West Ham go into this re-arranged clash against London rivals Arsenal at the Emirates in need of a positive result to kick start their 2013. After a fantastic 2012 which included winning promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, beating the club record for most away wins in one season and beating Chelsea for the first time in nearly ten years; 2013, young as it is, has been distinctly underwhelming for Sam Allardyce's men, with only one win in our five games played since the turn of the year. And let's not even talk about the away form... oh go on, you've twisted my arm. We're West Ham fans; sado-maschoism is obviously our thing, we've been here before. One point from a possible fifteen available in our last five Barclays Premier League games and- wait for it- the WORST scoring record away from home in the whole of British professional football. Five measly goals on the road all season (that's in all competitions by the way.) The last time a West Ham player scored away from the Boleyn Ground was almost two months ago, in the form of Andy Carroll's consolation goal in the 3-1 defeat at Tottenham. On the upside, we've only conceded fourteen goals on our travels as well, making our away defence the joint-fourth tightest in the league. However, recent games have exposed our defensive frailties and as fans, we can't cling to our early season defensive dominance as a comfort blanket forever. Something has to change and tonight is as good a time as any to start.
Our opponents tonight also need to get their 2013 up and running- the Gunners too have won only one of the first five of the new year. A hard-fought FA Cup replay win over plucky Swansea wasn't the tonic Arsenal needed to get a result against Chelsea last Sunday, and they now find themselves seven points adrift of the top four and the lucrative Champions League places. Life is, as ever, tough for the Goons, who enjoyed a turnaround of sorts after being unceremoniously dumped out of the Capital One Cup on penalties by League Two Bradford City; going on a three match winning streak which included thrilling 7-3 and 5-2 wins over Newcastle United and Reading respectively. They need these three points tonight as much as we do, so we're going to need everyone up for this one to get anything out of it.
Last time out against Arsenal, a spirited Upton Park display and a wonderful solo goal from Momo Diame wasn't enough to prevent defeat, with goals from Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Santiago Carzola sealing a 3-1 win for the North London side. Our recent form against Arsenal isn't what it could be, with four defeats out of our last five meetings with them. The Irons haven't actually beaten Arsenal since a wonderfully executed finish by Bobby Zamora and a masterclass in goalkeeping from Robert Green saw us triumph 1-0 north of the river and become the first away side ever to win at the Emirates in in March 2007 of the famous Great Escape season of 2006/2007. Our performances against the Gunners recently, this season's enconter aside, have been poor and we need to change that this evening.
Sam Allardyce does not yet have a full squad to choose from but we're getting there. Marouane Chamakh, impressively industrious on his home debut in a West Ham shirt against QPR last weekend, is ineligible to play against his parent club so Carlton Cole is in line for his fifteenth start of the season. James Collins is also struggling with a recurring hamstring injury but otherwise, Big Sam has a clean bill of health within his squad.
Arsenal on the other hand are short of midfield options, with Abou Diaby (thigh)and Francis Coquelin (hamstring) both ruled out. Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, however, both return after missing the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea through illness.
Games between Arsenal and West Ham don't throw up the obvious connections that games between West Ham and other London rivals such as Chelsea do; but the connections are there. Hammers right back Guy Demel, in line for a start after signing an extension to his contract this morning, was once on Arsenal's books; although he never made a first team appearance. Marouane Chamakh is of course on loan from Arsenal as well; and one of the main talking points amongst both sets of supporters before and after the game will be the Irons' midfield linchpin Momo Diame; reportedly a transfer target for Arsenal, who may be tempted by the reported £3.5 million release clause written into his Upton Park contract.
By Alex Shilling