Arsenal looks to add to Hammer’s woes
Buoyed by a 3-0 away win against a potential title rival and with its squad beefed up by the return of key players, Arsenal will fancy its chances of adding to bottom club West Ham’s woes this weekend.
Arsenal climbed into second place in the Premier League by beating Manchester City last Sunday and followed that up with a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle in the fourth round of the League Cup on Wednesday.
With Cesc Fabregas, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott all fit after injury problems and long-term absentees Aaron Ramsey and Robin van Persie close to a first-team return, morale is high ahead of a home match against West Ham, the league’s bottom side.
Walcott believes this could be the season Arsenal ends its trophy drought, which extends back to 2005, when the team beat Manchester United on penalties to win the FA Cup.
"Our fans have been desperate for us to win a trophy and the players have as well," said the England winger, who scored twice against Newcastle. "If we continue to play football like that it’s looking bright for us. We’re getting better with the experience we have now."
Arsenal is one of three teams who are five points adrift of league leader Chelsea, which visits Blackburn on Saturday. City and United are also on 17 points from nine games.
The Gunners look stronger this season, with better cover in the problem areas of center back and center forward.
But last month’s 3-2 home loss to West Bromwich Albion, which was followed a week later by a 2-0 loss at Chelsea, was pounced on by critics who claim the team is still lacking credentials to win the title.
West Ham has won just once in the league this season but was the first team to beat Arsenal at the Emirates – in 2007 – and is coming off a morale-boosting victory over Stoke in the League Cup on Wednesday.
"They are one of the best teams in the league," West Ham midfielder Mark Noble said of Arsenal. "They are fantastic at keeping the ball and it’s so hard to get it off them.
"They have an unbelievable set of players but we are confident and will go there and enjoy it."
The cup result took some of the pressure of Hammers manager Avram Grant, whose job is reportedly on the line after his side’s poor start in the league.
United will be without strikers Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen for its match against fifth-place Tottenham at Old Trafford.
Rooney, who signed a new five-year deal with United last Friday, injured his ankle in training three days earlier and was ruled out for three weeks by manager Alex Ferguson.
Ferguson said Friday the injury could be more serious than first feared and that Rooney is facing a longer spell out. With Owen sidelined for "four to five weeks" with a hamstring problem, Ferguson has a shortage of options up front.
"It (Owen’s absence) is a loss because with Wayne being injured, it only gives us the three options at the moment," Ferguson said.
Mexico striker Javier Hernandez, though, is in fine form having scored five goals in his last six games – three of them being winning strikes.
City is without captain Carlos Tevez for the trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers after the Argentina striker injured his thigh in the loss to Arsenal. Dedryck Boyata is suspended but fellow center back Kolo Toure should be fit to return after hamstring problem.
Chelsea travels to Ewood Park expecting a tough match against a Blackburn side which is hard to beat at home.
"They are going to play a physical game, that’s the way they think they can beat us, and it’s up to us now to adapt to what they will come with," Chelsea striker Didier Drogba said.
Elsewhere Saturday, Everton aims to extend its unbeaten run in the league to five games when it hosts Stoke, and Fulham is at home to Wigan.
On Sunday, third-to-last Liverpool will look to build on last weekend’s victory over Blackburn – which ended a seven-match winless run – when it visits Bolton, Aston Villa hosts Birmingham in a Midlands derby and Newcastle is at home to fierce local rival Sunderland.
Sixth-place West Brom travels to Blackpool in Monday’s game.