Today is the first time we’ll hear from Arsene Wenger properly since the announcement was made on Friday about his exit but, in true Wenger style, I suspect he will want to dwell little on that and more on the game today. So I’ll follow suit after this opening few words. But I do think his decision will make today a better atmosphere and also a fuller stadium. Certainly I know that from the collective of friends I have it’s going to feel a little more like a celebration of his illustrious career than anything else.
But what I hope for more than anything else is that the players can do the business for the remainder of the season and that starts today against West Ham. They are fighting for survival and won’t be an easy obstacle to overcome, but given that the players have had a full week’s rest as well as another four days before the next match, I think we’ll see a pretty full-strength them this lunchtime.
And I think that’s what is needed because we’ve had all of the media noise and outpouring of sentiment in the last 48 hours but now it’s time to realise there is still work to be done this season. Arsene and his team need to deliver victories if we are to at least finish sixth and stand any chance of winning a trophy and I think the only way that happens is if we’ve got momentum. So a win today isn’t about sentimentality, it’s not really even about points or fighting off Burnley, it’s about confidence building ahead of what will be a really tough game on Thursday.
So what I’d like to see if a full strength team today. Cech in goal, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal in defence, Xhaka and Ramsey in midfield, with Ozil, Welbeck, probably Iwobi, then Aubameyang up front. I’d actually prefer we went two up top with Auba and Lacazette playing together, with Ozil behind and an extra midfielder – maybe a Maitland-Niles – but I doubt Arsene will do that. He may pick Lacazette and Aubameyang and then have the Gabonese shunted out wide left like last Sunday, but I hope he doesn’t because it didn’t really work and we didn’t get the best out of our star striker. He just doesn’t look comfortable playing in that position and didn’t really offer us much width at all, only occasionally breaking the Newcastle back line last week and even then, he was forced to come back and occasionally slowed down the play. So for me it’s better that we play him with Lacazette up top and give both of them licence to roam out wide at points if they wish to.
West Ham will probably feel that they have a chance of disrupting the party today and with my brother a West Ham fan too, it’s always an interesting time when we play them, so I’m just hoping the nostalgia for Arsene doesn’t cloud our performance. The Hammers will most likely line up with three at the back with Ogbonna, Rice and Cresswell playing with Zabaleta and Masuaku as the wing backs charged with getting forward. I suspect, however, that we’ll see them tuck in and create a compact five for most of the opening exchanges and certainly the first half I would have thought.
They will then have Noble and Kouyate there to break up the play and Kouyate specifically will be the guy they want to get the ball to, to drive back to front and feed Mario and the irritant that is Arnautovic. He’s been on form of late and you just know he’ll have one of two games: stinker or stormer. Keeping him quite in the first 30 minutes therefore feels quite important.
I hope the players feel a little bit more motivated today. I hope we really have a go and look like a team that is lifted because I think the crowd will play their part. We need to see an Arsenal team properly fired up for today and if we get that I think we get the win too. What we need to see is the players move the ball quicker. We know West Ham will want to frustrate and that is how the game will start out, but if we’re using more width, more probing, quicker with spreading the play and more players moving, then we have the talent to pull apart their team.
I’ll be there, as will a full house I suspect, singing up for Arsenal and Arsene. So It’s just down to the players to do their part.
Up the Arsenal.
Ooh, quick ‘p.s.’ too – isn’t it fun to see that the Spuds will once again be ending their season without a trinket? I genuinely thought they could win it this season, but whilst seeing United go through was a bit painful, it paled in significance to what we’d have been subjected to by the media if the Totts would have got through.