West Ham United vs Arsenal
Venue: London Stadium
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
Referee: Jonathan Moss
West Ham play host to Arsenal in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off with both sides at a slight crossroads in their seasons.
Arsenal had a great unbeaten run which prompted talk of a top four finish, however the end of this run at Southampton started a mini decline with home wins against Fulham and Burnley mixed in with a scrappy, lucky draw against Brighton and an embarrassing 5-1 defeat away at Liverpool.
The six goals conceded over the two away games at Brighton and Liverpool continued a run of no away clean sheets this season and means the visit to West Ham is a tricky test for the Gunners.
The hosts have had their own inconsistencies this season perfectly exemplified by their 10th place league position. Pellegrini’s side have had mixed fortunes against the top six this season with a gritty nil nil against Chelsea, a narrow, unlucky defeat to Tottenham and a stunning win against Manchester United countered by four-goal hammerings to Liverpool and Manchester City. West Ham were also the better side in the reverse fixture in August before succumbing to a late 3-1 defeat.
Both sides will be looking to their star strikers to propel them to victory. Aubameyang leads the race for the Golden Boot and has already netted in away London derbies this season with goals at Fulham and Crystal Palace.
West Ham will look to the fit-again Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carroll who will be licking their lips at playing against whichever ramshackle, brittle Arsenal centre-backs are selected, despite the former’s links with a £35m move to China, leading to the club issuing a statement suggesting they expect the Austrian to honour his contract.
Another key battle will be in the midfield as Declan Rice meets Torreira, both players have arguably been their side’s best player this season and the winner of this individual contest could lead to their side’s victory.
Unai Emery will again need to make a decision on both Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey’s mental states to play given the off-field issues of both players. Arsenal welcomed Bellerin, Koscielny, Mavropanos, Mustafi, Monreal and Ozil back to full training in midweek.
This leaves only Henrik Mkhitaryan near to returning from an injury, with the Armenian due back in February. Holding and Welbeck remain season-long absentees.
West Ham are without a host of important players with long term injuries to Yarmelenko, Lanzini, Sanchez and Wilshere likely to be season-long.
Defenders Reid and Fredericks are likely to be out all month, while newer, important injuries to Hernandez and Balbuena could disrupt the team based on recent selection. Marko Arnautovic was confused to be replaced midway through the first half of their cup tie and was seemingly substituted for his own protection.
Predicted Starting XIs
West Ham United (4-5-1): Fabianski; Zabaleta, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Snodgrass, Rice, Noble, Obiang, Anderson; Arnautovic
Arsenal (3-4-3): Leno; Bellerin, Sokratis, Koscielny, Mustafi, Kolasinac; Torreira, Xhaka; Iwobi, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Prediction: West Ham 3 Arsenal 3
Two inconsistent, wayward teams, the league’s top scorer (Aubameyang 14) against the keeper (Fabianski 80) with the most saves could lead to a lunchtime classic.