Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes Saturday’s match away to London rivals West Ham will prove the acid test of their lingering Premier League title hopes.
The Gunners are currently third in the table, 11 points behind shock leaders Leicester and with a game in hand ahead of their trip to face the sixth-placed Hammers at Upton Park.
Arsenal have seven league games left to play this season and defeat this weekend would all but scupper their chances of overhauling Leicester.
“West Ham is a tough proposal, yes, away from home,” said Wenger, whose side opened the season with a 2-0 home loss to West Ham.
“They (have) had a very good campaign. When you look at the quality of the players they have, individually they have a good midfield, good strikers and they are solid at the back.
“I think the emergence of (Dimitri) Payet has given them a lot of creativity and efficiency. They have (Cheikhou) Kouyate, (Mark) Noble, Payet, (Manuel) Lanzini — they have a strong midfield and good strikers with (Diafra) Sakho.”
Veteran French manager Wenger has been particularly impressed by the form of compatriot Payet, with the Hammers playmaker recalled to the France squad ahead of this year’s European Championship on home soil.
However, the Gunners boss said he opted against signing Payet, who arrived at West Ham in a £10 million ($14 million, 12 million euros) move from Marseille, because he already had a number of similar players on the books at the Emirates Stadium.
“He has always had top talent, even when in periods he has been a bit up and down,” Wenger said. “But he has been very consistent (this season).
“Historically we always had a great number of creative players — we had (Mesut) Ozil, (Santi) Cazorla, (Jack) Wilshere, (Aaron) Ramsey — they are all offensive players and I’ve certainly forgotten a few, so we had the numbers.”
Ramsey (thigh) and fellow midfielder Mathieu Flamini (hamstring) could return against West Ham after injury lay-offs, while Petr Cech could start in goal in place of David Ospina after being an unused substitute in the victory against Watford.