Slaven Bilic says Champions League-chasing West Ham will have to play a complete game to beat Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday.
West Ham host the Gunners at Upton Park this weekend desperate for points to keep their European challenge on track – the east London side go into the game sixth on the table, three points behind Manchester City, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualification place. Manchester United are two points ahead of the Hammers in fifth.
Arsene Wenger’s men meanwhile may still harbour slim hopes of pushing for the title – they are 11 points behind leaders Leicester City – and, although Arsenal hold a game in hand over the Foxes and second-placed Tottenham, would need a major collapse from both sides to steal in and snatch the trophy.
Bilic, working wonders in his first campaign in charge, orchestrated a 2-0 win in the first London derby of the season between these teams at Emirates Stadium in August.
And the West Ham manager knows his players must be at their very best to repeat that feat in what will be the final clash between the clubs at the Boleyn Ground, as the Hammers prepare to move to the Olympic Stadium.
“It was a major surprise [when we beat Arsenal] at the time, but we’ve shown throughout the season that it wasn’t a one-off,” Bilic said.
“Arsenal are very dangerous in the beginning of games and they are in very good form.
“To beat Arsenal you have to play a complete game. When they have the ball, you have to reduce the gaps between the lines. It’s a big London derby. Arsenal are fighting for the championship so they will want to win all their remaining games – we both want the three points.”
Discussing the prospect of missing out on the Champions League and perhaps being forced to settle for Europa League qualification, or even finishing empty-handed, Bilic added: “We are happy but we want to grab any possible situation in front of us. Arsenal are quite used to being in these situations year after year. There’s no point in talking about who are favourites.”
According to Bilic, the match against Arsenal will come too soon for defenders James Collins and Sam Byram to be involved.
Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) and Aaron Ramsey (thigh) could be back for the Gunners, who will still be without Santi Cazorla (Achilles tendonitis) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee).
Thomas Rosicky (thigh) and Jack Wilshere (broken leg) are both nearing a return to action but are lacking match fitness and unlikely to face West Ham.
While the outcome of Arsenal’s title challenge is very much out of their hands, defender Gabriel has not given up hope of an improbable conclusion to an unpredictable campaign.
He said: “There’ll [still] be surprises but I hope that the surprises will be on the other teams and that we can win all seven games to be champions.”
Key Opta stats:
– West Ham are looking to win both home and away matches against Arsenal in the same league season for the first time since 2006-07.
– Arsenal’s defeat to the Hammers (0-2) on opening weekend of the 2015-16 season ended a run of nine consecutive Premier League wins against them.
– Cheikhou Kouyate has scored in two of his three Premier League games for West Ham against the Gunners.
– Arsene Wenger has won nine and lost just two of his 16 Premier League visits to the Boleyn Ground (W9 D5 L2). The only away grounds he’s won more often at in the league are Goodison Park and Villa Park (both 10 wins).
– Olivier Giroud has found the net five times in six Premier League games against West Ham; but just one of these has been netted at the Boleyn Ground.
– Alex Iwobi has scored in both of his first two league starts for Arsenal, something only Ian Wright and Davor Suker (scored in first three) also managed in the Premier League.
– Dimitri Payet has netted four direct free-kick goals for West Ham this season in all competitions, a haul only Chelsea’s Willian can better (six).
– The Hammers are unbeaten in their last 13 home games (W7 D6), the longest such current run in the top-flight.
– Slaven Bilic’s side have the best record in Premier League London derbies this season, picking up 14 points from seven games (Arsenal have only managed five points from six games so far).
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