Arsenal vs West Ham | Sunday 09 August | Emirates Stadium | 14:30
The first London Derby of the 2015/16 season pits Arsenal against West Ham at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. The Gunners are in a buoyant mood following their impressive 1-0 victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield last weekend and will be looking to pick up their first win of the season.
To Win (90mins)
West Ham 9/1
There's a real sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium that maybe this could be a season that ends with the Premier League title. Arsenal showed that they can beat Chelsea. Now, they must beat them over 38 games. Arguably for the first time since they left Highbury they have the billing of genuine Premier League contenders. The Gunners will be hoping for a good start to the new season and will be expected to secure maximum points against West Ham. The last time these sides met, Arsenal were 3-0 victors with goals from Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini. There’s plenty of promise exuding from Arsenal’s pre-season displays especially that win over Chelsea and although they haven’t been very active in the transfer window, they’re a side loaded with talent. The importance of Petr Cech’s acquisition cannot be understated. With the 33-year-old on board, the club have filled a longstanding void in their side with a genuinely world-class operator and a player who knows what’s required to win the biggest honours in the game. Cech is a great shot-stopper with superb reflexes, positional intelligence and a great command of his box. It seems that even the sight of Cech on the team sheet can have a detrimental effect on the opposition.
Going forward, the squad looks in magnificent shape. Giroud is a tremendous foil at the point of the attack for the polished midfield talents of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla. Cazorla will take up the creative responsibility from deep, slaloming through the opposition to create space and launch counter-attacks with his ambitious, ambidextrous passing. Ozil's first proper pre-season with the club should see him hit the ground running immediately and if he takes his form from the end of 2014/15 into 2015/16, than West Ham should be on red alert. The German playmaker has been one of the star performers in pre-season and finally looks ready to make good on the £42 million Arsenal paid to land him in 2013. The Gunners will be without Copa America winner Alexis Sanchez with the Chilean having only joined the squad this week following an extended break, while Jack Wilshere finds himself among the club's injury concerns again after suffering an ankle injury in training.
Slaven Bilic’s first challenge as West Ham boss is an uphill battle against a clearly superior Arsenal team that the club haven’t beaten in eight years. The Hammers have tasted defeat in their last ten encounters with Wenger’s men but Bilic will be hoping to spring a surprising result and will be encouraged by the fact that Arsenal have won just one of their last five Premier League openers. Bilic has added some quality players to strengthen an already strong team. The £10 million centre-back Angelo Ogbonna becomes West Ham’s most expensive defender ever, while Pedro Obiang and Dimitri Payet, two other newcomers, will alter a midfield deprived of Stewart Downing, who began last season brilliantly. They have also added Al Jazira’s Argentine playmaker Manuel Lanzini on loan.
Obiang will provide the side with a strong and combative defensive midfielder, who is also comfortable on the ball with plenty of room for improvement at just 23 years of age. Similarly, the purchase of Ogbonna from Juventus is another encouraging one. He is a quick and physical centre back, whose aggressive style will offer stability to their back four and the Italian could suit the Premier League to a tee. With a settled defence, now that Carl Jenkinson is back on another loan deal, Bilic has the makings of a good squad at his disposal. Arguably, their most exciting addition is Payet from Marseille for £15m. The 28-year-old was one of the best players in Ligue 1 last season, scoring seven goals and assisting seventeen times. He will be the player they look to for inspiration, guile and that little bit of quality in the final third. Scoring was the issue plaguing West Ham in the second half of last season and it was largely because of a lack of service in front of goal. Such issues should no longer exist given the signings West Ham has made. Complicating matters is the leg injury suffered by Enner Valencia which could result in Diafra Sakho being deployed as a lone striker in order to make room for one of the many midfielders at Bilic's disposal. Andy Carroll is not expected to return to first-team action for West Ham United until the middle of October.
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VERDICT: Arsenal HT/FT 7/10
Arsenal boast an excellent head-to-head record against the Hammers – unbeaten in the last seventeen meetings with fifteen wins. The home win looks a certainty but for more value, take Arsenal to win on the halftime-fulltime double at 15/20. They’re worth it.