West Ham United host Arsenal in a game the Gunners need to win in order to re-establish their credentials as title challengers. Arsene Wenger's team enjoyed a seemingly comfortable 3-1 win over Greek side Olympiacos in the Champions League in midweek, but the 1-2 defeat against Chelsea in their last league game will certainly weigh on their minds.
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Live coverage will begin from 4.30pm BST on ESPN and ESPN HD. Registered Arsenal.com members can follow the game via Arsenal Player on the club's official website.
Arsenal need to beat West Ham. It really is as simple as that, because if they do not, the Gunners risk falling as much as 10 points behind early leaders Chelsea (assuming the Blues beat Norwich City at home). And while 10 points is not an insurmountable lead, given the Gunners' history and the depth of competition in the Premier League, it would be almost impossible for Arsene Wenger to even consider a title bid.
Wenger takes his side to Upton Park after a 3-1 defeat of Olympiacos that should have restored a good deal of the buzz Chelsea killed in the league, but the 63-year-old Frenchman will know he still has a lot of work to do to get his side across the finishing line successfully. To begin with, the Gunners' defence, which earned rave reviews in the opening few games, is now starting to come under pressure. Assistant Steve Bould, promoted from the youth teams after Pat Rice's retirement, was credited with strengthening the club's back line and defensive resolve but the team has now conceded three goals in two games and has not kept a clean sheet since the 2-0 win at Liverpool in early September. Prior to that game, the club kept three consecutive clean sheets.
The other concern Wenger will have, even if he does not admit it, is the lack of goals from new signing Olivier Giroud. The 25-year-old Frenchman was bought to replace Dutch striker Robin van Persie, who scored 30 league goals last season before transferring to Manchester United. Giroud, so far, has scored just once - in a Capital One Cup game against Coventry City.
The former Montpellier star has admitted he is under pressure to score but refuses to allow that pressure to get to him and Wenger has come out in support of his player. Support is one thing... goals are another. The fact fellow new signings Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski are already among the goals will weigh on Giroud's mind.
West Ham United, meanwhile, have had a brilliant start to life back in the Premier League. Sam Allardyce's experience and some gutsy performances have earned 11 points from the opening six games... of which the Hammers have won half. Yes... there have been heavy defeats. The 0-3 loss to Swansea City and the 1-4 disaster to Wigan Athletic, at home, are indications the side is still adapting to the Premier League and the standard of football but if they can continue to pick up crucial wins (1-0 v Villa, 3-0 v Fulham and 1-2 v QPR) and supplement that with hard-fought draws, they have an excellent chance of survival.
However, this will be the Hammers' first real test of the season and the result could be a strong indication of the team's realistic expectations for the year.
- Last Five (most recent first): W L D D W
- Last Result: QPR 1 - 2 West Ham
- Last Five (most recent first): W L W D W
- Last Result: Arsenal 3 - 1 Olympiacos
Allardyce will be keen to field on-loan England international Andy Carroll against an Arsenal defence notoriously uncomfortable with long balls into the box. The presence of Belgian and France internationals Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny has improved Arsenal's defence against aerial attack, but the added physicality Carroll brings to the game could make the battle interesting.
Unfortunately, Carroll, on loan from Liverpool, is still recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in the win over QPR and may not feature in this game. He is expected to face a late fitness test but unless the results are completely positive, it is unlikely Allardyce will risk his star so early in the season. In that case, Carroll may have to make do with a place on the bench. In addition to Carroll, Allardyce is also likely to be without defender Joey O'Brien and is certainly without midfielders Jack Collison and Alou Diarra. The good news is that defender Winston Reid will probably be fit.
Probable Line-Up: Jaaskelainen; Demel, Reid, Collins, McCartney; Noble, Diame, Nolan; Vaz Te, Taylor, Cole (if Carroll doesn't play)
Meanwhile, the Gunners will probably field a largely similar side to the one that beat Greek club Olympiacos. There could be a change in the back line, though, particularly if Carroll does play, with German international Per Mertesacker (pending a late fitness test) coming in for Koscielny. The club is still without a number of key players, including first choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, midfielders Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Tomas Rosicky and defender Bacary Sagna. The latter and Frimpong are both expected to make a return to the first team soon, as is Wilshere, who played for an hour with the club's U21 team as part of his rehabilitation from a 14-month lay-off. Up front, Giroud is likely to get the nod to start, as Wenger continues to try and coax goals out of his star signing.
In midfield, the absence of Diaby has already been felt, with Wenger admitting the Frenchman brings a unique dimension to Arsenal's game. However, youngster Francis Coquelin, who played midweek against Olympiacos, looked comfortable enough in the role and will likely retain his place. In case he doesn't, expect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get a run-out. Spain international Mikel Arteta is a definite bet for the second midfield spot. In the attacking positions, Cazorla and Podolski have become permanent fixtures following their transfers in and link up well. The right flank will probably be retained by Welshman Aaron Ramsey, for this game, after his fine performance in midweek. Theo Walcott has recovered from flu but given the ongoing contract situation concerning the England international and his demands he be played as a striker, he is unlikely to feature unless required.
Probable Line-Up: Mannnone; Jenkinson, Mertesacker (if fit, otherwise Koscielny), Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Coquelin; Ramsey, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
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