A tough afternoon awaits Arsenal as they make the short journey east to the Boleyn Ground, with this being the last time Arsenal will play here. There’s a lot to play for, whether that be the slowly diminishing title hopes of the Gunners, or the very achievable Champions League place for The Hammers. If Arsenal were to maintain their stubborn or never say die attitude for the title, a win will be required here, with nothing less sufficient for the North Londoners. However, West Ham will look to put their disappointing 2 all draw with Crystal Palace past them with a flourish today, as they attempt the double over Arsenal – a feat that was last achieved by the Hammers, back in 1959!
Arsenal have sprung into form since the disappointing FA Cup defeat at the hands of Watford, with back to back wins for the first time since Valentines weekend in the win over Leicester City. The Gunners will be carrying plenty confidence into today’s fixture because of this, with the 2-0 defeat to the Hammers on the opening day of the season in the back of their minds. Arsenal surprisingly have not lost in the league since the 2nd March to Swansea, and Wenger’s side will be hoping this is still the case come 2pm. Arsenal generally have a great record against the Hammers too, with the Gunners being unbeaten in 5 now at the Boleyn.
West Ham are a team that is arguably overachieving this season, as they are within touching distance of the Champions League places. There is no doubt in my mind this will be the sides aim, so the have a great chance today to jump up the table and have their hopes of Champions League football improve. However, on the other side of the coin, West Ham have to be wary of Southampton, Stoke and maybe even Chelsea as they continue their desirable surge up the table with Guus Hiddink. The Hammers will be hoping for European football and no less, so a win today would really boost their chances.
For Arsenal fans these are exciting times, as we saw Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky return to football last night with the Under 21’s. The side has missed Jack and Tomas for long periods of time this season, which isn’t unfamiliar either, but it will be fantastic to have depth in the midfield again, and more competition for places. Despite this, they are very unlikely to feature today, as well as a handful of others, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, and Aaron Ramsey.
West Ham have been successful in appealing Cheikhou Kouyates dismissal last weekend, so the Senegalese powerhouse will be expect to retain his place in the line up. The Hammers have plenty depth in attack today, with options such as Enner Valencia, Emmanuel Emenike and Diafra Sakho all after starts, Slaven Bilic will be spoilt for choice. There will be no Carl Jenkinson today due to a loan clause, with Bilic missing Sam Byram and James Collins also, providing the Croat with a slight headache if one of his four are injured today.
There will be a great deal of talent on show today, with the likes of Mesut Özil still trying to beat the assist record set by the Arsenal great, Thierry Henry, and Dimitri Payet for the Hammers, one of the players of the season. Alex Iwobi will be attempting to keep his 1:1 starts to goal ratio intact, but Mark Noble will be all out to impress to maybe gain a long awaited England call up.
“They are a strong side and that’s the message they gave us on the first day of the season [when West Ham beat Arsenal 2-0 at Emirates Stadium],” said Wenger.
“They surprised us with their quality, they have 50 points now and that’s not a coincidence. Overall I believe they’ve sacrificed the Europa League a little bit, surprisingly, but that has paid off for them in the Premier League. They have had a very strong season.”
“The outstanding player is Payet because he has a remarkable efficiency and is remarkably creative with his assists as well,” said Wenger. “He’s a player who gave them that little bit of extra creativity and made them dangerous in the final third.
“We will pay special attention to him because he’s a typical left-sided player who liked to come inside. He’s not really a wide player, he’s a central midfielder basically. That’s where he always finishes up.”