Wenger's boys to ruin the Hammers' revival
West Ham v Arsenal | Saturday 17:30 | Live on William Hill TV
In what could turn out to be a dress rehearsal for the Carling Cup final, West Ham welcome Arsenal to Upton Park looking to carry on a recent revival in fortunes that has earned manager Avram Grant an extended stay of execution.
Buoyed by a 2-0 win over Barnsley in the FA Cup and a 2-1 victory over Birmingham in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg on Tuesday, the Hammers now go into this game looking to take their cup form into the league.
The Premier League's basement club seem to have realised the predicament that they are in and over the New Year have battled to a run of just one defeat in seven games. The only blotch on that sequence of results being the infamous 5-0 drubbing on Tyneside at the hands of Newcastle.
The under pressure Grant is without Manuel da Costa (ankle), Herita Ilunga (muscle), Lars Jacobsen (heel) and Benni McCarthy (calf) but could give new loan signing Wayne Bridge his debut.
Arsene Wenger was critical of his own team's performance in the Carling Cup in midweek describing it as "naive" and lacking "maturity". That result came after the Gunners could only scrape a draw against Championship Leeds United in the FA Cup last weekend, there's no doubt that Wenger will be looking for redemption and a vital three points.
Arsenal trail the league leaders, Manchester United, by four points and have played a game more than their rivals. Three points at Upton Park will see the Londoners move to within one point of United who don't play until Sunday. Arsenal will still be without defenders Sebastien Squillaci (hamstring) and Thomas Vermaelen (Achilles) as well as Abou Diaby (calf) and Manuel Almunia (ankle).
Recent match history does not bode well for the Hammers where the Gunners have won five and drawn two of their last seven league games against West Ham. The match betting reflects this dominance as Arsenal are backed as favourites at 4/7 compared to the 9/2 on offer for West Ham.
Four of the last seven at Upton Park, however, have ended in draws and another stalemate here is priced at 3/1.
In the goalscorer markets the usual names crop up for Arsenal. Marouane Chamakh and Robin van Persie are both priced at 7/2 to open the scoring while Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas can be backed at 6/5 and 5/4 respectively to score at anytime.
For the hosts Carlton Cole is the only player to have ever scored a career goal against Arsenal and the former Chelsea man is 15/2 to open the scoring in this tea time offering. West Ham academy product Mark Noble is 20/1 to repeat his midweek goalscoring exploit by scoring the first goal while the hit and miss Frederic Piquionne is 9/1 to be a hit and break the deadlock.
My recommendation for this game is for a definite Arsenal win. I'm that confident I'd probably take them in the handicap market (-1) at 6/4.
Another couple of markets worth noting are the clean sheet market and the win to nil market. The Hammers have failed to score in six of their last seven clashes with the Gunners. Therefore, Arsenal to keep a clean sheet at 11/10 and Arsenal to win to nil at 11/8 could prove a very shrewd punt.