Arsenal fans head into the 2015-16 season full of optimism after the way they ended their last campaign, having won the FA Cup, and breaking the hoodoo Chelsea had over them, last weekend in the FA Community Shield.
The rest of the Premier League title contenders may also feel quietly confident with the defending champions making no significant signings at Stamford Bridge the day before the start of the new season.
Nothing less than three points will satisfy Gunners fans to start the season against a West Ham side whom they beat 3-0 in this fixture back in March. The Hammers were in UEFA Europa League action in Romania on Thursday night too.
Arsène Wenger will almost-certainly be without Alexis Sánchez for the season opener as the Chilean is only just starting his pre-season training after an extended holiday following his participation in winning the Copa América earlier this summer.
The Gunners boss will also have to make do without Danny Welbeck who played that left wing role last season – the England international still not recovered from a knee injury picked up in April. A knee injury also keeps Tomáš Rosický on the sidelines.
Before a ball has even been kicked this season, Arsenal have lost Jack Wilshere for what reports are claiming will be 6-8 weeks with a fractured fibula. The England international hasn’t had much luck over the past four years but Wenger does have plenty of options in midfield.
West Ham United
Slaven Bilić’s first Premier League match as a manager is at a ground that wasn’t built when he played for West Ham for 15 months between 1996-97. He was an Everton player when watching Wenger guide Arsenal to the Premier League trophy in 1997-98.
The Hammers have made hardwork of their Europa League qualifying campaign, eliminated by lowly Astra Giurgiu, but they did play a number of youngsters admittedly.
Bilić will be without right-back Carl Jenkinson who is ineligible to play versus his parent club during his season-long loan from Arsenal.
Strikers Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll are also ruled out through injury.
The same XI that won last weekend’s Community Shield seems the obvious choice to us this weekend. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the winner from the right wing, and although Olivier Giroud has a great record versus West Ham, Theo Walcott may really be Arsenal’s first-choice striker this season. Santi Cazorla plays left wing when Alexis Sánchez and Danny Welbeck are out. He and Mesut Özil to pull the strings in this one.
Am I being too ambitious to think West Ham will line up with two strikers and four debutants at the Emirates on Sunday? Difficult to predict what Slaven Bilić will go with but as Kevin Nolan started on Thursday West Ham can fans can fear the worst with Mark Noble playing this weekend. Pedro Obiang is a rock in that midfield as is Cheikhou Kouyaté – some steel in the midfield to try bully Arsenal off the ball. Going forward, I’m a big fan of Dimitri Payet but can’t expect him to light the Premier League up in his first game given the fixture.
Santi Cazorla vs Joey O’Brien
West Ham are without their first-choice right-back Carl Jenkinson so Santi Cazorla can terrorise Joey O’Brien instead. The West Ham full-back is experienced but I’m not convinced he’ll stop the Spaniard from being dangerous and creating chances as he cuts inside from the left. Cazorla will be supported by Nacho Monreal bombing on from full-back to put balls into the penalty area too.
Theo Walcott vs Angelo Ogbonna
The Italian centre-back will need to be sharp on his Premier League debut should he come up against the pacey Theo Walcott who is in good form in competitive games if you count the end of last season. Hammers fans will be hoping it’s Angelo Ogbonna that starts and not the slow James Collins because that could be a mismatch versus the Arsenal striker’s pace. Though personally I do think he’s very overrated. At least he may be protected by West Ham being tight defensively as a unit.
Cheikhou Kouyaté vs Mesut Özil
If West Ham are to get anything from this game they’ll need to be good at attacking set pieces or able to keep Arsenal’s playmakers quiet. Or both. The visitors could bull Mesut Özil off the ball as they have some power in their midfield. If they let the German take control of this match they’re in trouble because he ended last season well and played well in pre-season. We all know he can slice open a defence with his killer passes when he’s on his game.
5 – Arsenal have won their last five home games versus West Ham, scoring 14 goals during this run, conceding only two.
5 – Olivier Giroud has scored five goals in five Premier League appearances versus West Ham.
9 – Arsenal have won nine consecutive Premier League matches versus West Ham, scoring 25 goals and conceding only five goals during this run.