West Ham United vs Arsenal

This week, we are up against MFI self assembly furniture instruction manual of the Premier League (ie you'll recognise something from your country no matter which part of the world you come from, unless of course, you're English). We welcome the richest club in Britain and the current Premier League leaders, Arsenal, who arrive for a 3pm, Saturday afternoon, London derby.

They come to us in excellent form, undefeated in all competitions and having recently kicked into a different gear. A slow league start saw them labour to defeat Fulham at home and draw with Blackburn away, the leitmotif of those games being Jens Lehmann clangers that saw him replaced by Manuel Alumnia. The last three wins have been a 3-1 at home to Portsmouth, the same score away to T*tenham and last week they thrashed a hapless Derby side by five goals to no reply.

“Cesc Fabregas is scoring the same goal from outside the box in every game. Whether it’s me, Eduardo, Van Persie, everyone is scoring”
– Emmanuel Adebayor.

Their league position is a riposte to all of the critics who had suggested that the side would finish outside of the top four this season. The line up had been picked to pieces and the general theory was that they were too young and inexperienced, that the loss of Henry would bring about collapse and last year's habit of continually striving for the perfect goal rather than taking their chances and scoring a hatful of mundane ones almost saw them re-christened Pass-nal.

However, the side seems to have rallied as a collective and the goals have certainly been shared around, Denilson was the ninth Arsenal player to register a strike this season in the Carling Cup victory over Newcastle. As well as coming from several players, they have also been scoring from all around the field and it is not only Fabregas who is able to strike from outside the box.

While there are several arguments that you can put for their current league position not being sustainable over the length of the season (squad depth (up front and the central defenders), African Nations, Alumnia) where Saturday is concerned, we will need to respect the fact that we are up against the most in-form side in the country.

Le Onze

If you are looking for good news for us at the weekend, I think their back line would be the best place to find it. We can’t draw much consolation from either of the wide defenders, as although one of them wears bleach blond dyed pig tails and the other is called Gael, they have both been in good form. The pair are adept defensively and also have an ability to get up and down the line that Lindsey Lohan would be jealous of. It is these wing backs that provide the width in attack, in a relatively narrow midfield.

In goal, there are hints that the relatively untested Alumnia may not be unbeatable (see Gareth Bale’s goal in the North London derby). The centre backs also have a few obvious weaknesses, particularly if Philippe Senderos features as he is a more obvious victim of a little physical bullying than Ben Mitchell. Even the first choice duo of Kolo Toure and William Gallas (if his groin strain clears up), although decent players, have a fairly similar style of play and neither are particularly big, giving the likes of Deano plenty to get stuck into.

The midfield has been drawing admiring glances for its Cesc(y) football, conducted by Fabregas, who has looked remarkably assured and mature for so young a player. Holding role support from the improving Mathieu Flamini or Brazilian, Gilberto has seemed to encourage him to push forward to the detriment of T*tenham and Derby (amongst other) defenders.

There is a little choice in the wide positions, though none of the candidates are natural wingers. With Alexander Hleb likely to start on the right ahead of Walcott or Eboue, we may get more joy down the left, where it is no secret that Aboue Diaby only uses his left foot for standing on.

Overall, the midfield as a unit are remarkably fluid, they possess celerity of movement and are capable of shifting the ball around in lots of high tempo, crisp strokes and our midfield will need to match their speed of thought and maintain a level of hard work and discipline to avoid the fate of Arsenal's previous opponents.

“Robin is a bit Bergkamp and Adebayor a bit Henry in their similarities. They complement each other”
– Arsene Wenger.

Up front, the player leading the Premier League scoring charts with six efforts to date is Emmanuel Adebayor. As well as being rather optimistically compared to Henry by his boss, he is also often referred to as a poor man’s Drogba. Whilst his ability to take players on is almost non-existent, he has proved in the last couple of weeks that even if you fire a cannonball at him, he’ll get it under control and five goals in the last two league games shows that he knows where the goal is.

He is most likely to be partnered by Robin Van Persie, who has been somewhat subdued this season, not getting amongst the goals since the second game of the season. He was rested last week against Derby and faces pressure from young bucks, Eduardo da Silva (2 goals so far) and Nicklas Bendtner (1 League cup strike this year).

Kick up L’Arse

There was a time when Arsenal had become insuperable opposition and our cup defeats in both of the domestic competitions at home in the quarter final stages of the 1997/98 season stick in my memory of examples of them being foes that we could never get the better of. Other notable games at the Boleyn include the 1999 win, when Di Canio’s brace had us all dancing down the Barking Road and the 2002 clash which saw us surrender a 2-0 lead to draw the game, the one where Freddie Kanoute missed a penalty and which many Hammers fans considered a significant step in our relegation that season.

However, since our resurrection from the lower leagues, we have enjoyed three wins and a draw against Arsenal and we’ll no doubt be reminding them that we were the last team to win at Highbury and the first team to win at the Emirates. Home results have seen us draw 0-0 in 05/06 and last year’s 1-0 gave us the double over the North Londoners.

Arsenal Augury

With a game featuring two sides that are stronger going forward than in defence, I can’t see either team keeping a clean sheet at the weekend. This will be our first test of playing one of the top four sides so there is no previous performance to compare with. I would guess that as far as they are concerned, the prospect of facing us will fit in somewhere between Blackburn and T*tenham in terms of difficulty.

We will be a stronger proposition up front with Craig Bellamy expected to back in the squad, though many (including Curbs) have observed that it was at the back where we were struggling last week. I wouldn’t image that we’ll see a change in back four personnel because of last week’s performance but I would hope that we can see evidence that they’ve been working on the training ground to tighten up, particularly against such free scoring opposition.

I am going to stick us down for a score draw, the final score coming out at 2-2.

Enjoy the game.

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