Arsenal FC 2012: Keys to the Gunners Victory over West Ham
Sam Allardyce's teams have caused problems for Arsenal in the past with their direct style. The West Ham boss will hope for another upset against the Gunners this weekend to continue West Ham's solid start to the Premier League season.
Here are my five keys to prevent such an upset and ensure that Wenger's boys leave Upton Park with all three points in the bag.
Giroud Must Start
While he has yet to find his shooting boots since joining Arsenal in the summer, Olivier Giroud must start against West Ham.
Sam Allardyce's teams are always physically strong and West Ham will be no different. Arsenal will need to match this physical challenge and having a player in Giroud's mould at the centre of attack is vital.
West Ham will try and close down quickly and pressure Arsenal into mistakes. Giroud can play a vital role using his strength to hold up the ball, bring the midfield into play and set Arsenal off on their passing game.
Giroud could also play a role helping out in the next key area.
Defending Set Pieces
Big Sam has always put a strong emphasis on the importance of set pieces in deciding football matches and he will likely see corners and free kicks as being West Ham's best chance of success come Saturday.
In contrast, defending set pieces has proved to be a weakness for Wenger's team in recent years. After a series of strong defensive displays at the start of the season, Arsenal's familiar vulnerability has re-emerged with sloppy defending on set pieces, resulting in three goals conceded in Arsenal's last two Premier League outings.
Arsenal will have to defend set pieces well if they want to come away from Upton Park with all three points.
In this regard the potential return of 6'6" defender Per Mertesacker could be crucial. The German international missed Arsenal's mid-week victory against Olympiacos after being struck down with a virus. Wenger will hope that Mertesacker can recover in time to play this Saturday and put his height to good use.
The Third Midfielder
Wenger's preferred midfield three this season has been comprised of Mikel Arteta, summer signing Santi Cazorla and Abou Diaby.
Diaby is set to miss out this weekend with a thigh strain and there is no doubt the Frenchman will be missed. As Mr. Wenger has been quick to point out via Arsenal.com:
"[H]e has qualities that the other players haven't got. We have better balance size-wise and [in terms of] strength [when he is in the team] because he has power."
Francis Coquelin filled in during Arsenal's mid-week Champions League fixture and would seem the natural replacement away from home given his defensive tendencies. However, Coquelin himself pulled up worryingly towards the end of Arsenal's mid-week victory, so there are concerns that he too could miss out.
Whether its Coquelin, Ramsey or Oxlade-Chamberlain who fills in for Diaby this weekend, it's clear they will have an important role to play. Whoever gets the nod will have to show a willingness to compete in midfield battles and will need to show composure on the ball against a West Ham team who will look to frustrate Arsenal's passing game.
Dealing with Andy Carroll
Having only just returned from injury, it's unlikely that Carroll will find himself in West Ham's starting 11 this weekend.
Nevertheless, the Liverpool loanee could prove dangerous coming off the bench with his physical stature being used to unsettle the Arsenal back line. Carroll played such a role in West Ham's 3-0 victory over Fulham in early September before being forced off with a hamstring injury and he will be keen to do so again this weekend.
Arsenal are likely to be faced with Carroll at some point during Saturday's game and the way in which they deal with long balls pumped up to the powerful striker could be vital in neutralising West Ham's attacking threat.
This may be another instance in which the return of Arsenal's towering defender Per Mertesacker could be crucial.
With Arsenal's No. 1 Wojciech Szczesny still missing through injury, Italian stopper Vito Mannone will continue to deputise between the sticks.
While Mannone is undoubtedly an accomplished shot-stopper, there have been questions over the young goalkeeper's ability to deal with crosses effectively. Mannone's decision- making has not been the best at times this season and with the direct style likely to be employed by West Ham, a more solid performance from the Italian when dealing with high balls into the box is a must.
West Ham will be well aware of this potential frailty and don't be surprised to see Allardyce put a man on Mannone for corners and free kicks to try and unsettle Arsenal's young goalkeeper. If Mannone proves unable to deal with this pressure, Arsenal could be subject to an upset.
I've set out what I think will be the key areas in Arsenal's match against West Ham this Saturday, but what do you think? Will Arsenal walk away victorious, or will West Ham give the Gunners more than they bargained for? Let me know in the comments.