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

Preview: Manchester City vs. Arsenal

Manchester City head to the Emirates to face Arsenal Sunday, albeit with about 900 fewer supporters than expected as they voice their displeasure over the 62 pound ticket prices Arsenal will be charging for this 'Category A' fixture.

Since Sheikh Mansour's takeover of Manchester City the storylines that have surrounded this fixture have been intriguing- a clash between the nouveau riche Manchester City, who in recent seasons have lured the likes of Samir Nasri, Emanuel Adebayor and Gael Clichy away from Arsenal with higher wages, and Arsenal, the poster child for football clubs living within their means. However, their recent clashes at the Emirates have not lived up to their Category A status.

As Michael Cox wrote in his column for Soccernet today, Roberto Mancini has taken a very cautious approach to this fixture over the last few seasons, resulting in cagey, dull contests. Mancini has visited Arsenal in the league three times since taking over at City in 2009. The first two of those contests ended 0-0; Arsenal edged out a 1-0 win last season (City haven't registered a league goal at Arsenal since the 2006-2007 season). City sat deep and employed three defensive minded midfielders for most of those three games.

Click to view larger image
The absence of Yaya Toure, on international duty with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations, means Mancini will be forced to use two defensive minded holding midfielders in Javier Garcia and Gareth Barry, raising concerns among neutrals that Mancini will again be tempted into trying to make this a cautious contest. Samir Nasri is serving the final game of a three match suspension so James Milner is likely to start on the right wing. Sergio Aguero will miss out with a hamstring injury- Carlos Tevez will play just off of Edin Dzeko.

There are more questions surrounding Arsene Wenger's selections, particularly who he'll start at forward and on the right wing. Olivier Giroud picked up a slight knock against Swansea last weekend so there's a good chance Wenger will continue with Walcott through the middle. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played 70 minutes for the under-21's Wednesday, suggesting we could see Aaron Ramsey take his place on the right. 

City Cautious Approach
Arsenal are a more dangerous side when games become open. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski and Walcott thrive in games when there is enough space to use their pace to get in behind the opposition defense. There's a good chance that in the early stages, playing away from home and with key attacking players absent, Mancini will retain his cautious approach at the Emirates and maintain a compact defense to prevent the game from opening up too much. City won't have the attacking thrust of Toure through the middle and James Milner is more trusty foot soldier than creative attacker on the right: City will therefore only have 3 truly attack minded players on the field- Tevez, Dzeko and Silva. Mancini may feel his hand is forced into playing more defensive. The fact the Gunners have struggled to break down deep, compact defenses this season may offer further incentive to play deeper.

If Wenger anticipates City defending deep it may be a smart move for him to go with Ramsey on the right (I can imagine Gunners fans exiting my post now, but hear me out). David Silva will be playing a narrow left-sided position for City. Defensively, he'll be responsible for tracking the forward runs of Bacary Sagna but he doesn't have the engine or tackling ability of James Milner on the other side of the pitch (who will track Gibbs). In all likelihood Sagna will get chances to get in behind Silva when Arsenal are in possession. Whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain would keep a wide position, Ramsey will tuck inside from the right to give Arsenal an extra body to compete in the middle, drawing Clichy in towards his center backs. This will create space for Sagna to make overlapping runs near the touchline and collect the ball in space on the wing. If Clichy doesn't follow Ramsey in field, Arsenal will be able to overload Barry and Garcia in front of the City back four with Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla.

Of course, the danger of getting Sagna in possession high up the pitch is that it leaves space for City to counter down the left when they retain possession. As Arsenal's outside backs join the attack, we could see Tevez floating in space behind them on either channel where he'll look to spring counters through direct balls out to the wings. Dezeko's winner at WBA show that his movement can be deadly on the counter. Arteta will therefore have to remain focused on Tevez's positioning.

