Nouble is set to start

YOUNG STRIKER Frank Nouble is set to lead the line for the first time on Sunday as Gianfranco Zola is forced to ring the changes for their FA Cup showdown with Arsenal, writes DAVE EVANS. The speedy forward, who was signed from Chelsea during the summer,

YOUNG STRIKER Frank Nouble is set to lead the line for the first time on Sunday as Gianfranco Zola is forced to ring the changes for their FA Cup showdown with Arsenal, writes DAVE EVANS.

The speedy forward, who was signed from Chelsea during the summer, turned 18 in September, and he is looking to add to his six substitute appearances in claret and blue by making a start against the Gunners at Upton Park.

He has hardly been given any opportunities this season, with his longest appearance being in the Carling Cup victory over Millwall back in August when he played for 28 minutes of normal time and half an hour of extra time, as West Ham came from behind to beat the Lions.

Zola admitted he had been tempted to try Nouble against Spurs on Monday, but now, with Guillermo Franco suspended and Carlton Cole not expected back until mid-January at the earliest, it would seem to be the ideal time to blood the youngster.


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As well as the absence of Franco, West Ham pair Scott Parker and Herita Ilunga are unlikely to be risked after they limped out of Monday's defeat at Spurs, while Mark Noble, who limped off on Boxing Day, is also set to miss out.

That could mean more changes and new names in the starting line-up.

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Zola may opt to have a first look at young Swiss full back Fabio Daprela in place of Ilunga.

The 18-year-old Switzerland under-21 international has impressed in reserve team games this season, and he may well be preferred to Jonathan Spector.

And in another surprise, West Ham striker Freddie Sears is also set to return to the squad in time for Sunday's televised clash.

The 20-year-old Romford-born striker has played 19 games on loan at Crystal Palace this season, but with numbers short he has been recalled to Upton Park, and if his FA Cup registration is in order, then he is likely to take his place on the bench for Sunday's big game.

MEANWHILE, speculation linking the club with controversial Fiorentina striker Adrian Mutu appears to be wide of the mark.

Mutu, who arrived at Chelsea the season after Zola's departure from the club, was sacked by the Blues in 2004 following a positive drugs test.

The Romanian, who will be 31 in January, is being touted around by his agent, despite having another year and a half to run on his contract, but it seems that West Ham consider other positions as more important than a striker in the January transfer window.

A right back, as well as cover for goalkeeper Robert Green is more of a priority, as well as the prospect of having to replace anyone sold in the window.

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