West Ham boss Slaven Bilic admits tomorrow’s clash with Arsenal could make or break both teams’ season.
The Hammers need a victory to stay in the hunt for a place in the top four as they bid to secure Champions League football for the first time.
Facing them are an Arsenal side who require all three points to cling on to any realistic hopes of staying in the title race, while defeat would bring their own top-four credentials into question.
Bilic’s side remain in the FA Cup but his league ambitions, which have grown loftier as the season has progressed, could suffer a fatal blow with defeat by the Gunners.
“It’s a big game, a London derby first of all,” he said.
“The season is approaching an end and it’s very important for them and for us. We are both fighting, either for a place in Europe or, from their point of view, they are trying to be champions.
“They still have a chance on paper, but they admit they need to win all their games.
“There’s a lot at stake. We also need points to stay in the race for the top four, five or six.”
West Ham are unbeaten in their last 13 matches at Upton Park and are looking to complete the double over Arsenal, having won 2-0 win at the Emirates on the opening day of the season.
They received a major boost ahead of the clash after Cheikhou Kouyate’s red card, for his lunging challenge on Crystal Palace striker Dwight Gayle last weekend, was overturned ensuring the midfielder is available.
Meanwhile, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has no doubts over Jack Wilshere’s professionalism as the midfielder prepares to make his first appearance of the season tonight. Wenger has played down pictures of the 24-year-old speaking to police in the early hours of last Sunday morning during a night out in central London.
Wilshere could yet force his way into Roy Hodgson’s England squad for this summer’s European Championships and is slated to step up his comeback from his leg injury in tonight’s under-21 fixture with Newcastle after working well in training.
“I’ve spoken to him. It looks to be taken out of proportion a little bit,” said Wenger, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League clash with West Ham.
“Overall, what is positive is that he works very, very hard. The news looks quite good. I think he will have a good test (for the under-21s).
“The real question is does he have the serious life or not? A player cannot hide when you watch him practice every day. He’s serious in his life.
“He had a hard session on Monday and he did very well in the session so if he had been heavy drinking on Sunday I don’t think he would have survived.”
Wenger referred to well-documented, historical drinking issues at Arsenal involving the likes of Tony Adams and Paul Merson when he revealed Arsenal take urine samples to check players’ alcohol levels.
The Frenchman said: “We test our players. We don’t have a drinking problem. The drinking problem was much bigger when I arrived.”
Arsenal are 11 points behind leaders Leicester ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, when they play at West Ham, who beat them 2-0 on the opening weekend of the season.
Wenger, who could have midfielders Aaron Ramsey (thigh) and Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) back in contention, knows there is no margin for error if the Gunners are to overhaul Leicester — or in their bid for the top four.
“As long as mathematically it’s possible, there’s a strong possibility (of catching Leicester),” he said.
“We know we need nearly the perfect run — I could have cut the ‘near’ out.
“We do not only look in front of us, we look behind us as well, because we are chased by a group of teams who can make it very difficult for us.
“We have just to focus on our performance and hope we finish in a very strong way.”
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