Arsenal Approach
It'll be interesting to see how Wenger chooses to defend. Yaya Toure often provides the link from defense to offense for City with either forward passes or his powerful vertical runs with the ball. Neither Barry nor Garcia possess the same ability to make forward passes and they certainly can't match Toure's powerful dribbling. We may therefore see City struggle to advance the ball into the final third. Wenger may elect to drop his wingers alongside Wilshere and Arteta defensively to provide a midfield bank of four and limit space in between the seams for the likes of Tevez and Silva to move into and provide a passing option. With few easy forward passing options we could see City frustrated into playing horizontal balls in the midfield between Garcia, Barry and the center backs. It's difficult to imagine Wenger being quite this pragmatic at home however.

If the Gunners choose instead to press they may force City into knocking long balls in towards Dzeko from the back but they also run the risk of leaving Tevez space to get on the ball and run at the back four. In all likelihood Arsenal will do some combination of dropping in deep and pressing. 

Whereas City's lineup often includes five prominent attacking threats, absences mean they'll only have three Sunday- David Silva, Tevez and Dzeko. Mancini is always cautious in this fixture to begin with- without Toure and Aguero he has an even greater incentive to be pragmatic once again. I'd expect another cagey, low scoring affair. I hope I'm proven wrong.

Preview: Arsenal vs. West Brom

West Brom and Arsenal will look to get back to winning ways when they meet at the Emirates Saturday afternoon. Arsene Wenger's side are winless in their last three league games and sit 10th in the table, their worst start to a season in 18 years. Steve Clarke's Baggies have lost their last two but have had more to celebrate this season- despite the recent defeats West Brom are off to their best start to a Premier League campaign. They find themselves 5th in the table, level on 26 points with fourth place Spurs and 3rd place Chelsea. 

Wenger will have to deal with several injuries to first team regulars. Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski will all be sidelined while Bacary Sagna is also doubtful. Carl Jenkinson will replace Sagna at right back. Aaron Ramsey may be given the start on the right in the absence of Walcott with Alex Oxlade-Chamberain expected to fill in for Podolski on the left. Wenger also has Tomas Rosicky and Gervinho available. He could opt to play Rosicky on a wing or in the hole behind Giroud and push Cazorla wide.

Boaz Myhill will fill in for the Baggies at goalkeeper for Ben Foster who is recovery from groin surgery.
A Clash of Styles
This game will showcase a clash of two very different playing styles. Arsenal build attacks patiently from the back, move forward as a unit and retain possession. West Brom defend deep and look to counter rapidly. Arsenal lead the league in possession, averaging 59.9% per game while West Brom are fourth from bottom with 43.5% per game.

Expect West Brom to drop their wide midfielders Odemwingie and Gera alongside Yacob and Mulumbu in defense to create a second bank of four. Jenkinson and Gibbs will join in the attack for Arsenal from their outside back positions, pushing Odemwingie and Gera further towards their own goal. Ramsey will likely tuck inside from his right midfield position, creating space for Jenkinson to overlap. Jack Wilshere will push forward towards Cazorla in possession and look to link defense to offense. The Gunners will look to create short combinations of passes around the penalty area and find gaps in West Brom's back four to slip the ball through. They need to do a better job of turning possession into genuine goal scoring chances. During their current three game winless streak their opponents have taken more shots on target in each game despite Arsenal winning the possession battle in all three games and completing more passes in the final third.

With Jenkinson and Gibbs pushing forward, West Brom will look to quickly counter in the space behind the two Arsenal outside backs when they regain possession. Shane Long will likely float into these wide channels to provide one option for an out ball. Gera and Odemwingie will also try to quickly break in behind Jenkinson and Gibbs. It'll be Morrison's job to quickly transition forward in the middle of the pitch and link with Long. With Wilshere moving in to more advanced positions in possession, Arteta will be responsible for slowing down counterattacks, particularly by denying Morrison opportunities to get on the ball in space. The Spaniard's positioning was incredibly poor on Swansea's opening goal last weekend when he completely switched off on attacking midfielder Michu and left him unmarked just in front of the Arsenal back four.

The screenshot below shows Arteta 15 yards to the left of Michu, moving into an area Arsenal already had well covered. Chico is able to clip a pass into Michu, forcing Vermaelen to step to ball and leave space in behind him. Michu plays a simple on-two with Luke Moore, breaks past the Dutch center back and coolly finishes the breakaway. Had Arteta been in the correct position in front of the back four, Vermaelen who have never had to step out, allowing space behind him for Michu to run into (in fact Michu wouldn't have even received the ball). Arteta will have to do a better job tracking Morrison when West Brom look to break.

