Monday, March 22, 2010

Denílson goal inspired The Gunners, Cesc Fábregas pinalty scorer

- Denilson 5,
- Fabregas (pen) 83


**While Arsenal fans contemplate two compelling matches against Barcelona in the Champions League, manager Arsene Wenger has urged his players to keep their minds strictly on domestic matters - and specifically this weekend's London derby against West Ham United - stressing that they've been battling to stay in the title race since August, so it would be somewhat careless to lose focus now amid thoughts of taking on the current European champions.

There are plenty of pundits who regard it as a minor miracle - or more accurately, perhaps, a testimony to the inconsistency of all the leading clubs this season - that Arsenal are still in with a strong shout of landing the Premier League prize, after having been written off repeatedly along the way. In fact, victory over their neighbours to the east on Saturday would send the Gunners back to the top of the table, at least for a day.

As Wenger put it succinctly this week: "With eight games - four at home, four away - left, we are still in the race, so let's have a go."

West Ham can certainly expect their hosts to do that - and Gianfranco Zola's side will also probably be seeking to ensure they stifle the Gunners' knack of scoring last-minute goals (they've netted five in or after the 90th minute of their last four League games) but the Sardinian boss knows the Hammers face a daunting task.

Arsenal are the League's top scorers (with 71 goals), and go into this Saturday evening clash aiming to secure a sixth successive win, while West Ham head to north London seeking what would be only their second away win this term in the League.

Their last success on the road was on the opening day of the season at Wolves. Highlighting the current difference in the two clubs' fortunes, the Hammers are an uncomfortable three points above the relegation zone and have lost their last three games, in which they've conceded nine goals.

However, the Eastenders hold the unique distinction of being not only the last visiting side to win at Highbury, but also the first to win at the Emirates Stadium. That 1-0 victory in April 2007, which owed plenty to an inspired performance by goalkeeper Rob Green, as well as to the decisive goal from Bobby Zamora, was their most recent triumph over the Gunners; they've drawn two and lost four of the subsequent six meetings in League and cup. Another unpromising statistic for the Hammers is that they haven't won any of their last nine Premier League London derbies.

Overall, the two clubs have met 122 times, Arsenal winning 51 to West Ham's 33. And if Arsenal should open the scoring, it will be a bad omen for Zola: they last came from behind to win a league match way back in December 2008, when they beat Stoke City 2-1. On the other hand, when they entertained the Gunners at the Boleyn Ground in October, they overcame a two-goal half-time deficit to draw 2-2.

Robin van Persie and William Gallas opened up what appeared to be comfortable lead, but Carlton Cole and Alessandro Diamanti - the latter from the penalty spot - earned West Ham a precious point.

Neither of the Arsenal scorers will be involved this weekend because of injury, but Cole is back in the West Ham side following injury problems of his own, while Diamanti will be hoping to make it three out of three against Arsenal, if selected. The Italian also scored when the two sides met in an FA Cup third round clash in January. However, then it was Arsenal's turn to come from behind as Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo turned the tie on its head.

The Gunners may be further encouraged by the fact that exactly 34 years ago to the day - on 20 March 1976 - they recorded their biggest ever home win against West Ham, 6-1 but they can have no bigger motivation to continue their current winning streak than the prospect of topping the table by around 19:15 on Saturday night.

Teams :

Almunia, Vermaelen, Campbell, Clichy, Eboue, Denilson, Song, Fabregas, Arshavin (Eduardo 82), Nasri (Sagna 75 '), Bendtner (Diaby 57')

West Ham:
Green; Upson, Tomkins, Daprela, Spector, Kovac (Noble 69 '), Behrami, Stanislas, Diamanti, Guillermo Franco (Cole 57'), Mido (McCarthy 74 ')

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