Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Arsenal — Gunners look to rebound

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  • Hammers have lost six in a row to Arsenal; haven’t beaten the Gunners since 2007
  • For first time in three months, Arsenal does not lead the Premier League
  • West Ham is one point above the drop, winless in four league matches

The Irons’ League Cup win over Tottenham has given Sam Allardyce a reprieve, but a Boxing Day loss will remind people of how far West Ham has fallen. The East London side sit only one point above the drop after this weekend’s loss at Old Trafford, with the team still unable to solve their problem scoring goals.

On Thursday, the Hammers welcome Arsenal to East London, with festivities set to begin at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. NBCSN will have live coverage after the day’s opening match in Hull, with the game at Upton Park also available online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Andy Carroll’s absence has left the Hammers shorthanded, with the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker yet to make an appearance this year. That means Modibo Maiga, Carlton Cole, and Ricardo Vaz Te have had to fill the England international’s boots, efforts that have only produced four goals. With 14 for the season, West Ham has the league’s 17th-best attack – the main reason why the Hammers find themselves pulled into a relegation battle.

January gives West Ham a chance to solve their problems, but there may be hope for an early reprieve. In League Cup, against a Spurs team that controlled the ball but could not find a consistent way into the penalty area, the Hammers managed a 2-1 upset at White Hart Lane. While Arsenal won’t be as willing to concede two late goals, the general approach could still work. The Irons have the discipline to win a game they can’t control.

Whether that translates into a result may be in the Gunners’ hands, but with Jack Wilshere suspended and Laurent Koscielny a doubt with the laceration he suffered against Manchester City, the Gunners will be missing a couple of parts. If they prove as meek going forward as they did against Chelsea, the Hammers may be able to rekindle their League Cup magic.

source: Getty Images
Laurent Koscielny missed Monday’s game against Chelsea while recovering from a laceration suffered at Man City. Arsenal are hopeful he’ll be ready for their trip to the Boleyn Ground. (Photo: Getty Images)

Though they’re playing on the road and are missing their best defender, Arsenal have advantages all over the field, whether in defense against West Ham’s striker-starved attack or going forward. Olivier Giroud, Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott, and Aaron Ramsey are capable of beating any defense Sam Allardyce will put out.

If the Gunners play well, Boxing Day should not be a problem.

What they’re saying

Arsène Wenger on the team’s slump: “We’re going through a patch where it’s a bit more difficult but it’s how you deal with that. It’s a bit difficult but we’ll come through it.”

Sam Allardyce, on defender James Tompkins’ arrest for assaulting a police officer: “From a club’s point of view, there is nothing he has broken in terms of rules … I can’t give out any punishment out yet because he has pleaded not guilty and I think when we come to a conclusion in the case, we can see what the situation is … From a football point of view, he is a footballer we need.”

Prediction

Arsenal’s four-match winless run has come against Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea. West Ham’s not in that class. If the Gunners play their best, this is a multi-goal win. Even if they struggle, they can snare three points.

Something truly worrisome would have to happen for the Hammers to knock off the Gunners. Then again, that might be what this four-game slide is all about.

Brazilian player Taison banned in Ukraine for response to racism

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) Brazilian player Taison has been banned for one game for his reaction to racist abuse in a Ukrainian league game.

The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed his middle finger to Dynamo Kyiv fans who had abused him with monkey chants and kicked the ball into the stands during a game Nov. 10. Taison was shown a red card.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

The Ukrainian Football Association ordered Taison to serve a one-game ban plus a suspended two-game ban.

Dynamo has been fined 500,000 hryvnyas ($20,000) and ordered to play one game behind closed doors. Another one-game sanction is suspended.

World players’ union FIFPro says “sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and it plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behavior.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Top Premier League storylines: Week 13

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Yes, Jose Mourinho is back in the Premier League and, sure, both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manuel Pellegrini are in managerial hot seats, but is there any match more intriguing than Man City and Chelsea squaring off with the knowledge that a bad outcome could see them double digits out of first?

