Arsenal-West Ham United Preview
Olivier Giroud's future is once more a talking point as Arsenal look to get back to their winning ways in league play Wednesday night at the London Stadium, where West Ham United are eager to complete a derby double.
Few players have provided more timely goals in a short span of minutes played as Giroud, the France international who cuts a polarising figure for both club and country supporters with regards to his spot in the pecking order of strikers.
He has exclusively come off the bench for Arsenal (9-2-5) in Premier League play and rescued a result for the Gunners at Southampton on Sunday with a header on a cross from Alexis Sanchez that provided a 1-1 draw at St Mary's.
It marked the 10th time in the calendar year across all competitions Giroud has scored the tying or winning goal, and it once again sparked talk of his potential departure in the January window, much to the annoyance of manager Arsene Wenger.
"In your question is the answer, because you say he is important - why should we lose an important player," Wenger said regarding Giroud, who nearly left for Everton before the start of the season. "He will start more games. I believe as well it's always the same when you have many good players, some of them cannot play.
"The question you get is always why does the guy who is good not play? Because if you take him you have another guy who is good who will not play, it is as simple as that."
Giroud has 17 goals in league play as a substitute, tying Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the most with one club in Premier League history and trails only veteran Jermain Defoe (23) for goals coming off the bench.
"He has presence," Wenger told Arsenal.com. "You need it (strength) in the air and he is one of the few in the league who can do that. You have to be absolutely in admiration of his mental quality but as well when (the) team has its back to the wall, he's always got something special to help the team."
The question is whether Arsenal have anything special as they begin to traverse the same path Manchester United did last season in their eventual return to the Champions League as Europa League winners.
The Gunners, who enter the midweek matches in fifth place in the table and one point behind Liverpool, will open the knockout round portion of Europa League play against Swedish side Ostersunds FK in the round of 32.
West Ham (3-4-9) failed to make such inroads in the Europa League the previous two seasons and enter this contest at the top of the drop on 13 points, behind West Bromwich Albion on goal difference. But manager David Moyes and the team seem to have finally gotten past the panic of being in a relegation scrap, and the Hammers took a big step forward Saturday with a 1-0 derby win over Chelsea.
Marko Arnautovic, who signed with the east London outfit for £24 million in the offseason from Stoke City, finally broke his duck in the ninth minute as West Ham got their first victory in five matches under Moyes after he replaced Slaven Bilic. The Irons ended an eight-match winless spell (0-3-5) with their first clean sheet since a 1-0 home win Sept. 30 over Swansea City.
"I do like winning local derbies! Chelsea, Spurs and we've got another one on Wednesday night (against Arsenal)," talisman and midfielder Mark Noble told whufc.com. "When you play against these players and you play against teams like this that have so much money and can buy the best players in the world, you can't just open up and match them up.
"You've got to realise that and you have to find a way to beat them. We found that way by defending, by counterattacking and I don't care if we defended for 90 minutes. We won the game."
Since their shambolic 4-0 defeat at Everton on Nov. 29, the changes Moyes and assistant Stuart Pearce are making on the defensive end appear to be taking hold. Despite the loss to Manchester City, there is a cohesion and a better mentality throughout West Ham as they try to win back-to-back league games for the first time since beating Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough in January.
"We didn't start the season the way we expected but we showed in the last two games that with that spirit and commitment and discipline, we are a good team," defender Pablo Zabaleta said. "Hopefully we can put another good performance in against Arsenal on Wednesday night. I'm sure the supporters will be behind us. It's time to stick together and be positive."
Arsenal did the double last season in this derby, smashing five past the Hammers in the corresponding fixture as Sanchez recorded a second-half hat trick in a 14-minute span. Giroud grabbed the last goal in the most recent match, a 3-0 win in April.
West Ham's lone win in the last 19 matches (1-3-15) between the teams in all competitions was a 2-0 victory at the Emirates on Aug. 9, 2014. The Irons are winless in their last eight (0-2-6) home matches in this derby since Marlon Harewood's goal on 89 minutes provided a 1-0 victory Nov. 5, 2006.
Updated December 11, 2017