West Ham United vs Arsenal (FA Cup 3rd Round): Match Preview

We gave Preview Percy the option: either write us a match preview or single-handedly finish off all the turkey sarnies left in the kumb fridge. Unfortunately he wasn't hungry........

Next up comes a break from the travails of the Premiership as we entertain Arsenal in the 3rd round of the FA Cup in a match that kicks-off at 4.15pm this Sunday, which, at least, will give those of you that had a shandy or several on New Year's Eve an extra day or so of recovery time.

Preparing previews for league matches is one thing. You can look at recent form, selections, injuries etc and come up with some sort of guide as to what one might reasonably expect to see in the match. Of course, conventional wisdom/clich? informs us that the "form book goes out of the window" for cup ties, a phrase that always raises an image of some poor passer-by being knocked senseless by all these "form books" that we keep carelessly lobbing out of windows. This match in particular is one that ought, in theory, to have the passer-by reaching for his crash helmet since it is likely to feature what is likely to be almost two reserve-strength elevens, albeit for completely different reasons. For what it's worth they've won five and drawn one of their last six having got back into title contention following their 3-0 defeat by Chelsea that, according to all pundits, officially ended their interest in the Premiership.

Perhaps surprisingly, over the years we have had the better of them in this particular competition. In 14 FA Cup meetings we've won five, drawn six and lost only three times. Those five victories include two classic matches after which we went on to lift the trophy. In 1975 we were second favourites to progress when drawn away to them in the quarter finals. However, the then relatively unknown Alan Taylor bagged a brace on a real mudheap to send us through. Then, of course there was 1980 where Sir Trev's oft-maligned but actually very clever header capped John Lyall's tactical triumph. Some 18 years later I used to frequent a City bar owned by former Gunner's boss Terry Neill who would habitually greet Hammers shaking his head with a furrowed brow, muttering the words "Trevor Brooking? A header?" under his breath. Much to our amusement.

It has, in recent seasons, been the habit of Arsene Wenger to play the youngsters in cup matches and he has indicated that he will be rotating the squad once more for this one. Talking of myopia, I didn't have my contact lenses in when I started looking at the interweb for this one and it was this that caused me to misread one particular headline as "Wenger prepares to burn kids". Well it has been a bit nippy of late.

Once I'd found my specs - well you try looking for them without contacts - I felt rather disappointed to discover that the headline actually read "turn to kids." However, as well as the youth element, there are a number of what one might consider to be more experienced players who are likely to feature as they return from injury. Mikael Silvestre is tipped to start and a fitness test is expected to determine whether or not Philippe Senderos will make only his third first team start in over 18 months. His previous two starts came in the League Cup and that, coupled with his spending last season on loan with Milan, would seem to indicate that he's not exactly the first name Wenger writes on his team sheet, unless there is a special column headed up "Players NOT to select."

Also in contention, following a hamstring injury, will be Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky. Rosicky returned to the squad for the recent 4-1 victory down at Pompey and just goes to show that other clubs' players a) have hamstrings, and that b) they do "go" occasionally. It would, however, also seem to show that other clubs have somehow managed to work out how to stop one player catching "hamstring" from another. Clearly our backroom staff need to raid the Arsenal labs for the vaccine.

It is about now, of course that the African Cup Of Nations will start to have an effect on team selections up and down the country. The visitors will be without Emmanuel Eboue, though the in-form Alex Song won't leave to join his Cameroon team-mates until after Sunday's match.

Irrespective of Wenger's squad rotational/winter fuel policy, there are a number of players who won't be available through injury. These include Walcott (chest), Fabregas (Hamstring - maybe that vaccine isn't so hot after all) and Van Persie (ankle). Fabregas was being kept behind a glass panel marked "for emergency use only," a panel that Wenger felt concerned enough to break the other evening for the Villa match where the Spaniard's cameo netted him two goals and the aforementioned hamstring injury.

Like the visitors, we shall be making changes, though in our case it'll be less a matter of squad rotation and more a case of picking whoever happens to turn up. Definitely out are Ilunga (hamstring), Parker (hamstring), Noble (hamstring), Gabbidon (go on, have a guess) and Dyer (swine flu, psittacosis, malaria, Q Fever, shingles, eczema, anthrax, myxamatosis, fowl pest, that disease that Roy Harper allegedly caught from giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to a sheep and, finally, concussion from being hit on the head when walking past an open window through which a form book was being thrown). Oh - I believe his hamstring has gone too.

It is up front that the bones would appear to be at their barest. Cole and Hines have managed to avoid contracting hamstring by picking up "knee" and Franco will be suspended. This has led to a recall for Freddie Sears from his loan spell at Palace. This is good news as it means that the player's exposure to the obnoxious Warnock will come to an end. Under normal circumstances, Sears would probably require a few weeks acclimatisation enable him to adapt to actually playing football as opposed to the abomination that is normally served up by the sides that Colin normally turns out. However, the injury crisis is such that his presence is almost certain to be required at some stage during the proceedings, even if he is on the bench to start with. Just keep him well away from anyone with a dodgy hamstring.

The old sour grapes clich? always has it that cup exits can be a blessing in disguise to a struggling side as it removes "the distractions that can come with a good cup run". This is usually followed by the comment that "we'll be concentrating on the league." I've never subscribed to this particular line of thought. A win is a win and, surely, can only serve to improve confidence rather than knock it. However, given the fragile state of the squad, in this particular match it could be said that the worst result for us would be the draw. A replay would probably be about as welcome as the Christmas jumpers some of us will, no doubt, be wearing to keep out the chill on Sunday. So, given the wretched luck we've had of late, I'll go for a 1-1 draw as my prediction, with a trip to the New Library to follow on 13 January.

Enjoy the game - and Happy New Year!

Earlier this season: Drew 2-2 A Carlton Cole header and a Diamanti spot-kick gave us an unexpected point as we came back from 2-0 down at half-time.

Danger Man: Andrei Arshavin one of those players who has the knack of appearing to have done damn all for 90 minutes - apart from score. A knack taken to extremes when he bagged all four in last season's 4-4 draw at Anfield.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg Third time we've had him this season after he spent last term on the sidelines suspended following allegations about his personal finances. His performance in our away match at Hull certainly bore all the hallmarks of someone desperate to blow his whistle as many times as possible before the bailiffs came over to repossess it

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