West Ham United v Arsenal

Note to fixture arrangers and assorted TV companies: Please could you stop scheduling our matches for the early kick-off slot. Our resident preview writer is grumpy enough without our having to wake him up at the crack of dawn. In the meantime here's Preview Percy's look at this weekend's vist of Arsenal. Sorry about all the snoring...

Next up it's another crack of dawn start as we play host to Arsenal with another 12:30 kick-off just as the rest of the world is contemplating crawling out from under the sheets or, if you are one of those trendy hipster types, from under the continental quilt. Buses replace trains on the Southend Victoria line. As they do. Check afore ye leave.

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So it's a return to league action then against the side currently sitting in the not-particularly-coveted 5th spot which entitles the end-of season incumbent to a place in the group stages of the Thursday Night League. That's three places behind Chelsea who have the fourth So-Called Champions League spot, and seven points behind Spurs. For those who haven't noticed - i.e. practically everyone - they topped their Thursday Night League group to face BATE Borisov (no me neither) in the knockout round. If you are interested in the results no doubt they'll be published in a small column next to the picture crossword in most papers at the appropriate time.

With her new book of statistics to the fore, Daisy the work experience girl with the beautiful smile informs me that this will be the clubs' 140th meeting in all competitions, a series which goes all the way back to a trip over the river to Woolwich for an FA Cup tie back in January 1906 (ah those were the days). We have won 34, lost 66 and drawn 39 of the 139 matches played to date.

Their recent league form has been less than spectacular. After an encouraging 4-2 comeback win against Spurs in the annual competition to establish which is the best club in North London not called Barnet. However, since then they have managed to contrive to lose 3-2 at Southampton (Leno's late decision to come for a cross proving to be as wise a decision as Rooney's decision to wash down his sleeping tablets with a couple of vodkas) and to get slaughtered (in the non-Rooney sense) 5-1 up at Liverpool.

The defeat at Anfield brought up the now over-quoted but still funny stat (but since when has that stopped me) that Aubameyang touched the ball 13 times of which six touches were kick-offs.

December also included an uninspiring 1-1 draw down at Brighton. The only two wins of the month came over Burnley (3-1) and (to give them their full title) the rather hapless Fulham (4-1). Both of these wins came at home and Daisy, the work experience girl with the beautiful smile, informs me that you have to go all the way back to 25 November for their last league victory on the road, a 2-1 defeat of a Bournemouth side that at the time of writing has now won but two and drawn one of its last 13 matches in all competitions. So with Solksjaer having inspired the Salford mob to the extent that they can now beat sides from the bottom six in the table they might be looking a bit nervously over their shoulders lest that not-particularly-coveted Thursday Night League slot escape from their grasp.

Under Wenger they were traditionally frugal in the transfer markets, much to the concern of the more knowledgeable of their supporters and also Piers Morgan. It's early doors for this window of course but there has been little in the way of speculation linking them with a move for anyone who might be able to assist in their quest for the not very coveted Thursday Night League slot.

Au contraire (as I believe I am allowed to say until the end of March) all the talk has been on the departures side of the airport terminal. Having made Aaron Ramsey an offer last summer they then elected to withdraw the offer on "footballing and financial grounds" (translation: they didn't rate him after all, not at that price anyway). Since Ramsay's contract expires at the end of June he can now start talking to overseas clubs and can sign a pre-contract committing both parties to a move on 1 July. It has been said that the player will consider moves to Bayern, PSG, Inter, Juventus or Real Madrid. I'll admit that I thought he was being a wee bit optimistic in that selection but reports earlier this week were claiming that Ramsey had signed for Juventus (referring to them as "The Old Lady" causes much confusion in these parts), though later reports suggested that the deal was not quite done.

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Otherwise, parsimony is the watchword in Islington at the moment. Indeed, talk of them recalling Callum Chambers from his loan spell at the rather hapless Fulham has been "sssshh-ed" as breaking the season long deal would involve paying a break-clause fee, something that would reduce the already limited transfer kitty even more. Having spent a few bob during the summer all the talk is of "sustainable business models" which means that permanent deals are unlikely this winter and, if a player does come in it's more likely to be a loan deal.

Barca's Denis Suarez has been mooted having, according to some sources anyway, turned down a ?20m move to somewhere much nicer. Given the state of their finances Arsenal have been linked with a "loan with an option" deal which would, ultimately, make use of the increased budget available to them in the summer window, though some sort of compromise would be required with the Catalans preferring an up-front fee.

Another who has been suggested is Reece Oxford who seemed to have the brightest of futures a couple of years ago when turning in a performance against them way ahead of his then 16 years on the planet. Borussia Monchengladbach are much enamoured of the lad so much would depend on whether or not the lad would prefer to stay in blighty. Also Mehmut Ozil's future might also have a bearing on the matter - he still wakes up screaming at the thought of the 90 minutes he spent sitting in Oxford's pocket that afternoon. Ozil's future has replaced what became the increasingly tiresome saga of Wenger's hokey-kokey so if he goes at least he wouldn't have to face Oxford.