Central Midfield Zone
As mentioned above, defensively West Brom will likely drop their wide midfielders Gera and Odemwingie alongside holding midfielders Yacob and Mulumbu to create a midfield bank of four. Against Chelsea's 4-2-3-1, Shane Long dropped alongside James Morrison to pick up Chelsea's two holding midfielders, Mikel and Romeu on that day, and left the center backs unmarked. Both Mikel and Romeu like to sit in front of the back four and circulate the ball sideways; neither are particularly strong at linking defense and attack either with their dribbling or forward passing. Their reluctance to push forward meant Long and Morrison could defend them fairly easily while still remaining high up the pitch in good counter attacking positions when West Brom regained possession. It also meant West Brom had a spare holding midfielder so Chelsea's attacking central midfielder (both Hazard and Sturridge played there for the Blues) was outnumbered. West Brom had a spare center back as well so in the central attacking zones Chelsea were outnumbered 2 v. 4. As a result, the Blues lacked a vertical passing option and were forced to play the ball sideways.

Arsenal will pair Jack Wilshere alongside Mikel Arteta at center midfield. Wilshere is more of a box-to-box midfielder than either Mikel or Romeu and will push higher up the pitch and do a better job of linking defense to offense. The Baggies will therefore have to decide if they want Morrison to track the forward movement of Wilshere so that they have a spare holding midfielder and can defend the dangerous Santi Cazorla 2 v. 1 higher up the pitch. If they do that Long will drop in and sit on Arteta. The danger for West Brom of playing like this is that they could get pushed too deep defensively and not have an out ball when they retain possession. Therefore I'd expect Morrison to pick up Arteta, leaving a 2 v. 2 match up higher up the field between Cazorla-Wilshere and Yacob-Mulumbu.

Arteta's role circulating the ball and dictating the tempo of the game is crucial for Arsenal. Team's that have kept him off the ball have had success against the Gunners- their ball movement becomes far too slow without his involvement. He averages 88 completed passes per game, second in the Premier League only to Michael Carrick. In games he's completed fewer than 80 passes Arsenal are averaging only 0.75 points per game (1 win, 3 losses, 3 draws) and 0.57 goals per game. In games he's completed more than 80 passes they're averaging 1.63 points per game (3 wins, 1 loss, 3 draws) and 2.5 goals per game. Clarke will therefore likely put an emphasis on using some combination of Morrison and Long to keep Arteta off the ball and prevent Arsenal from getting in any type of rhythm in possession.

Defensive discipline on Arsenal's left will be key against United

In the opening stages of Manchester United's 3-2 league win over Chelsea, Alex Ferguson's side was able to get the ball in dangerous areas down the right side of the pitch. Both of their early goals came from moves down the right: the first a swift counterattacking move after Chelsea had conceded possession in midfield, the second when Rafael and Antonio Valencia combined down the flank, creating space for a Valencia cross into Robin Van Persie.

I wrote on Tuesday of how United's success in the games early stages owed much to Ferguson's decision to play a 4-4-1-1 with Valencia operating wide as a classic right winger. Chelsea's outside backs like to get forward and join in the attack. When they lose possession Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic are often high up the pitch, leaving them vulnerable to counters down the flanks. It was Rooney rather than Valencia who had drifted to the right to spring the counter on United's first goal but it resulted because Cole had gone forward to join in the Chelsea attack.

Chelsea are also vulnerable when the opposition outside backs get involved in the attack. Neither of Chelsea's wider attacking players in Juan Mata or Eden Hazard are quick to help in the defensive end. When the opposition outside backs advance past them, it often leaves Chelsea's own outside backs left to defend two men, particularly when the opposition is playing with a winger. On United's second goal, Hazard was guilty of allowing United right back Rafael to advance past him and receive the ball, leaving Cole to try to defend both Rafael and Valencia. Cole was forced to step to ball, allowing Rafeal to play an easy pass down the line for Valencia who had the time to pick out a perfect low cross for Van Persie.

