If a football team’s performance reflects the attitude within the club, then Arsenal’s display in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Wigan Athletic spoke volumes.
Nervous, edgy and seemingly weighed down by expectation, the relieved Gunners limped over the line by the narrowest possible margin to defeat their Championship opponents on penalties, earning the right to make the short journey back to Wembley to face Hull City in a month’s time.
They’ll play Hull in the league on Humberside at the weekend too, by which point they would be five points off a Champions League place if they lose this match at home to West Ham and Everton beat Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
But the Gunners have beaten the Hammers the last seven times they’ve faced them, and are unbeaten in 12 against their opponents from East London. The last three times they lost to them came in successive matches between 2006 and 2007, as first Sol Campbell went AWOL at half-time, then Alan Pardew shoved Arsene Wenger on the touchline and then the Hammers became the first away side to win at the Emirates Stadium. Memorable moments all.
Anything other than a win here would find a similarly dark place in the annals of recent Gunners history, and whilst the home side should get that win against opposition with nothing more than the possibility of achieving a top half finish to play for, it isn’t likely to come easily.
After his side were somewhat more fluid in the recent home loss to Liverpool, Hammers boss Sam Allardyce is likely to revert to the setup that saw his team earn a draw at Chelsea this season.
They will be tough to break down, but they’ll also offer a threat going forward, with that threat largely coming from the head of Andy Carroll.
After scoring in West Ham’s last away game at Sunderland, an anytime goal for the Geordie frontman greatly appeals here at 4.20, whilst he’s 7.25 to outscore Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, who has just one goal in his last seven appearances.
For short-priced backers, West Ham are 1.60 to win the game with a +2 goal head start, whilst both teams to score also looks good at 1.78.
Giroud, Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny could all return to the Arsenal starting line-up after being left out of the Wigan, but the energy-sapping nature of that match has taken its toll on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nacho Monreal and Lukas Podolski, who are all expected to miss out.
Kevin Nolan has a hamstring problem and could be a big miss for the visitors if he doesn’t make it, whilst George McCartney and Marco Boriello are definitely out.
As discussed above, a strike for Carroll looks an interesting option here, but Arsenal’s goals will have to come from somewhere too.
Aaron Ramsey returned to the starting XI at Wembley and he’s 3.20 to rekindle his fine goalscoring form from earlier in the season, whilst Mikel Arteta will be on penalty duty and could be a good shout at 5.00 any time.
Correct score prediction
Arsenal 2 West Ham 1 – 8.50
Both teams to score – 1.78
Andy Carroll to score at any time – 4.20