Chelsea midfielder Ramires makes a challenge on Arsenal's Mikel Arteta in their English Premier League game, December 21. Reuters
The last three games in the English Premier League have not quite gone according to plan for Arsenal. Two draws and a loss, a heavy one at that, against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City have seen Arsenal drop from a catch-us-if-you-can spot to we-are-still-in-the-mix position.
Having played on Monday night, Arsenal, second behind leaders Liverpool on goal difference, now face three Premier League fixtures in the space of six days, fixtures from which if they do not come away with the maximum nine points, they would be disappointed.
The first of the festive games is at West Ham, struggling for goals and only just about staying away from the relegation zone, for now.
Arsene Wenger will, no doubt, look at the previous three games as seven points dropped, even if it was against three of the top five sides in the Premier League.
Finding that winning groove is essential in the league, and Wenger will hope his side get back to three-points-and-nothing-less ways on Boxing Day against West Ham, a side that has rather enjoyed playing against North London clubs so far this season, having beaten Arsenal's rivals Tottenham twice already - once in the Capital One Cup and once in the Premier League.
"It's a local derby on Boxing Day, and we know that West Ham have made surprising results," Wenger said. "They have won twice at Tottenham this season now and can be a tough opponent.
"I think everybody takes West Ham seriously and expects great resistance from them. Last year we did well against them -- we have to be inspired by that, go there and play our game again. But they have good players, always a good crowd and it's a derby so they are always up for it."
Arsenal's 0-0 draw against Chelsea was attritional Premier League football, with the Blues holding tight in defence and not allowing Wenger's playmakers to find those little spaces in behind.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce is not exactly known for his attacking style, and the former Bolton boss, who has won many a battle with Wenger and Arsenal in the past, admitted he could go with a similar strategy of defence-first adopted by Chelsea on Monday.
West Ham defender Guy Demel challenges Manchester United's Alex Buttner in their English Premier League game, December 21. Reuters
"Arsenal sneaked one shot on target in the whole 90 minutes it shows you how well Chelsea defended. "It's something that we could do with doing against them on Boxing Day, locking them out like Chelsea did and see what we can get from there," Allardyce said, while adding he would ensure West Ham do not make the same mistakes from last season, when Arsenal did the double.
"We got tumbled over twice last year, not so much at home because it only happened in the second half when they hit us on the break twice. They gave us a second half hiding at the Emirates.
"We'll give it our best shot and make sure we protect ourselves against Arsenal's abilities like we saw Chelsea do the other night and then try and exploit some of the weaknesses that aren't as apparent as they used to be. There's a lot of work now which has gone on quietly about how well they defend and that's why they're near the top of the league."
Team news: West Ham: Kevin Nolan returns from suspension, while Allardyce confirmed he would select James Tomkins, despite the defender getting arrested at a night club earlier this week.
Andy Carroll, Steward Downing, Ricardo Vaz Te and Winston Reid all remain sidelined.
Arsenal: Lukas Podolski was an unused substitute against Chelsea, and Wenger might think about giving the German international a run-out at some point. The Arsenal manager admitted he would make some changes to his side, considering the amount of fixtures coming up and the energy-sapping nature of the Chelsea match.
"Podolski has not played at all since the second game of the season and he lacks a bit competitiveness," Wenger said. "Of course I can only find it if I play him but he's been in training for just two weeks now. I have to make that decision when I use him or not.
"But we need to rotate a little bit because we play so many games now and we put in a lot of effort against Chelsea."
Jack Wilshere serves the second of his two-match suspension, while Laurent Koscielny remains a doubt. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still out, but could return for the FA Cup tie against Tottenham, with Yaya Sanogo and Abou Diaby out longer term.
Key men: West Ham: Nolan's return from suspension will be a big boost for Allardyce and the midfielder, with an eye for a goal, will look to trouble Wojciech Szczesny as much as possible.
Arsenal: Theo Walcott scored a couple of goals at Manchester City in a losing cause and was unlucky not to win a penalty against Chelsea. The speedy forward will relish playing against West Ham and will no doubt target a goal and/or an assist come the end of the 90 minutes.
Expected lineups: West Ham: Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Tomkins, McCartney; Noble, Diame; Morrison, Nolan, Jarvis; Maiga.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Flamini, Arteta; Walcott, Rosicky, Cazorla; Bendtner.
Prediction: 2-0 to Arsenal
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