Like Chelsea, Arsenal line up in a 4-2-3-1 and have in recent weeks been susceptible to opposition attacks from wide areas, particularly down Arsenal's left side. Since the injury to left back Kieran Gibbs, his replacement Andre Santos has been poor both positionally and when asked to defend in 1 v. 1 situations. Ferguson will have certainly taken notice of how Schalke ripped apart the left side of Arsenal's defense in their 2-0 Champions league win over the Gunners last Wednesday and may well choose to once again play with a traditional right winger to exploit this weakness. Opting for Valencia once again seems like a good choice. The Columbian is an excellent option on the wing against teams that play with very attacking full backs. He is defensively disciplined and has a tremendous work rate. He will diligently track the opposition full back on defense but his work rate also allows him to break past the full back into space when United win possession back and look to counter. Alternatively, given Santos' poor 1-on-1 defending, Ferguson could go with the out-of-favor Nani. Nani is less disciplined defensively but brings to the side an ability to beat the opposition off the dribble.

Regardless of which option Ferguson goes with, it will be crucial Arsenal show more defensive discipline on the left than they did against Schalke. Time and again the German side was able to get the ball to right midfielder Jefferson Farfan and right back Atsuto Uchida in far too much space on the wing. While Santos' positioning was poor, he was given little help by left midfielder Lukas Podolski in front of him who frequently allowed Uchida to make unmarked runs down the sideline, forcing Santos to leave Farfan and step to ball. The video below from the first half shows a clear example of this at 4:06. In this passage of play Podolski had drifted to the middle and was lazily half-pressing the Schalke center backs. Cazorla had slid left to fill Podolski's position. Santos had followed Farfan as he drifted towards the middle, opening up space down the right sideline. Cazorla completely switches off on Uchida, allowing the right back to make the run into space unmarked. Huntelaar's finishing was poor on this occasion but the video highlights what was a recurring problem for the Gunners. Understanding and communication between Santos and whoever is defending ahead of him on the left (most often Podolski) will be massively important for Arsenal against United. United's outside backs will get forward and they proved against Chelsea they can punish the opposition when given the chance to stretch its outside backs.


Ferguson may also look to frequently switch the point of attack from left to right with long diagonal balls to the right wing (perhaps we could see Paul Scholes in the side for his long passing ability). Switching the point of attack will force Santos into situations where he's left to defend the right winger 1-on-1, a battle Valencia (or Nani) are always likely to win. Santos will need to be more up for the task than he was against Schalke.

Both limiting the number of chances United have to counter and effectively dealing with the counter when United do get the chance to break will be the final key factor for Arsenal. To prevent the counter they obviously need to be diligent in possession, avoiding silly giveaways in the middle third of the field (Schalke's second goal came from a poor giveaway from Serge Gnabry in midfield). But United will inevitably get the chance to break and when they do its crucial Arsenal get their defensive transition right. Like Chelsea's outside backs, both Carl Jenkinson and Santos are called upon to join the attack and provide width high up the field. This of course leaves them exposed to counter attacks down the wings when they lose possession. However, unlike John Obi Mikel and Ramires at Chelsea, Arsenal won't have especially combative, ball winning holding midfielders in front of the back four to break up counterattacks (unless Wenger makes a surprising decision and starts Coquelin alongside Arteta). The center backs and holding midfielders will therefore have to be particularly aware of their defensive shape even when Arsenal are in possession.

With the Gunners in the midst of a rather unconvincing four game spell, they'll need to improve drastically on recent performances to have any shot of coming away from Old Trafford with a result. Shoring up the left side of the defense and preventing United's wide men from getting crosses into Van Persie will be crucial in ensuring the Gunners don't experience a repeat of last season's humiliating 8-2 defeat.

