Preview: Arsenal vs West Ham Utd
07:30 13 March 2015
As recently as late January, there was a sense of optimism around Upton Park, with the Hammers’ prospects of European football next season still looking fair to good.
However, a run of seven winless games and escalating speculation over the future of manager Sam Allardyce – along with the loss of injured centre-forward Andy Carroll – have combined to effectively kill those hopes off.
West Ham’s failure to hold on to the lead has cost them dearly of late – they were pegged back at home to Manchester United in injury time and had to settle for a 1-1 draw.
And that worrying tendency worsened against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, where the Hammers led 2-0 going into the closing stages and ended up conceding a 96th-minute equaliser.
Having lost their last two games, at home to Crystal Palace and Chelsea, the east Londoners now find themselves marooned in 10th place, with no fears of being dragged into the relegation battle but equally little chance of qualifying for the Europa League.
In the absences of Carroll and Carlton Cole, the Hammers are relying heavily on Senegalese forward Diafra Sakho, their leading scorer with 11 goals this season.
One of Sakho’s countrymen, Cheikhou Kouyate, has impressed in midfield alongside the likes of Mark Noble and captain Kevin Nolan, with former Arsenal man Alex Song restricted to the bench in recent weeks.
Left-back Aaron Cresswell has made strides since his arrival from Ipswich last year, while the experienced James Collins may be drafted into the side if Winston Reid – who has just signed a new contract at Upton Park – misses out through injury.
Song’s early goal was disallowed for offside when the teams met at Upton Park just after Christmas and Arsenal took advantage with two goals in quick succession late in the first half.
Reid’s clumsy challenge on Santi Cazorla allowed the Spaniard to open the scoring from the penalty spot and Danny Welbeck steered in a cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to make it 2-0 just three minutes later.
Kouyate reduced the deficit early in the second half, heading in a James Tomkins cross, but only a string of superb stops by Hammers goalkeeper Adrian prevented Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez from stretching the visitors’ advantage further.
Arsenal have won their last nine meetings with West Ham – and it’s hard not to see them extending that run into double figures with a 3-1 victory.