x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The way to stop Arsenal is to go on attack, says Zola

There are few managers in the Premier League who do not openly express admiration for the footballing philosophy of Arsene Wenger.

Cesc Fabregas, left, scored against Alkmaar on Tuesday, taking Arsenal's tally to 40 for the season.
Cesc Fabregas, left, scored against Alkmaar on Tuesday, taking Arsenal's tally to 40 for the season.

There are few managers in the Premier League who do not openly express admiration for the footballing philosophy of Arsene Wenger. His Arsenal side are reared with youngsters who are blossoming with every game and even their rivals will admit that their attacking style is as good to watch as anything in the league. Manchester United and Chelsea may have enjoyed better results to be first and second in the table ahead of yesterday's games, but their performances have been somewhat flat in comparison.

Arsenal have scored in every competitive game. Cesc Fabregas's effort against thee Dutch side Alkmaar in the Champions League in midweek was their 40th goal in just 14 games. In their captain, Robin van Persie, Andriy Arshavin and even the five-goal defender Thomas Vermaelen, the danger runs deep. West Ham, second bottom and without a league win since the opening day, face that challenge in today's encounter at Upton Park. Their manager Gianfranco Zola, one of those Wenger wannabees, is honest enough to admit that defying their goal threat is an insurmountable task.

But Arsenal have a flaw that may yet stop them finishing above United and Chelsea next May; a brittle backline that the Italian is keen to test. They have kept just two clean sheets in the league and, in Carlton Cole, West Ham have just the sort of player who could ruffle Vermaelen and William Gallas. Zola said: "Only trying to stop Arsenal is a lost cause. They have so many players who can score goals. It will be about how we can cause them problems. They score a lot, but they concede a lot so we will be looking to exploit their weaknesses. We will pay attention to their strikeforce, but at the same time, the secret for me will be punishing them when they concede those situations to us."

Arshavin this week said Arsenal are probably two players short of matching the European champions Barcelona as the team who play the best football in the modern game. A powerful central defender and defensive mid- fielder would certainly help. Matthew Upson could have filled that first spot if Wenger had pursued his previous interest in a player he allowed to leave back in 2003. But Upson, now the West Ham captain, will aim to negate Arshavin and company.

It seems unlikely though. The visitors are brimming with confidence and Wenger reinvigorated after reaching 60. It is a contrast to Zola, who is enduring sleepless nights as he tries to find solutions for his side's problems. Wenger said: "I was very, very young when I started. I was in charge at 33 and to survive at that age is not easy. You could see with many young managers, it's difficult when you start with such a big responsibility.

"I am very, very, very lucky to still be in charge today. The only credit that I give to myself is that I have worked very hard my whole career and always try to improve. Am I happy with all that I have achieved? Certainly not. I expect always more and you can never be completely happy with what you do." @Email:akhan@thenational.ae West Ham v Arsenal, KO 8.15pm, Showsports 1 & 2