Fabio Capello does not start work officially until Monday but the new England manager's holiday viewing has consisted not of The Wizard of Oz and Love Actually but DVDs of every Premier League match played over the seasonal period.
Given Arsenal's only Englishman, Theo Walcott, is injured, Capello may be tempted to leave their matches in the Football Association's Jiffy bag but several of the Gunners' opponents today hope to provide performances worth viewing. Chief among those will be Matthew Upson, who will be playing his first match at his former club's new ground, and Rob Green, whose outstanding display at the Emirates in April secured West Ham an improbable victory. The scale of West Ham's injury crisis means both should get plenty of opportunity to shine today.
"We do have some players that Capello may come and look at," said Alan Curbishley, the West Ham manager. "We have a contingent of players who feel they have a chance to get in the England team Upson, Green, [Scott] Parker, [Keiron] Dyer when he's fit.
"I know every game is looked at, and reports go in to him," added Curbishley. "I remember when Sven [Goran Eriksson] came in and it was a clean slate, he picked Chris Powell. That was fantastic for Charlton.
"There was a lot of talk about Carlos Tevez coming back for our last game [against Manchester United] but there were lots of other big performances last season. One of the biggest was Green's at the Emirates he definitely got us the three points with the fantastic saves he made. I know he was disappointed he was not in the last England squad, but if Capello is starting with a clean sheet, as I'm sure he is, he has got to be in the frame."
The 27-year-old's only cap was in 2005 but with the goalkeeping position so wide open his counterpart today, Spaniard Manuel Almunia, has declared his intention to play for England, Green should, on form, be a strong contender. As a centre-half Upson faces tougher competition but, at 28, has several years ahead of him. If he can maintain fitness this is his best run since winning his seventh and last cap in 2005 a recall is surely possible.
"They are a tough team to play against, but that makes it an opportunity to show people how good you are," said Upson. "Every game I play I want to try to show people I am good enough to achieve big things that's not personal to Arsne Wenger [who sold Upson] or anybody. It is just what I want to go on and do."
Both teams are in good heart, Arsenal's 4-1 win at Goodison Park on Saturday being as impressive as West Ham's 2-1 defeat of Manchester United a few hours earlier. The Hammers, though, are struggling to raise a team especially in midfield where seven players are out.
Wenger nevertheless thought "West Ham will be more dangerous now because they will have gained confidence from beating Manchester United".
He added: "Until now what was surprising about West Ham was that they were quite comfortable away and struggled at home. Now they have convinced everyone they can beat the big teams so for us it is very important to focus and not think that just because we won 4-1 at Everton we just have to walk out to win the game."
Like West Ham Arsenal took seven points from nine over Christmas, in their case preceded by victory over Chelsea. "I thought this would be a crucial time," said Wenger, "because if you play Chelsea at home, you're not sure to win. If you play Tottenham at home, you're not sure to win. Then we drew 0-0 with Portsmouth and [people said] we were in crisis.
"We had 44 points before Everton, one point less than at the same stage in our unbeaten season. That tells you a lot about the quality of the team." He added: "I think it could be around 89 or 90 points required to win the title this season because Manchester United look as though they can win when they want, really, so we need to keep the pace up."
Such a figure is hardly surprising. The last four championships have been won with 90, 95, 91 and 89 points, and in the latter case, last season, Manchester United eased up when the title was won, resting players and taking one point from the last six.
More pertinent is the way Arsenal have caught United. On New Year's Day last season Manchester United kicked off with 53 points, 17 ahead of Arsenal, both having played 21 games. This season, from a game fewer, United have 45, Arsenal, 47. The half-century mark beckons.Reuse content