Arsenal Focus - Gunners to undergo set piece exam at West Ham
Having bounced back from the weekend's home defeat to Chelsea with a solid 3-1 win over Olympiakos at the Emirates Stadium in the Champions League, Arsenal are now on course to continue their impressive early season form.
The short trip south east to West Ham United on Saturday will be a tough test for the Gunners. Sam Allardyce's men have made a solid return to the Premier League after gaining promotion from the Championship last season, and will be enjoying their lofty current position in the league table having lost just once so far.
And what is most impressive is the Hammers' home form. Ignoring the League Cup defeat to Wigan Athletic, in which West Ham fielded a weakened line-up, Upton Park has hosted comfortable victories against Fulham and Aston Villa, along with a draw against Sunderland. Indeed the Boleyn Ground has the potential to become something of a fortress as the club look to re-establish themselves as part of the furniture among England's elite.
If Arsenal are to go there and come away with the points, they will need to cope well with another physically impressive team. In recent history Arsenal have struggled to cope with brute force in the Premier League but, under new assistant manager Steve Bould, the Gunners defence is beginning to cope much better with direct football. For evidence of that, we need look no further than the stalemate at the Britannia Stadium earlier in the season against a Stoke City side that Wenger's team had recently struggled against.
Despite these defensive improvements, there is a naivety at set pieces which still exists. Assistant manager Bould admitted as much after Wednesday's win over Olympiakos in the Champions League, telling Arsenal's official website: “We haven't had an awful lot of goals against [but] the goals that have been against in the main have been set pieces, which we're all disappointed about and think we can improve.”
That vulnerability to well-worked set piece routines will undoubtedly be under the microscope as far as Allardyce and his West Ham team are concerned. With height throughout the team, from James Collins to Mohamed Diame and the returning juggernaut of Andy Carroll, they definitely have the raw materials to expose Arsenal's continued frailties from dead ball situations. The availability of Per Mertesacker, who missed the win over the Greek champions with a virus, will be of major importance.
Arsenal have not lost to West Ham since the 2006-07 season when the Hammers recorded 1-0 wins both home and away. If Arsenal want to avoid any chances of that being repeated, they must continue to stand up for themselves against football's bigger men.
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