Pre-Match Report

West Ham United v Arsenal - Preview

Arsène Wenger

“In the Premier League, we have learned that this year it is difficult everywhere. For example Chelsea lost at Stoke a few weeks ago.

"Now we have to go to West Ham on Boxing Day and on top of everything it's a derby. We have given a lot against Chelsea so we need to make sure that we are completely focused on this game.”

In a division where the top five are divided by two points, it goes without saying that Christmas could be decisive.

… or perhaps the games against the big teams will be determine the title winners

… or maybe London derbies

… or games played after Champions League trips

… err, or something else

In fact, this is shaping up to be the most indecisive Premier League since the new competition began. Arsenal could not haul themselves back to the summit on Monday against Chelsea and in doing so answer the lingering question about their abilities against the main title contenders. (However that well-deserved 2-0 victory over Liverpool in November looks very creditable right now).

But it may well not come down to that anyway.

Arsenal’s Champions League group showed that strange things can happen when the main teams are so evenly matched. Having been perfect at home and picked up an away win, Napoli deserved to go through with 12 points - but then so did Dortmund and Wenger’s men.

"We know that West Ham have made surprising results. They have won twice at Tottenham this season now and can be a tough opponent"

Arsene Wenger

No, it seems this Premier League could won by the team that just keep on ‘keeping on’ without the burden of having to make meaningful results.

Arsenal’s early-season success has been based on securing victories when points were eminently droppable - think Swansea (a), Southampton (h), Cardiff (a) and Palace (a) here. It created a little buffer that admittedly has been eroded by draws with Everton and Chelsea plus the defeat at Manchester City but it has still left Wenger’s men in position to strike again.

And that brings us to West Ham at Upton Park on Boxing Day.

Sam Allardyce’s side are one point and one place above the relegation zone having picked up a solitary draw (at home to bottom side Sunderland) in December. However, to illustrate their potential, they did secure a Capital One Cup semi-final by winning at White Hart Lane in the middle of the month.

The Upton Park crowd revel in making life hard for Arsenal. It is never a “gimme” but Wenger’s men need a recuperative victory right now.

“It’s a local derby on Boxing Day,” said the manager, “and we know that West Ham have made surprising results.

“They have won twice at Tottenham this season now and can be a tough opponent.

“I think everybody takes West Ham seriously and expects great resistance from them. Last year we did well against them - we have to be inspired by that, go there and play our game again. But they have good players, always a good crowd and it’s a derby so they are always up for it.”

"Last year we did well against them - we have to be inspired by that, go there and play our game again"

Arsene Wenger

The Chelsea game was Arsenal’s first in nine days. The West Ham fixture will be the first of four in the 10 that follow. With players returning to fitness, the manager has promised to shuffle his squad including the return of Lukas Podolski. On Monday, the German was named in the squad for the first time since last August. He did not feature but expect that to change before the New Year.

“Podolski has not played at all since the second game of the season and he lacks a bit competitiveness,” said Wenger. “Of course I can only find it if I play him but he's been in training for just two weeks now. I have to make that decision when I use him or not.

“But we need to rotate a little bit because we play so many games now and we put in a lot of effort against Chelsea.”

In the end, consistency and quality of effort could be as decisive as anything else.

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