Preview: Chelsea vs. Tottenham

Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo will lead their respective clubs out to a lunchtime kickoff at White Hart Lane tomorrow. There are plenty of sub plots in this one. Villas-Boas was of course sacked by Chelsea in March, paving the way for Di Matteo to lead the club to a historic FA Cup-Champions League double. That Champions League title sent Spurs crashing out of a qualification spot for this season's installment of the tournament despite finishing fourth in the league- two places above Chelsea. In April, Chelsea handily beat Spurs 5-1 in an FA Cup semifinal. However, Spurs contend a wrongfully allowed Juan Mata goal that made the score 3-1 was the turning point in that contest. Perhaps most importantly, this game showcases the Premier League's two most sartorially inclined managers in a battle over the better wearer of impeccably tailored suits.

Both sides are playing decent soccer at the moment. After a rocky opening three games to the season, Spurs have won four straight including the club's first away win at Old Trafford since 1989. A 0-0 draw at QPR is the only blemish on Chelsea's record as they sit four points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

Same Formation, Different Styles
Both sides are likely to line up in 4-2-3-1 formations though the different attributes of the two teams' sets of players mean they'll play it with very different styles. Chelsea's three attacking midfielders, Oscar, Hazard and Mata, are clever and technically gifted players who look to get in pockets of space between the seams and play intricate passing combinations with one another. Mata and Hazard will frequently switch sides and both will drift in field and occupy more central areas. Chelsea will likely look to attack patiently and use their tight control and quick passing to create gaps to get the ball in behind the Tottenham defense. Expect Ramires to play over Lampard to give Chelsea more athleticism in the middle of the park to match the athleticism of Sandro and Dembele.

Spurs attacking midfield three doesn't have the same technical quality as that of their counterparts but they have incredible pace and athleticism. Lennon and Bale will look to get the ball wide into the channels and get behind Chelsea's outside backs. Dempsey isn't a typical center attacking midfielder that links defense to offense- he doesn't have that type of passing vision- however Spurs will mainly transition from defense to offense through either Lennon and Bale or through Dembele's powerful runs forward from a deeper position. Dempsey's ability to make well timed runs and finish off chances will make him a threat for balls into the box from Lennon and Bale.

Tottenham wingers vs. Chelsea outside backs
Two of the most important individual battles will be fought in wide areas between Chelsea's outside backs and Tottenham's wingers. The contest between Ivanovic and Bale will pose a particularly difficult tactical question for Di Matteo, specifically how brave he wants Ivanovic to be with his positioning going forward. With Mata and Hazard frequently tucking inside higher up the pitch, Chelsea like to get width from their outside backs in the attacking end of the field. However, when Ivanovic pushes forward it will be open space for Spurs to counter into with Bale. The last thing Chelsea want is Bale running at full pace at their center backs. His goal against Manchester United (at 0:25 in the video below) shows just how dangerous he is when he's able to get the ball behind the opposition right back (Rafael on that day) and run with a head of steam at center backs. Lennon's pace could also be dangerous on the right, though Ashley Cole is quicker and a better defender than Ivanovic so should be more equipped to deal with Lennon's bursts forward.

If Lennon and Bale are able to get in behind the Chelsea outside backs, Chelsea's ball side center back will have to rotate wide to step to ball, leaving Defoe in a 1 v. 1 situation with the other center back. Dempsey's runs into the box from midfield will provide more of an aerial threat on crosses while Dembele's late runs to the edge of the area can create dangerous shooting chances, as was seen in his goal against Norwich. 

Chelsea's Tempo
Chelsea will likely hope to control the tempo of this game and keep it played at a relatively slow pace. Spurs are far more athletic and powerful than they are creative and therefore a more open game will suit them better than it will Chelsea. Expect Chelsea to keep things compact at the back, defending fairly deep with two banks of four. With the likes of Dembele, Lennon, Bale, Dempsey and Defoe, Tottenham are far more dangerous when they have the space to turn and run at defenders than when they have to circulate the ball quickly with passes to unlock crowded defenses. Against a tight defense, Tottenham don't have the type of players that are as clever with their movement and creative with their passes as Chelsea. Given this is an away game for Chelsea, they'll be particularly keen not to allow this one to open up and rile up Spurs fans.

