Preview: West Ham vs. Arsenal

Click to view larger image
Arsenal will look to go within 4 points of Spurs in the race for the final Champions League spot as they host West Ham in another London derby this evening- a game that was rescheduled due to the Boxing Day tube strike and is therefore each teams' game in hand. They couldn't ask for a much more favorable opponent at the moment as the Hammers have struggled away from home all season. Only Newcastle, QPR and Reading have collected fewer points on their travels than West Ham and they've failed to score in their last four away league games. They've managed just 5 goals away from Upton Park, the worst away goals record in the Premier League.

Arsenal will be without holding midfielders Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin to injury. The absences mean that Jack Wilshere will almost certainly drop in to a deeper midfield position alongside Abou Diaby after playing higher up the pitch in an attacking midfield role the last two games. Cazorla will take his place behind the forward after spending the last two games on the left wing. Lukas Podolski has recovered from illness and will likely play on the left. Theo Walcott will likely continue on the right with Olivier Giroud at center forward; however, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has recovered from illness so Wenger has the option of playing him on the right with Walcott at striker.

Sam Allardyce will be without James Collins who remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. James Tomkins will take his place. Marouane Chamakh is ineligible to play against his parent club so Carlton Cole will return to the lineup at striker.

Arsenal Approach
Unsurprisingly, Arsenal dominated with 69% possession in their 3-1 win in the reverse fixture at Upton Park in October. They'll again enjoy the lion's share of possession this evening. The key will be whether they can translate that possession into goalscoring chances against a compact and physically imposing West Ham defense.

West Ham's back four isn't especially athletic or pacey. Walcott in particular will have a big speed advantage over Joey O'Brien so the Gunners may well look to play through balls between O'Brien and Winston Reid for Walcott to run in behind. Against Chelsea Walcott tucked inside from the right wing and played high up the pitch, almost as a second forward, looking for balls played behind the defense. West Ham will almost certainly keep a deeper line than Chelsea did but I'd expect Walcott to again play high up the pitch and look for opportunities to make runs inside behind the defense. 

It'll be interesting to see where and how often Arsenal choose to press. The Hammers aren't especially comfortable passing the ball in midfield- they have the third lowest pass completion rate in the Premier League at 75%. They like to get the ball into the attacking third quickly by playing long balls into Carlton Cole and then getting the ball wide for crosses to be played back in the box. If Arsenal press and play a high line they'll both force West Ham to control the ball in a compact space in their own half and take Carlton Cole away from goal, reducing West Ham's chances to get the ball into the attacking third by knocking it long to the big striker. Cole has a bit of pace but not enough to worry Vermaelen with balls played over the top of a high defensive line. If the Gunners instead drop into banks of four it'll invite West Ham to play direct balls into the box where they're very good at winning second balls.

West Ham Approach
West Ham will work hard in midfield to prevent Arsenal's skillful midfielders from getting into any kind of a passing rhythm. They did excellently in the second half of their 3-1 win over Chelsea to get tight on Chelsea's diminutive attacking midfielders and physically impose themselves through the middle of the pitch- they'll have to repeat the energy levels and organization shown in that game if they're to have a chance this evening.

Defensively, they'll keep a deeper line to prevent the likes of Walcott and Podolski getting in behind them. They'll look to force Arsenal to patiently build attacks from the back and restrict the spaces for Cazorla and Wilshere to get on the ball between the lines.

Arsenal aren't the most physical side and the Hammers did cause them some problems in the reverse game by getting balls into the box and winning knock downs. They'll again look to get the ball to the wings and play crosses towards the back post. They'll bring the center backs forward for any free kicks in the attacking half and play the ball high into the box. Set pieces will be offer their best chances of scoring.

 Arsene Wenger press conference