An early kick off today means that in but a few hours, we will know if Arsenal’s league title fate is all but over, or still flickering with life. A trip to Upton Park has rarely been so daunting: West Ham have dispatched nearly all of the top teams in the Premier League at home, but they’ve also swatted a few when going away from home too, so I’m expecting this to be a nerve-racking lunchtime.
And I’m off alcohol at the moment too. Man, how I could use some of it’s warm and numbing feeling for this match, because given the form of Everton and latterly of Moneychester City, it is perhaps surprising that this game is the most difficult of Arsenal’s ‘you need to go unbeaten now, lads’ run.
West Ham are a good side. They have accumulated some impressive players, not least in the form of their number 10 Dimitri Payet, who has been smashing in free-kicks left, right and centre and will once again be the centre of attention in the pre-game build up I’m sure. But having looked at my Stats Zone app on my phone yesterday, there’s another player who I think we should be particularly worried about: Manuel Lanzini.
The Argentinian is a player who has seen more of the ball in the last couple of games than Payet, had more passes and more touches, so he’s the one I worry whether he will have an impact today. They have Payet who was excellent against us at the Emirates, but Lanzini has also been banging in goals and with the rescinding of Kouyate’s red card from last weekend, there will be added steel behind the threat in the Hammers’ attacking trio. They will all sit behind the more mobile Sahko, who I think will give a very different threat to Andy Carroll today, so the back two of Gabriel and Koscielny will need to be wary of him. Particularly if he starts to pull out wide right, which I’ve seen at times this season, so perhaps Nacho needs to be on his toes too.
As for us, we’ll surely see the return of Cech, which is certainly welcome. Ospina has played well, but he is no match for the Czech international, so I expect to see him reinstated to the line up alongside the same back four that played last weekend. In midfield we’ll see Coquelin and Elneny retain their places and in fact, I don’t know why I’m bothering to name the team, because apart from Cech in-goal you and I both know that the line up will be the same as last weekend. It has mobility in attack, they should be more confident off the back of two wins and Iwobi in particular should be on Cloud nine after recently breaking in to the first team.
Reid and Ogbonna are ok as a pairing, but Tomkins isn’t a full back, so I would hope that our forwards will get some time and space to try to unlock that West Ham defence. It will be a question of how we keep their attacking players quiet today. They have a lot of talent and they will get chances. We’ve had two clean sheets, which is great, but with Everton the attacking threat comes from one player and Watford were already looking at what hotel in Wembley they might stay at. West Ham will be a much tougher opponent to contain and they will look to move the ball quicker than in the last two games and overload in positions in front of our back four I think.
This is the last London derby at the Boleyn ground. It’s the last time Arsenal play West Ham at Upton Park and I am hoping that there is some similarities with Highbury, because West ham were the last team to win against Arsenal at Highbury, so it feels right that we should extend them the same courtesy. But football karma rarely seems to work in the way you want it too, so I’m not overly optimistic. We desperately need the win today, so despite the pundits suggesting we probably will because the pressure is off, if the players feel anything like I’m feeling this morning, then they’ll not be feeling the pressure is off at all.
Come on Arsenal, let’s keep that dream alive, if only until tomorrow.
A final ‘PS’ from me – how good was it that jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky were back in action yesterday, eh? I’m not sure how much involvement they’ll have between now and the end of the season – especially if we’re still in a title race (chortle, chortle) – but if we’re out of it today, next week or the week after, at least we’ll get to give them a proper send off before the season is out.
Catch you sexy people tomorrow.