Preview: West Ham vs Arsenal
Make or break for one, a test of resolve for the other.
The former is what this match means to worried West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola while Arsene Wenger will find tomorrow’s encounter as the latter – a check of how ‘in-form’ his Gunners really are and can continue to be.
Sunday’s match brings together a contrast of motives with one side hoping to end misery while the other bids to continue ascendancy. But there is a clash of similarities when it comes to either club’s football philososphy.
Homegrown talent, youthful squad and charming football.
Arsenal are the pioneers of boasting those traits in England and – partly with the influence of Zola’s reign – West Ham have become disciples of that football fashion too.
“I would rather change my job than change my style of play. The way I like to play is the way I believe is right for this club. I won’t change my principles. I didn’t last year when we were having problems as well. I do this job because I love to do it in this way and I won’t change it.”
If you presumed Arsene Wenger was the man quoted above, you are wrong. It was not Arsenal’s Frenchman who was being stubbornly faithful to his policy yet again. Those words came from another man with a tidy football conception, Gianfranco Zola, who refuses to turn his team “ugly” in order to turn results around.
But it is no coincidence that Zola and Wenger are in a similar circle. Arsenal’s chief is indeed the No. 1 source of inspiration for West Ham’s boss in his young managerial career and the 43-year-old intends to follow Wenger’s lead.
“Wenger is a manager I look up to. I admire the football he plays. We want to follow the same policy he has. That is our project.”
Another factor about Arsene and Gianfranco’s philosophies is that their teams are designed to show up well against higher-placed opponents even when the going is getting tough.
Arsenal have ended miserable spells with big victories against the Uniteds and Chelseas before and West Ham will similarly find a fixture of this sort as a massive ‘pick me up’ effect to their sinking form. A decent result for the Hammers will breathe new air into their fainting contention. Thus, this London derby may be contested like a cup final.
West Ham – and goalkeeper Robert Green in particular – traditionally save their best games for Wenger’s men anyway and despite an improved record at Upton Park over the past two campaigns, you can count on the ground’s hostility and a ‘wounded Lion’ approach from the home side on this trip.
Even so, there is a reason why Arsenal will be red-hot favorites on Sunday. Wenger’s men have been walking on water ever since those successive Manchester defeats and so far, have been abiding by the rule of “beating teams they are supposed to beat”. Arsenal have failed to drop points against a side outside the top five at least and have outscored opponents 14-3 in their last four league fixtures.
That is some ruthlessness, and for good measure, consistency.
But in such a stunning run, there will come banana skins on the way and perhaps, the midweek result in the Champions League was just that. Arsenal’s seven-game winning streak in all competitions was halted by a devastating late equalizer by AZ Alkmaar. That 93rd minute goal on Tuesday night has kept lingering doubts over Arsenal’s ability to hold on and grind out games.
There is still a notion that Wenger’s men are naive on tricky trips, but they declined such criticism on their last league visit in that hard-earned 1-0 victory at Fulham. The Gunners were denied that sort of result on Tuesday but they can put things straight again if they hold their nerves on Sunday’s visit.
And surely, a ‘hit and run’ 1-0 win will do.