Soccernet Preview: Arsenal v West Ham United
Arsenal may be just two points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United, and level on points with second-placed Chelsea, but they remain the outsiders of the three with the bookmakers to win the title for the first time since 2004.
Despite the loss of Francesc Fabregas in the 3-1 home win over Burnley, not to mention the long-term absence of both Robin van Persie and William Gallas, the Gunners still picked up wins over FC Porto in the Champions League and Hull City back in the domestic game.
With a favourable fixture list, which on paper includes Saturday's clash with West Ham United at Emirates Stadium, the Gunners should be in the championship race until the very end - as long as their resources are not stretched further. It will have been a relief to boss Arsene Wenger that Andrei Arshavin's return to the side coincided with the loss of his captain.
For West Ham, the danger of relegation will not go away. They remain only three points above the drop zone, albeit with a vastly superior goal difference which would still be the case even with a heavy thrashing at the hands of the Gunners.
This may be a home banker for many, but West Ham have a superb recent record away to Arsenal. Not only were they the first ever visiting team to win at Emirates Stadium, a Bobby Zamora goal earning a vital 1-0 win in another relegation dogfight in April 2007, but they have only lost one of their past four trips. Last season they frustrated Arsenal by claiming a goalless draw.
This season's away form has been dismal, though, with just one win on the road. All points are vital for the Hammers right now, but the midweek visit of relegation rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers appears far more pressing.
Arsenal player in focus: Nicklas Bendtner It's two weeks since Bendtner appeared to be public enemy No. 1 after missing a hatful of sitters against Burnley, even if they did come in a 3-1 victory for the Gunners. But the Danish Footballer of the Year has gone from zero to hero after two match-winning performances against FC Porto and Hull City since. With Fabregas, Van Persie and William Gallas missing from the spine of the Gunners' team at the KC Stadium it was left to Bendtner to come up with the injury-time winner. As the self-styled best striker at Emirates Stadium, Bendtner needs to start scoring regularly to justify that lofty claim. Arsenal will need his goals if they are to win the title, continuing with Saturday's game against West Ham.
West Ham player in focus: Matthew Upson There are so many permutations in the West Ham team that few players seem to be constants in Gianfranco Zola's selections. One of those players is most definitely England international Upson, the first English player signed by Arsene Wenger when he moved from Luton Town to Arsenal in 1997 for £2 million. A player who has suddenly found himself a valuable international performer at the age of 30, Upson will have to repel waves of Arsenal attacks if the Hammers are to get anything out of this game. He can be a menace at the other end, too, having bagged three Premier League goals this season, the most productive of his career. Upson failed to make the grade at Arsenal, making just 35 appearances in six years.
Key Battle: Scott Parker v Alex Song The midfield battle could prove to be key for West Ham if they are to have any chance of leaving Emirates Stadium with a point or three in their pockets. Giving the Gunners time and space can be suicide and Scott Parker will be the terrier-like performer who will be closing down at every opportunity. Parker, though, is no stranger to disciplinary problems having been booked nine times already this season - putting him one card off a two-game ban which would be a huge blow for the Hammers. Cameroon international Song will look to limit Parker's influence on the game. While not strictly up against each other, they will perform similar roles and is could be that the best performer from the pair will get the favourable result.
Tactics: Arsenal will play their usual formation, whether or not skipper Fabregas is fit to return to the starting line-up. Alex Song will play the holding role with Nicklas Bendtner essentially the lone striker with Andrei Arshavin playing a supporting role. There may not be much width in the midfield, meaning Eboue and Clichy could provide a more attacking option on the flanks with West Ham likely to look to soak up pressure. The Hammers are likely to play the fit-again Carlton Cole as the sole striker at Emirates Stadium, though Zola could use two strikers if Benni McCarthy is available. Injury concerns at full back mean it is likely to be another unsettled defence for the Italian.
Quotes: Scott Parker on his World Cup hopes: "I always think about England. When every squad is named, I think maybe I could have a chance or come in if somebody gets injured. I was in the squad for the game in Germany last season but if I'm being honest, I would have thought I would have been involved a little bit more now. All I can do is keep playing well for West Ham. That's my main aim. If something comes of that, then brilliant."
Alex Song on the resilient Gunners: "The manager trusts us to do the job. If the referee says we have four minutes or two minutes left then the boss says 'don't panic, be confident and play'. That means if the opposition team drop we have the chance to score. If the game is not finished we know we can score at anytime."
In the news: Soccernet's Wayne Veysey has been speaking to the mentor of Theo Walcott, who has had his critics of late. Huw Jennings told us: "In many respects, the progress that Theo made has been more up and down than I, and I'm sure he, had hoped. The reason is the injuries he has suffered. Had Theo had a cleaner bill of health, I would have expected him to probably be a more consistent performer. He would have had more game time both for club and country."
West Ham are targeting both Portsmouth strikers Frederic Piquionne and Aruna Dindane, as potential summer transfers. Piquionne has made a big impact with Pompey despite their incredible off-pitch traumas. Dindane is another loanee who won't be extending his deal from Lens.
Arsenal team news: Alex Song returns from suspension from Arsenal while Francesc Fabregas is expected to shake off a hamstring injury. Robin van Persie and William Gallas remain on the treatment table. Tomas Rosicky is also available after a groin problem.
West Ham team news: Herita Ilunga (tendon) and Mark Noble (arm) are back in full training, along with Benni McCarthy and Guille Franco. Julien Faubert (hamstring) is close to a return. Luis Boa Morte is still out with a cruciate knee ligament injury. Manuel da Costa is suspended.
Probable Arsenal team (4-5-1): Almunia, Eboue, Vermaelen, Campbell, Clichy, Arshavin, Song, Fabregas, Diaby, Nasri, Bendtner.
Probable West Ham team (4-5-1): Green, Faubert, Upson, Gabbidon, Ilunga, Kovac, Parker, Dyer, Behrami, Diamanti, Cole.
Soccernet prediction: West Ham may have had a good record away at the Gunners in recent seasons, but it seems Arsenal have their scoring boots on at the moment and should have far too much for their London rivals.