West Ham vs. Arsenal: Complete Preview, Team News, Projected Lineups
If you're the sort of person who gets a kick out of watching what happens when two polar opposites collide, you'll enjoy Arsenal's match against West Ham this weekend.
There are probably not two more contrasting styles in the entire Premier League. While Arsene Wenger's Gunners play slick, precise one-touch football that requires a great deal of technical skill, Sam Allardyce's Hammers take us back to the old days of kick and run.
The West Ham manager's tactics are much like his physical appearance: aged and rather unattractive. And, to play Allardyce's style effectively, one must be a huge, strapping man like him.
A keen observer would point out that, in fact, West Ham have been doing better than Arsenal this season. Indeed, the Hammers have two more points and three clean sheets, giving them easily the best start of any promoted side.
Arsenal often have a tough time with sides that sit back, defend resolutely, prevent any space from opening and then attempt to physically overpower their opponents on the counterattack. And the Gunners have only won two of their last nine meetings with sides managed by Sam Allardyce.
Yet this is a game that they will widely be expected to win. After a disheartening defeat to Chelsea last weekend, Arsenal went out in the Champions League and got the three points they needed against Olympiakos with a tidy performance.
That should give them the confidence to go forward with verve and reduce the nerves that have come back to plague Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny in the two games they have played together.
The man who will give those two fits all game is Andy Carroll, who suits Allardyce's crude style perfectly. Do not be surprised by the return of Per Mertesacker to deal with the immense physical threat that Carroll poses.
Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te will be almost equally as vital to West Ham's success. The former can control the team's tempo and do it all, while the latter is one of the main creative engines behind the Hammers' attack.
Besides being sound at the back, Arsenal have several issues to address in different areas of the pitch.
First and foremost, where will the goals come from? Amazingly, Gerinvho is the Gunners' top scorer, but I would be surprised if Arsene Wenger deployed the Ivorian through the middle again against a side as physical as West Ham.
I seem to predict this in vain every week, but look for Olivier Giroud to get a shot at striker, with Lukas Podolski on the left and Gervinho probably winning the competition to start on the right.
Midfield is even more crucial an area, though. Arsenal are lucky to have Mikel Arteta healthy, despite doubts that he would not play against Olympiakos. When fit, he is the true heartbeat of the side. Abou Diaby, though, is not so lucky. The Frenchman is out for three weeks with a thigh problem.
Taking his place will probably be Aaron Ramsey, whose delicious chip of Balazs Megyeri shows he has some incredible quality. And, as always, Santi Cazorla will pull the strings as much as he is allowed to at the tip of midfield.
With each side's tactics and objectives in mind, let's guess at their possible lineups.
Jussi Jaaskelainen; Winston Reid, Joey O'Brien, James Collins, Guy Demel; Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame, Matt Jarvis, Ricardo Vaz Te, Mark Noble; Andy Carroll
Vito Mannone; Carl Jenkinson, Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs; Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla; Lukas Podolski, Gervinho, Olivier Giroud
I would like to take this moment to proudly declare that, for once, I predicted the score of an Arsenal match correctly. The 3-1 victory over Olympiakos was called here first, and I hope to take that positive momentum into this weekend.
That said, I think that one of these teams will play much more positively than the other. On paper, Arsenal are favorites, but their struggles against stubborn Sam Allardyce sides and those like them have been well-documented. Plus, the Gunners are playing at Upton Park, so expect an even match.
Score: West Ham 1-1 Arsenal
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