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West Ham preview: nothing less than 3 points will do

Right then, it’s West Ham tonight, a game which was scheduled for December 26th but which fell foul of a tube strike.

It’s the game in hand we have over the teams above us, it provides a chance to close the gap and to get our first win of January under our belts. And it’s a game that has been back-dropped by frustration as the club remain inactive in the January window. At times it seems pointless talking about it but you can’t be blind to the fact that it’s a massive part of the narrative these days.

Everything we do on the pitch is referenced to what we’re not doing off it and as long as the results are disappointing that’s not going to change. You would like to think that there’s enough quality in the team to take a home game like this by the scruff of the neck, we saw a good display against Swansea (who are a better side, albeit different in style to West Ham), so we can hope for more that tonight.

With regards the team, Lukas Podolski comes back in after illness while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could also return. We’ve lost Francis Coquelin to a hamstring injury while the manager says he has to assess Abou Diaby after playing three times in a week following a 4 month absence. It’s one where he might be wise to err on the side of caution, it’s not as if he doesn’t have experience when it comes to managing the Frenchman.

Assuming Podolski comes back into the team, and Diaby doesn’t make it, it would make sense to move Jack back, partner him with Aaron Ramsey, and shift Santi Cazorla into the more central role he’s played most of the season. The only other decision I think he’s got is whether or not to rest Bacary Sagna. Carl Jenkinson is fit again and raring to go, no doubt, while Sagna’s form recently has been somewhat worrying.

Rather that speculate or get irate about why it might be happening (unlike many I have no machine to see inside his head to know that his contract issue is affecting the way he plays), I think we just need to accept that for the first time since he joined the club in 2006 he’s struggling for form, and while we have a decent option in Jenkinson then I think we should probably use it. Which could see a starting XI like:

Szczesny – Jenkinson – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Ramsey – Wilshere – Cazorla – Podolski – Walcott – Giroud

Again, you’d look at the bench and wonder where goals are going to come from if the first XI can’t produce, but that’s a bridge we’ll have cross if and when we come to it. Arsene Wenger is looking for his team to start better and to take hold of the game before we happen to go a goal or two down. Which would be a pleasant change from some recent performances:

Every time we start to show what we can do, the game is already lost. That is what we have to change. We want to challenge for the championship and therefore now until the end of the season we really have to stand up and show our strength and character.

Last season we came from further behind and finished third but Chelsea are a bit away from us now. The game that we lost at Chelsea on Sunday had difficult mathematical consequences.

As did all the other games we lost this season, the Chelsea one was no more or less damaging, but if we win tonight we close the gap on Sp*rs to just 4 points and when you consider what we overhauled last season that’s nothing. That said, I don’t think it’s conceivable that they’ll collapse the way they did last time around, there’s no spoofer of a manager with his eye on the England job and their squad looks better than it did, so it’s absolutely crucial we don’t waste this game in hand.

We’re looking for a reaction tonight, from the players and the boss. He’s the one who prepares his team, gets them motivated and fired up to start a match, so fingers crossed for improvement from all concerned. West Ham, like all teams managed by the Walrus, will provide us a stern challenge. We’ve got to be ready for a physical game, but it’s one that, should we get going from the first whistle, we can win. At this point, nothing less will do.

In other news the boss spoke about transfers yesterday, and responded to the suggestion that he was looking for two players with a rather shifty ‘yes’. We got the usual ‘no names’ (understandable) and ‘If we sign someone we will tell you’. Sometimes I like to imagine there’s an intern waiting to send parchments to the press, sitting in a cold, dark room, a candle burning, a pristine wax seal sitting beside him and a rose gently decaying.

The manager was also asked about whether or not he’d had ‘crisis talks’ with the team and said the focus on everything little a football club does these days is ‘ridiculous’. I have to agree with him in this sense, some things are not for public consumption (much as we might like the insight), but that’s the way of the world these days.

I’d put money on some club, sooner or later, doing a season long reality TV show like those ones with Z-list celebs or the morons from a particular area who think they’re famous and special but are, in fact, the kind of people that should be wiped off the face of the earth (along with anyone who watches them). I’d also put money on it not being Arsenal.

Competition: win a Dennis Bergkamp print here.

Finally, don’t forget we’ll have full live blog coverage of the game later on for you. Check back later for a post with all the info or you can bookmark the default live blog page. We’ve also set up a Twitter account @arseblog_live which will provide important updates like goals, cards, substitutions, half-time and full time scores. If you follow that and enable SMS notifications via Twitter, you can get those updates sent directly to your phone.

And if you fancy a flutter, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

Until later.

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arseblog

Fan of Arsenal, Robert Pires and most everything to do with rum and whiskey. Writer, podcaster, ace flintknapper, sluggish centre-half. Smiter of those that ought to be smote.