Sam Allardyce believes Saturday's Barclays Premier League encounter with London rivals Arsenal will be the biggest test of the season so far.
With all tickets for the match now sold out, a storming atmosphere is expected at the Boleyn Ground come kick off at 5.30pm. Speaking in his weekly pre-match press conference, Big Sam shared his thoughts on Arsenal, the international break and the fitness of returning striker Andy Carroll.
Sam, what is the latest team news ahead of Saturday?
SA: "I think Winston Reid is going to be okay, I am not so sure about Joey O'Brien, who was the other player who came off injured against Queens Park Rangers. Everybody else apart Alou Diarra and Jack Collison, who have long term injuries, seems to be okay. We have a good, strong squad to choose from again and the players are on a high from the win on Monday night."
What is your reaction to Andy Carroll being named in the England squad?
SA: "I am glad, but I think that Andy needs to focus on the Arsenal game first. I haven't decided what part he will play yet, that decision will be made on Friday after we assess the squad in training. Because he is short on match fitness, going to play for England will be good for him and good for us. We will liaise with the England staff and I will speak to Roy Hodgson. Andy is in a position to play but we want them to be careful with him. Fatigue is what brings injuries and Andy's match fitness, because of his recent injury, is behind what we would like it to be. Helping England and improving his match fitness is an ideal solution for all parties."
Is he fit enough to start the game against Arsenal on Saturday?
SA: "I will let you know that when I pick the team on Saturday! Like I said I haven't made that decision yet, it will be made on Friday and we will take it from there."
One player who didn't make it into the England squad was Mark Noble. Do you think his chance will come?
SA: "I think it all depends on how Mark does this season, he has pressed the buttons to alert Roy and his staff and I am sure they will come and have a look at him if he continues to play well in the Premier League. If that happens it gives him a chance and good luck to him. I think there is a transition currently going on in the England set-up and Mark, other than last season, is a very experienced Premier League player despite still only being 25. If Mark keeps playing well and we keep picking up points he will continue to put himself in the public eye and on Roy's radar."
Arsenal's third goal against Olympiacos came direct from a goal kick. Did that bring a wry smile to your face?
SA: "You've brought a wry smile to my face with that question that's for sure! I think goals are scored in a variety of ways, there is no one simple way of scoring a goal especially in the Premier League. That is what makes it so appealing across the world. We have to make the choice of what tactic to use to score, if you have many options available you give yourself a much better chance of catching your opponents off guard. If you play one way only you become too predictable."
We are on the verge of the second international break of the season, how does that affect your preparations?
SA: "It hasn't affected us at all, we have eleven points from six games so we are delighted that our start has been as fruitful as it has been. I think that this tends to happen every season, it is not unusual for us to have two international breaks prior to us moving into the third month of the season. We have all learnt to deal with it, we just have to keep our fingers crossed that all our players return as fit as they were when they left. Injuries can be critical, you only have to look at the extent to which it has affected Manchester United. If we ran into that many injuries, God help us. But we have all learnt to deal with international breaks and we are happy to let our players travel the world with their nations."
Arsenal's defence seems vastly improved this season after the introduction of Steve Bould, do you agree?
SA: "It certainly looks a lot harder or more difficult to break down. What we need to think about is how many opportunities will we get to break it down. People have said over the years that Arsenal have been weak at the back but the problem you face is getting to their defence, they're so good at keeping the ball that chances are few and far between. We will have a game plan and hopefully it will help us to get a result on Saturday but a game plan will only work if the players perform to the very best of their ability. Even then it might not be good enough to beat Arsenal but if we can perform like we did against Fulham and Sunderland we will give them a very good game on Saturday."
It is fair to say that this is your biggest test of the season so far?
SA: "Yes it is a top four side. It is always a big test for everybody, especially the players who need to try and match the quality of opposition they're playing against. Can they understand what they have to do and can they adapt their game to give themselves the best chance of getting a positive result? Arsenal are very good at keeping the ball so there will be times in the game when we need to concentrate out of possession to ensure they don't get a chance to score. We won't see the ball as much as we have done at Upton Park in previous games so we have to approach the game in a different way and of course make sure we make the most of the ball when we have it. All teams have weaknesses, what we need to do is make sure we find them and exploit them to score a goal."