and absorb the Arsenal pressure and counter-punch when possible. The 2 sides occupy opposite ends of the league table and have completely different ambitions for the season but what both need is a positive result from this one. While a draw will be welcome by the home side, Arsene Wenger can’t afford to drop any points in this one.
Boxing Day is festive period and both teams have a strong Boxing Day record in recent times. In fact Arsenal’s unbeaten run on Boxing Day runs back 18 seasons, West Ham have won their last 3. The head to head is extremely skewed in Arsenal’s favour in recent seasons but Arsene Wenger would know that he can hardly take this lightly.
Team News and Tactical Brief
West Ham United
Kevin Nolan is back from suspension and should be back in the side straight away. Winston Reid, Vaz Te and Andy Carroll continue to recover from their injuries The most interesting news bite is that of James Tomkins who was arrested for assault and it would be intriguing to see whether Sam Allardyce picks his centre back or not. West Ham are already injury striken in the defence department and the West Ham boss probably would be left with no choice eventually.
Sam Allardyce would have watched Arsenal’s Monday night game and studied how Chelsea approached the game and there is a good chance, he would do the same. The Hammers would crowd the midfield with Noble, Nolan and Diame with Jarvis and Morrison helping out and looking for the first opportunity to break. The back 4 picks itself up while Adrian will continue to keep Jussi on the bench.
Sam Allardyce has prioritized his matches efficiently thus far and it’s understandable if he decides to settle for a draw and play on the counter. Big Sam has a history with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger with his extremely physical Bolton side often hurting the Gunners both physically and in terms of league points. The approach shall remain the same, choke the midfield, press Arteta and hope for a quick break. The defence will have to be cautious and ready for anything Arsenal throw at them and will need good protection from Diame and Noble. How much the duo can cutoff Arsenal’s midfield will decide the fate of this game.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Adrian; Demel, Collins, Tomkins, Mccartney; Noble, Nolan, Diame Morrison, Jarvis; Cole
While form has desserted the Gunners, the injury front has been much kinder with players returning from injury and no fresh injury concerns to handicap Arsene Wenger in a busy festive period. Lukas Podolski was an unused sub against Chelsea but will be looking to have a much greater role to play at Upton Park. Chamberlain continues his recovery while Jack Wilshere remains suspended for this game. Koscielny is the only major worry for Arsenal but his absence would’t be as worrying as initially thought after Vermaelen deputized capably on Monday night. However the French defender has a chance to make it and will probably again undergo a late fitness test before the game.
The tactics will be no different from those that Arsene Wenger has used this season, with a focus on playing with a higher tempo. The movement was sluggish against Chelsea and that needs to be rectified and the rectifications will probably see a change in personnel with Santi Cazorla back in the mix providing some much-needed rest for German international Mesut Ozil. Aaron Ramsey could also feel the effects of a tiring season and with niggling injuries troubling him just a week back, there is a good chance Wenger might wrap him in fur on the bench. Mikel Arteta looked in desperate need of protection against Chelsea and Mathieu Flamini will provide just that allowing the attacking players to operate with more freedom and lesser defensive responsibilities. The backline picks itself up and it’s likely that Wenger might not risk Koscielny and the club captain Thomas Vermaelen will continue to partner Mertesacker at the back. Sagna and Gibbs pick themselves automatically but the question mark lies on who Wenger plays up front. Walcott and Cazorla will start but will Podolski get a shoo in? There is a good chance considering the German has been fit for almost a fortnight now and it probably is the right time to unleash him with Giroud playing upfront. The magic 4 of last season, who each hit double figures could be starting together for the first time this season since the Fulham game.
The ploy will be to keep the ball and move it around as quickly as possible with help of the fullbacks. Gibbs will be very important against the at times unsure Demel and with Podolski they can double up on the right defender. There is a chance that West Ham would look to maintain their shape and disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm so the onus will be on Arsene Wenger’s men to attack. Defensively Flamini would be hoping to keep on check on Diame who scored in this fixture last year and could easily overpower and outmuscle the Gunners’ midfield. Most importantly it would be Walcott who would be Arsenal’s biggest attacking threat against a defence that is relatively slow, his direct runs behind could be a problem.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Flamini, Arteta; Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
- Arsenal have won all 6 of their last 6 clashes against West Ham.
- Theo Walcott has netted in each of the last 3 meetings vs West Ham.
- West Ham have one of the worst chance conversion rates in the league with 9% while Arsenal have a division high 20%
- West Ham have committed the 2nd highest number of fouls(26) behind Aston Villa.
Statistics courtesy Whoscored.com.
Player To Watch Out For
Lucas Podolski (Arsenal)
The German forward is back and will be looking to be involved against WEst Ham in a fixture whic saw the Cologne man’s best performance in the red and white till date. Podolski has been training well and despite the lack of first team action and match practice could earn a starting spot on Thursday. With Giroud starting to show fatigue and Arsene Wenger looking forward to the January window to add a forward, time is ripe for Poldi to audition for the striker role. Even if Lucas starts on the bench there is a good chance he could get a late cameo. Either way he surely is the player most Arsenal fans are desperately waiting for to be back in action and hence our player to watch out for.
West Ham 0-2 Arsenal
Arsenal are starting to feel the heat and there will be a lot of nerves going into this game, especially if they fail to score early. Sam Allardyce knows how to get under the skin of Arsenal teams and he will not make it any easy for the Gunners. Quality wise there is no doubt, irrespective of what team Arsene Wenger puts out, Arsenal will go into the game as favourites but the run of form is a worry. Unless the visitors start the game strongly, this game could get very tricky for them but anything less than a victory in this one will be giving too much ground in the title challenge and hence one would imagine the North Londoners will do enough to get the 3 points.