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

Below we take a look at the key storylines to keep an eye on across the PL this weekend.


The Jose Mourinho Era begins against a familiar foe

  • West Ham v. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have matched wits many times, which could help the former in his bid to get ready for a rankled Spurs side to kickstart the Premier League weekend.

Mourinho has only matched up with six managers more than Pellegrini in his career, and boasts a 7W-3D-4L record. Can he quickly get Spurs put together for a visit to a desperate Irons side.


Chelsea, Man City put slim title hopes on the line

  • Manchester City v. Chelsea — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC

Both Pep Guardiola‘s City and Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea have lost to Liverpool, meaning their chances to directly affect the Reds’ title hopes are limited. Matches like this one are the ones that get the Reds salivating, in fact, knowing that only one team can snare three points.

City enters the day nine points back of first and a point behind Chelsea and Leicester City. The Top Four race sure looks clear cut right now — the chasing pack is eight points behind fourth — but failure to win on Saturday will likely leave either side double-digit points back of first.


Knock off the Red Devils? Wilder things have happened

  • Sheffield United v. Manchester United — Sunday, 11:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has the newly-promoted side in fifth place on the table, one point better than his celebrated visitors. The Blades will sit no worse than five points back of the Top Four if they can beat Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Red Devils, adding another big name to a season of results which already includes a defeat of Arsenal and draws against Chelsea and Spurs. United is still without Paul Pogba and now will also miss Scott McTominay. Another upset brewing?


Reds hope to get back to business as usual in title fight

  • Crystal Palace v. Liverpool — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

A week removed from a glitzy show against Man City, Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds now visit a Palace side who is probably getting sick of facing the Premier League’s best. Roy Hodgson‘s table rise has been stunted by a four-match winless run that includes 2-0 losses to Man City, Leicester City, and Chelsea to go with a 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

A Liverpool win will boost it clearer of Man City and/or Chelsea, as the Reds seek a double-digit lead on the field (Second-place Leicester City is away to Brighton and Hove Albion).


Arsenal looks to right wobbly league ship versus slumping Saints

  • Arsenal v. Southampton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

Unai Emery‘s Gunners may be doing fine in the Europa League, but they’ve taken just two points from 12 since an Oct. 6 defeat of Bourrnemouth at the Emirates Stadium. Saints only win since mid-September in any competition is a 4-0 demolition of rivals Portsmouth. If Arsenal cannot get right here, well…

The 2 Robbies break down Tottenham’s big switch from Poch to Mou

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Maybe you saw the firing of Mauricio Pochettino coming, and maybe you even though Jose Mourinho could be in the running to take his place, but the whole thing happening in rapid fire fashion calls for something different.

Call it an emergency podcast for The 2 Robbies.

[ MORE: Ederson back in training ]

Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle respond to the shocking and divisive news coming from North London earlier this week.

Tottenham Hotspur sacked Pochettino and quickly replaced him with The Special One. This episode also includes some of Jose’s first words as the new Spurs Head Coach.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Pochettino leaves emotional whiteboard message to Spurs

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Mauricio Pochettino and his backroom staff have left Tottenham Hotspur, but not without fond words for the North London set.

Pochettino’s backroom staff was also dismissed, with assistant Jesus Perez and coaches Miguel D’Agostino and Antoni Jimenez leaving to make room for Jose Mourinho’s crew.

[ MORE: Mou says Spurs can win the PL next season ]

And Perez wanted to make sure that the world knew the final words Pochettino left for his players, something that has Tottenham supporters even more emotional.

It also surely plays as a political piece which will increase the villain status of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, who’s been under fire for not helping Pochettino by selling players who did not want to be in North London.

Even Mourinho heaped praise on his predecessor.

“Mauricio, for the work he did, this club will be always his home,” Mourinho said. “He can come when he wants. When he misses the players, when he misses the people he work with. The door is always open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”

Get your tissues, Spurs fans.