Sunday, 28 December 2014

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To West Ham Previewed

Less than 48 hours after narrowly beating QPR it's back to action for Arsenal with another London derby against West Ham. Of course West Ham had to play on Friday too when they kicked off five hours earlier than Arsenal and lost 2-0 away to Chelsea. Those five hours might not seem like a lot, but with so many games to play in such a short space of time they can make all the difference.

Ideally Arsene Wenger would have a full squad to choose from and could rotate his players to keep the team as fresh as possible. Unfortunately the chances of him doing so are slim with so many injuries as well as the suspension to Olivier Giroud. He will have to make some changes from the team which played more than the last half hour with 10 men against QPR, but his options are severely limited.

There is a possibility of both Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being available after their latest injuries, but it's only a small possibility. Hector Bellerin, Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, Calum Chambers, Theo Walcott and Francis Coquelin could all come into the team, but realistically only two or three of them at the most will do so. Tomas Rosicky was excellent in his first start of the season against QPR, but he didn't last the 90 minutes and it would be a big ask for him to start again.

Ideally Chamberlain will be able to play to replace Rosicky and Coquelin could play in midfield too, but I don't know if Coquelin is up to the task at this level. There was talk of Chambers eventually moving to a defensive midfield role at some time in the future, but it would be madness to throw him into that position in this game. I really don't know who will play alongside Mathieu Flamini, but whoever gets the job will hopefully be able to give Flamini some help with the defensive work to be done.

Unusually for Arsenal in recent weeks their problems aren't in finding defenders to play and the whole compliment will be available if Koscielny is passed fit. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the same defence as we saw against QPR, but Chambers might come in if any of them are the worse for wear. They will have to be at their best to withstand the threat West Ham pose from set pieces and they can expect a very tough afternoon.

With Giroud suspended for three games after his red card it's probably a straight choice between Campbell and Podolski to replace him. Podolski can be lethal in front of goal given the chance, but it looks like he could be on his way out of the club once the transfer window opens. Campbell has failed to impress in the few chances his has got this season, but his work rate might be better than that of Podolski which could well see him play. 

I doubt if Walcott will be risked from the start as it's almost a year since he last started a game. Ideally he will reintroduced gradually as a sub in games, but so far there has been no chance to do so as Arsenal have had their backs to the wall late on in the last two games. He'll get his chance when a game isn't so tight, but he might have to wait a bit for such a luxury.

Giroud's aerial ability will be badly missed at defensive set pieces with the threat West Ham pose and others will have to step up to fill the void. He is very important to the team when they are defending set pieces and I'm not sure if either Campbell or Podolski can match his efforts. Danny Welbeck may be called on to do his share of that work and he has the height required, but I don't know if he's that good in the air.

West Ham have played very well so far this season and they're one point above Arsenal in fifth place with the season just half way over. A top four finish is probably a bit too much to expect for them, but they can certainly dream of Europa League football. Their home form will be crucial if they want to continue their challenge and a home win over Arsenal would be a huge bonus for them.

For Arsenal it's a chance to beat one of the teams just above them before they go to another one on Thursday when they play Southampton. These two games might not be season defining with half of the season left to play, but two wins in them would be a massive boost for the team. Not only wild it put Arsenal in the all important fourth spot, but it would also leave them breathing down the necks of third placed United.

It's impossible to tell what you will get with Arsenal, but they are of course capable of winning both games even with all of the absentees. There's still loads of football to play this season, but there has to come a time where the team step up and finally show the consistency needed to challenge with the best. I'm hoping today is that day and it leads to a really strong finish to the season with the injured players gradually making their way back over the next few weeks. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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