West Ham boss may tinker for Arsenal FA Cup visit

Ben Welch SUNDAY'S FA Cup clash with Arsenal could prove hugely significant to West Ham s faltering campaign. On paper, it s the last thing the Hammers need.

Ben Welch

SUNDAY'S FA Cup clash with Arsenal could prove hugely significant to West Ham's faltering campaign.

On paper, it's the last thing the Hammers need. They're embroiled in a Premier League relegation battle and find themselves desperately struggling to mend an injury-ravaged squad.

After a hectic festive period, they need time to rest and recharge their batteries for what will be a crucial second half of the season.

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However, a confidence-boosting cup run can lift the team's spirit and act as a platform for a good run of league form.

There is always the possibility West Ham will lose more players to injury, tire out their war-torn combatants, or distract the players' focus.

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You only have to examine Middlesbrough's 1996-97 campaign. Under the guidance of Bryan Robson they reached both the FA and League Cup Finals, but were relegated.

Given their injury problems, West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola (pictured above) may be tempted to face the wrath of the fans and the media, by adopting Mick McCarthy's selection policies and fielding a weakened team against the Gunners.

Problem is, he might not have enough options to do so, but as sure as night follows day his opposite number Arsene Wenger will tinker with his line-up.

With his own casualty list and fixture demands to worry about, the Gunners boss will surely field a mixture of young guns and established first team stars.

Although a win at Wembley would bring the north London club their first silverware since they won the FA Cup in 2005, Wenger will be focused on success in the Premier League and Champions League.

Hungry for the taste of victory the Hammers may look to exploit an inexperienced Arsenal side with some good old fashioned blood-and-thunder tackles.

The two sides have already met this season - a 2-2 draw in the Premier League at Upton Park in October.

The last time West Ham faced off against the Gunners in the FA Cup was during the 1997-98 season.

After a 1-1 draw at Highbury, a John Hartson equaliser saw the two clubs level at Upton Park too, before the Gunners went through on penalties.

When it comes to the FA Cup, the form book goes out the window. Come the end of the season, Hammers fans may look back on this game and mark it as a turning point.

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