On the pitch the aforementioned "13 touch" Aubameyang currently heads up the goalscorer charts having netted 14 times in the league. This is precisely double the 7 scored by Alexander Lacazette and represents 30% of the 46 goals scored in the league this season according to Daisy the work experience girl with the beautiful smile who clearly also got a new calculator for Christmas.

According to the usual sources they are one of the few teams to have an injury list as long as ours, though most of those on the list do at least have a percentage chance of featuring this weekend. Definitely out are Mkhitaryan (ankle), Mavropanos (hip), Holding (knee) and Welbeck (ankle). All of those are long term. Monreal (thigh), Ozil (knee), Bellerin (calf), Mustafi (thigh) and Koscielny (back) are all rated as 50-50 at time of writing though expect some movement in those percentages as we get nearer kick-off.

And so to us. Well we muddled our way through an uninspiring cup tie against Birmingham at the weekend. I do wish they would tell us if they are only going to score at the beginning and end of games. Given the silly o'clock kick-off time I could have had a much-needed 88 minutes kip during the bit in the middle.

The big talking point of course was Arnautovic's substitution. If Arnie had complained about a back twinge it may have been a slight overreaction to withdraw him if, as the player's reaction suggested, it was just a slight niggle. On the other hand, given an injury list longer than the post-Christmas wait for the binmen to come around (any day you fancy it guys would be nice) you can see why MP would want to protect one of the more senior members of the squad.

Of course there was some sort of inevitability about the fact that an apparently fit Arnie was replaced by Carroll who went down injured almost immediately. Thankfully Carroll was ok enough to seal the win at the end but how "typical West Ham" that have been had he had to come off?!

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Of course since then we have apparently received a bid of ?35m for Arnie's services from a Chinese team whose name I suspect even their supporters have forgotten. I know I have - and I just looked at it three seconds ago. The bid was rejected at which point Arnie's brother/agent chipped in with a few choice words about him wanting to "win trophies" which goes to prove one thing, namely that nothing but trouble ever came of a player employing a sibling as an agent.

If it were simply a case of wanting trophies our local cobblers seems to have plenty in stock. And any trophies purchased would have infinitely more merit than any gongs one might pick up in the Chinese leagues.

It may be, of course that the club might be tempted by a bigger bid - ?50m has been mooted. However, it would be madness in the extreme to sell the player without bringing in a replacement, which is why the news that Japanese second division outfit Yokohama have given Kazuyoshi Miura a new contract will hopefully put us off from putting in a cheeky bid. Not that the striker isn't any good - he has 89 caps for the Japanese after all. However, at 51 he might be considered too old even given our track record of signing players at the veteran stage of their careers.

The cup-tie gave MP some limited scope to give a few players a rest so we can look forward to a few returning faces. This will exclude of course the usual 7 long-termers with Arnie euphemistically rated at 75% likely to be available whilst Hernandez being rated at 25%.

Which brings us to the thorny question of the prediction. I'm never convinced that we are at our best in these early kick-offs, though having said that I am reminded that we beat Moan Utd were put firmly in their place at that ungodly hour of the day earlier this season so maybe it's just me that is still sleepy at that time of the night.

The West Ham that has worked its way up from the nether regions of the league is more than capable of beating the Arsenal that has muddled its way through December. There again arguably the Arsenal that went 20 plus games without defeat might fancy its chances against a side that looked so knackered up at Burnley (though their win against us at their place was generally considered to be flattering in the extreme).

So I'm going to plump for the middle ground in this one. Using, as usual, the Winstone Turf Accountancy App (when the fun stops Piers Morgan has opened his gob again) I shall place the ?2.50 I was going to spend on a zimmer frame for our new striker (you heard it here first) on a draw - let's call it 2-2 and then I can go back to bed.

Enjoy the game!

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When last we met at the Olympic: Drew 0-0 (Premier League December 2017)

Apparently they had something like 70% of the possession in this match. The fact that they spend most of it fannying around to the extent that they could only muster three shots says a lot. Us? We managed one shot, an effort from Hernandez that came off the underside of the bar and bounced to safety. I suspect that they had to show a few replays of that to fill the allotted time during MOTD.

Referee: Jonathan Moss

Once awarded an FA Cup final on the grounds that they had run out of referees who a) hadn't already done it, and b) didn't have some sort of geographical or other connection with either of the sides involved. Escaped punishment the other year for requesting help from the fourth official over a penalty decision by asking "did you see anything on the TV." Fine if you are using VAR. not so fine if you are not. They weren't.

Danger Man: Patrick Aubameyang

As mentioned he is streets ahead of his team-mates in terms of scoring. Keeping him quiet is half the deal.

Percy's Poser:

Last week we took to the Birmingham Mail who had a really helpful article with the following title:

How living in Birmingham affects your chances of getting XX XXXXXX from XXX XXXXX

Congratulations to Lady Wykhammersley of Cranham who correctly identified the missing words as "an honour" from "the Queen". Like anyone from that benighted place would be worthy of an honour from Her Majesty in the first place.

For this week we visit the pages of the Islington Gazette whence the following missing words headline has been taken:

XXXXXX XXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXX sell out in Islington

Good luck one and all!

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