You know that Andy Carroll is going to be resurrected from the walking dead injury list that West Ham have today, right? I mean, you got that memo, didn’t you?
It was this fixture last year that we dominated for large parts, were two up, before he got himself a hat trick and generally caused Gabriel to look like he’d probably have nightmares for the rest of his career. Of course, Carroll lasted a few games more and then promptly returned to the treatment table, staying there until pretty much recently, in time for him to be available to play us.
Some are speculating that he won’t be fully ready to play 90 minutes, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he started and gave us enough of a headache for 65 – 70 minutes today, in the same way the chunky crayon eating Harry Kane has the same effect on our team.
West Ham have enough injury problems though. Cresswell and Antonio are both out for this game, as is Sahko and I believe Andre Ayew is also still missing, so they are hardly at full strength, but Bilic is yet to lose to Arsene whilst manager of West Ham, picking up four points last season and despite what people say about the London stadium, I think this will be a very tough game today.
West Ham still have, after all, their talismanic Dimitri Payet who they will look to for influence and in the same way that I expect Carroll to cause us problems, you know that guy can too. West Hame will look to be strong in the tackle and will probably look to keeping the ball more centrally in areas, where they can flood midfield and defence with three at the back. That’s what everyone’s expecting today and whilst I’m anticipating it too, let’s not forget that Bilic started the game against us with three at the back last season at home and we wiped the floor with them. He recognised the folly of the formation at the time and switched it, so whilst West Ham have been playing with three at the back, I do wonder if they’ll mix it up today.
As for us, we’re obviously missing Santi and possibly Giroud and Elneny too, but Arsene has a few selection decisions across a number of different positions today. I suspect Montreal, Mustafi and Koscielny will all come back in to the team, but who plays at right back is a bit of a mystery. Jenkinson is fit and you’d expect him to be the main choice, but he played in midweek and by the sounds of it was poor, so it could be an opportunity for Gabriel too. That looks to be the way the manager’s mind is going at the moment. He referenced Gabriel in his press conference yesterday, saying that it depends on his state of mind, following the horrible story that clearly affected him about Chapecoense. I expect he’ll play. He’ll want to play.
Defensively it will be a different central pairing to the one that folded in the second half against West Ham last season. Carroll bullied us let season but in Mustafi there is a player a little more aggressive in the tackle and in heading than Gabriel, so I’d hope that we can marshal him well if he starts.
Of course there is the other alternative, which is that a relatively unknown starts in the shape of Fletcher, because we’ve never had the experience of having an unknown bag goals against us…cough…Neil Mellor….cough….Marcus Rashford…..
So whilst I’d be delighted not to see Andy Carroll from the start, I’d be equally wary of ‘New Guy X’ scoring for his home debut goals, because we’ve sort of been good at doing that for opponent plays in the past…..cough….Wayne Rooney…
Our midfield should contain Xhaka today. He was – i hope – rested for the game on Wednesday and despite the fact he played because of Elneny’s injury, I would assume that Arsene’s thinking was to play him today. His ability to spot a pass and play that deep-lying ball-playing midfielder role is something that nobody else in the midfield can do, now that Santi is crocked until the new year. So I’m hoping it’s a Xhaka plus one pairing. Not least also because the Coquelin Ramsey formation always feels the least convincing from what I’ve seen. So I am hoping to see if Aaron Ramsey can arrest his poor form by having someone like Xhaka tucking in behind him. He certainly needs to do something, because the experiment at number 10 in midweek was pretty much a disaster.
We’ll have Ozil dictating things in the middle in front of the midfield two and with Giroud touch and go to play, I can’t see him starting with Alexis pushed out wide. I suspect it will be Iwobi, Alexis and Walcott as the attacking three and what we all need to see from those guys today is more movement than we’ve witnessed when they’ve played together in November. They are in the team together because their a mobile front three, so that’s what we need to see against West Ham’s back line, with the players rotating and pulling West Ham players around to create space for others.
I can’t really call this game. There are some elements that seem to be pointing in our favour, but that happened last season at Old Trafford and we bottled it big time, so I’m just hoping that we don’t see a repeat of that today.
It’s an evening kick off so I’ll be putting my Christmas decorations up and hoping that my after noon gets better and better with an Arsenal win. Whatever you’re doing, have a good one.