This game will largely come down to which team can impose its style on the game early. If Spurs can turn this into an open game, their pacey attackers and athleticism will give them the advantage. If Chelsea can control the tempo and allow their four most advanced players to use their clever movement and superior technique going forward, they'll have the advantage.

Preview: Arsenal vs. West Ham

Possible Lineups:
Arsenal will line up in their usual 4-2-3-1. With Diaby out due to a hamstring injury, we may see Ramsey slide back from an attacking right-sided position to a central position alongside Arteta. Coquellin was given the start alongside Arteta in the Champions League in midweek but against a West Ham side that lacks a strong creative presence in the center of midfield, Arteta should be fine occupying the holding midfield role on his own. Ramsey will provide more going forward than Coquellin. Despite a run of relatively unimpressive performances, Oxlade-Chamberlain will likely be given the start on the right. With Andy Carroll expected to be given the nod at center forward for West Ham, expect Per Mertesacker to replace Koscielny to provide some height at the back.

Expect West Ham to line up in a 4-2-3-1 that operates more as a 4-5-1 when Arsenal are in possession, with the two wingers dropping back alongside Diame and Noble to form two banks of four. Jarvis looked lively on the left wing in West Ham's 2-1 win over QPR Monday but, against Arsenal, Sam Allardyce may opt for the more defensive Matthew Taylor. O'Brien and Reid both picked up knocks in the QPR game. Reid is expected to play while O'Brien's status is less certain- we could see George McCartney replace him at left back. Andy Carroll is expected to be given the start after he returned from a hamstring injury Monday.

West Ham
  • O'Brien (McCartney) and Demel will likely be fairly reluctant to join in the attack when in possession so as not to leave spaces behind them for Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain to counter into.
  • Diame, Nolan and Noble will all look to shuffe the ball into wide areas to the wingers Vaz Te or Jarvis (if he plays). They'll try to either hit an early ball into Carroll towards the back post or take on the Arsenal outside backs and then cross. When West Ham do look for Carroll at the back post, he'll have the option of either going for goal himself or knocking the ball down. Nolan will look to get close to him to win the second ball.
  • West Ham's back four will play long balls directly into Carroll. When they took this direct route Monday with Carlton Cole at forward, Jarvis would cut in from the left wing and run behind Cole to get on the end of a flicked header. 
  • The Hammers will try to win as many free kicks as possible. They'll hoof the ball in towards Carroll from set pieces anywhere on the field and look to get on the end of his knock downs.
  • The Gunners should dominate possession the center of midfield.
  • West Ham will likely play a 4-5-1 in defense with the wingers dropping back to form a bank of four with Diame and Noble. Jenkinson and Gibbs should be brave with their offensive positioning, getting into advanced positions and pushing the West Ham wingers deep into their own half. This will leave Carroll isolated when West Ham do recover possession. They'll be forced to knock it long towards Carroll and hope he can hold possession until the midfield transitions forward.
  • With Gervinho at center forward, Arsenal will be very flexible in the center of the park. Look for Cazorla, Gervinho and Ramsey to find pockets of space in between the lines to get on the ball. They'll play short combinations of passes and look for seams in the back four to get in behind. They could find it difficult against a crowded back four.
  • Arsenal have to improve their set piece defending. Three of the four goals they've conceded in the Premier League have come from set pieces and in West Ham they're facing an opponent who thrives at scoring from deadball situations. Koscielny was largely responsible for the two goals conceded to Chelsea last weekend and in all likelihood he'll be replaced by the taller Mertesacker to provide some height. However, despite his 6'6" frame, Mertesacker's aerial ability has at times been suspect. He'll have to be diligent in aerial challenges with Carroll.

Preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

Possible Lineup :

Both sides will likely start in their normal 4-2-3-1 formations. Aaron Ramsey was brought into the Arsenal lineup last weekend against Manchester City on the right although his positioning was quite narrow, creating what was effectively a four man central midfield for Arsenal. This enabled Arsenal to control possession in the middle of the park in an impressive 1-1 draw at the Etihad and Wenger may look to stick with the young Welshman Saturday. Width will come from Podolski on the left and when Arsenal look to break it will likely be through him and Cazorla. Vermaelen is expected to be back in the side after illness sidelined him last weekend. Koscielny therefore will likely be relegated back to the bench despite a goal and an overall impressive performance at Manchester City.

