The FourFourTwo Preview: West Ham vs Arsenal
WEST HAM FORM
- Chelsea 2-0 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
- S'land 1-1 West Ham (Prem)
- West Ham 3-1 Swansea (Prem)
- West Ham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-1 QPR (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- Galatasaray 1-4 Arsenal (CL)
- Stoke 3-2 Arsenal (Prem)
One game from the halfway stage of the Premier League season, just one point separates these two sides – but there’s no doubt which will be the happier heading into 2015.
Fifth-placed West Ham have found variety and verve in their game, scoring plenty of goals while conceding a few too many for Sam Allardyce’s liking – both in the 2-0 Boxing Day defeat at Chelsea were “avoidable”, he said – and keeping the fans entertained. Sixth-placed Arsenal, meanwhile, are nine points worse off than they were at this stage last season, and despite managing to secure a few scrappy wins recently, plus the odd convincing one, they remain hamstrung by injuries and over-reliant on Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean has scored or assisted more than half of the Gunners’ goals this season – not bad for a signing new to the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger has even admitted that his side are mentally fragile at the moment; music to the ears of Allardyce, who, with Andy Carroll back fit and firing again, will have noted Martin Skrtel’s late uncontested headed equaliser at Anfield last weekend.
It’s also worth mentioning that after losing their first two home league games of the season, the Irons have made Upton Park something of a fortress (six wins from seven since, with one draw), while all but one of Arsenal’s four Premier League defeats this season have come on the road.
The Hammers will fancy their chances, then, and should be far more attacking than they were against Chelsea. Arsenal, who can at least take heart from two 3-1 wins in the games between the two last season, will be hoping their hosts are leggy after having just 35 per cent of possession at the Bridge. Just don’t bank on it, Arsene.
Olivier Giroud is suspended for three games after his headbutt on Nedum Onuoha and subsequent red card against QPR. He joins the injured Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta on the sidelines. Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey are also yet to return, although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may be fit to start after failing a late fitness test on Boxing Day. He, along with Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski, could come into the reckoning if Wenger decides to rotate – something he’s less inclined to do than most top-flight managers.
There are no such issues for the Hammers, whose only fitness concern, James Tomkins, could return after a hamstring problem.
Key battle: Andy Carroll vs Per Mertesacker
Yes, Allardyce has embraced ‘The West Ham Way’ this season, but you only have to look at Carroll’s graphic from the game against Leicester to see that Big Sam isn’t afraid to take the more direct approach when necessary. As well as scoring a goal, look at the number of headers Carroll, who has also proved he can play a bit of late, won inside the final third (green chevrons).
Compare that with Mertesacker against Stoke – another team known to be able to mix it a bit – who lost more than he won. In fact, the 6ft 6in German’s graphic suggests he had an otherwise tidy game at the Britannia Stadium, but the Potters’ three-goal first-half blitz told otherwise. Big Per has admitted struggling to find motivation since winning the World Cup in the summer. With his partner in crime Koscielny still missing for Sunday's visit to the Boleyn, he'd better find it. Fast.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 3-1 W Ham (PL, Apr 14)
- W Ham 1-3 Arsenal (PL, Dec 13)
- Arsenal 5-1 W Ham (PL, Jan 13)
- W Ham 1-3 Arsenal (PL, Oct 12)
- W Ham 0-3 Arsenal (PL, Jan 11)
Having praised Wenger in the past for changing British football’s approach to fitness and diet, Allardyce recently questioned a “change of culture” at Arsenal that has seen the Gunners retain their silk but lose the steel that was a hallmark of their early success under the Frenchman. Big Sam was something of a bogeyman to Arsenal during his Bolton days, when a robust approach was unsurprisingly criticised by Wenger. There’s a grudging respect between the two, then, but we’re guessing they didn’t go Christmas shopping together.
Facts and figures
- Arsenal have drawn 0 of their last 15 league London derbies away (W8 L7).
- Theo Walcott has scored 5 in his last 4 league games against the Hammers, while both Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud have scored 4 in 4 against them.
After a run of 7 Premier League home games without defeat as a coach against Arsene Wenger (W4 D3), Sam Allardyce has lost his last 3 home games against the Frenchman.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
The bookies can’t split them, and neither can we. 2-2.