Hammer time for glorious Gunners

by JAMES CURTIS Arsenal make the short trip across London to West Ham this afternoon not just as a team in fine league form but as title contenders, after Arsene Wenger’s comments in midweek officially entered Arsenal into the race for silverware.
“I know that we haven’t won a trophy for four years, but we have been very close and I believe that this year the team will do it,” Wenger said at Arsenal’s Annual General Meeting on Thursday.
“When I say that, it is not to please you, it is because I am really convinced of it.
“This season we are ready to go for it in the Premier League, the Champions League and of course both the cups as well.”
It is difficult to remember the last time when Wenger’s optimistic chatter about character, spirit and togetherness at the club actually transformed into a clear-cut message that Arsenal’s objective is to win the Premier League.
For Arsenal fans these are exciting times, yet as much as red supporters everywhere welcome back the crisp passing and fluid movement that went missing in previous starts to a league season, they must now expect to see a much tighter Arsenal game, if Wenger’s words are to turn into silver.
Arsenal have been winning in style, netting 27 goals in just eight league games so far this season, but there are still a few grumbles over the defensive fragilities of the team at times.
For a moment during the Birmingham game last week the feeling of conceding a cheap goal via a deflected Gary O’Connor toe-poke was looking likely before the little Russian wizard settled proceedings. On Tuesday against AZ the inevitable happened when Arsenal switched off in the dying seconds.
West Ham fans are like badly trained pets, given the slightest whiff of Arsenal insecurity they will misbehave and make noise, provoking their feline friends on the pitch into a state of frenzy that could push the visitors into a dangerous  corner.
To domesticate West Ham on their own pitch, Arsenal’s back four must perform it’s defensive duties first. Now that Arsenal are formal title contenders, it is less likely that Thomas Vermaelen’s fan-fair free role will continue.
Behind Vermaelen and company the goalkeeper situation is the biggest conundrum in Arsenal’s starting line-up.
“I wouldn’t say Manuel is no longer our automatic first choice,” said Wenger on Friday. “But Vito has come in and done well.
“It is always difficult with these kinds of decisions. You could say our job is to be unfair sometimes to players. You don’t want to be but some time you have to, no matter what decisions you make sometimes you are unfair to one or two players.”
Almunia’s chest infection, and the excuses of the Spaniard lacking in match fitness are tame excuses for what every Arsenal fans knows is his demotion to the bench. Wenger will always protect his player’s integrity though, and question marks over Arsenal’s number one position should become clearer in the coming weeks.
Elsewhere, the starting line-up almost chooses itself today. With Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri, and Niklas Bendtner all doubtful, plus Theo Walcott’s long-term layoff, the attacking trio will be Andrey Arshavin, Robin Van Persie and Emmanuel Eboue. Behind them, Diaby, Fabregas and Song.
Eduardo’s return is the brightest news. His early goal against West Ham at the Emirates two season ago was of the highest quality, swivelling in the box after pumping the ball up with his chest, before a tasty overhead kick.
That was then and this is now, and West Ham haven’t won since the opening day of the season. Failure to win today will make it their longest winless run since an 11-match sequence between December 2006 and March 2007. Let’s make it happen.

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