Chelsea's starting XI is a bit more difficult to predict. Roberto Di Matteo has preferred Oscar in the center attacking midfield role in Chelsea's last two games, a 1-0 win over Stoke and a 2-2 Champions League draw with Juventus. Oscar was brought into the side against Juventus to defend Andrea Pirlo in his deep lying creative midfield role. Pirlo is tremendous at dictating the tempo of games and getting defenses out of position with his passing- by tasking Oscar with man marking him, RDM was looking to unsettle Juventus and prevent them from getting into any type of offensive rhythm. In Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have a creative deep lying midfielder similarly gifted at dictating the tempo of games. RDM may well use a similar strategy as he did against Juventus, unsettling Arsenal by using Oscar to keep him off the ball. If Oscar does get the nod at center attacking midfield, expect Hazard and Mata to play on either side of him. They'll drift inside and switch sides frequently. Given Hazard's dribbling ability and the relative inexperience of Arsenal right back Carl Jenkinson, look for Hazard to start on the left and try to take on Jenksinson with the dribble.

  1. If Ramsey starts on the right and drifts towards the center, as he did against Manchester city, it could cause Chelsea some serious problems in midfield. It would give Arsenal a 4 v. 3 advantage in the middle of the park (Arteta, Diaby, Cazorla, Ramsey vs. Mikel, Lampard, Oscar). Mikel would likely stay close to Cazorla, Lampard would have to keep an eye on Ramsey and more than likely Oscar will stay close to Arteta to take away Arsenal's deep lying creative threat and the person who dictates tempo for the Gunners. Therefore we could see Diaby unaccounted for meaning he'll have the space to make those powerful runs forward with the ball. The numerical advantage would also suggest Arsenal could boss the midfield and dominate possession.
  2. How adventurous Ivanovic is getting forward could be another key factor. He enjoys joining in the attack but isn't particularly quick to recover when Chelsea lose possession. Therefore Chelsea can at times be susceptible to counters down the right side (last season's Champions League away defeat to Napoli is a good example). With Lucas Podolski occupying the left side for Arsenal, the Gunners have a player who tracks back and defends well but also has the pace to get in behind the opposition right back when Arsenal win possession (Arsenal's first goal against Liverpool is a perfect example). If Ivanovic is adventurous and plays high up the pitch, expect Podolski to enjoy plenty of room down the left to sprint into. If I were RDM I'd be a bit cautious with the Serbian's positioning.
  3. If Chelsea do play deep and allow Arsenal to control possession, do Arsenal have the ability to unlock a crowded defense? So far draws to Sunderland and Stoke, Arsenal's two opponents that defended deep with two banks of four, suggest they do not. Without a ruthless finisher like Van Persie could struggle to turn dominant possession into goals.
  4. Chelsea would be wise to play Hazard on the left. While Arsenal's right sided defenders Mertesacker and Jenkinson have had solid starts to the season, neither player instills the confidence in their one v. one defending ability to deal with someone as quick and clever with the dribble as Hazard. He could give those two fits. 
  5. Chelsea looked desperately short of ideas last weekend when Stoke played them deep and kept their defense compact in the center of the pitch. Both Mata and Hazard like to come inside to get on the ball when they occupy wide roles so the Blues can become a bit narrow and a bit one dimensional. There's virtually no chance Arsenal will sit deep and allow the Blues to take the game to them at home (in all likelihood it'll be the other way around) but the Gunners should take note of how much Chelsea have struggled under RDM when they're forced to take the game to the opponent. They're more dangerous on the break and Arsenal should look to force them to slowly build attacks from the back.
  6. Too often this season Chelsea have given the ball away cheaply and left their back four exposed to counters (John Obi Mikel's giveaway that led to Juventus's second goal in the Champions League is an obvious example). It's crucial that when Mikel and Lampard advance up the field Chelsea keep hold of the ball or Cazorla will have a field day breaking into space behind the two holding midfielders.