It’s match day and a match day in which I’m not particularly fond of if i’m honest. West Ham home or away represents a bit of a drawing of family lines on my side of the family as my brother, nephew and loosely speaking my dad, are all Hammers fans. So much like the North London Derby i’m not really a fan of this match day. It makes it worse that i’m going around his house later so him and his wee boy will be rubbing it in big time if we fail to beat West Ham today.
We’ve had a decent enough record against them over the years, although it’s ben smattered with the odd defeat here and there and today doesn’t feel like a banker of any stretch in the imagination. We beat them at the London Stadium earlier in the season in Freddie’s only victory during his time in charge, but last season they beat us there 1-0 and in the home game we scraped a victory in one of Unai Emery’s first matches. Then a few of seasons ago they beat us with a Reece Oxford inspired performance under Slaven Bilic and so the record against the two teams hardly sees us have a comprehensive home or away record. It broadly favours us but there are ‘blips’ in there and it feels like every season there’s usually a ‘blip’ against West Ham.
Which is why I’m fearful for today because my spider sense is tingling. West Ham were just a Flapphandski performance away from potentially getting something against Liverpool, they’ve won at Chelski and they’ve just come off the back of a vital victory at home to a decent Southampton team. That victory was inspired by a return to the team of Michail Antonio who I think will be their biggest threat today. He’s good in the air, he’s a strong player, makes good runs and it looked like him, Fornals and Haller had a decent understand of each other last weekend, so that’s where I expect their threat to be biggest today.
What Mikel Arteta has to do is find a solution to the patchy form that we have and as he himself said in his presser on Thursday, find a way to keep grinding out three points, because one simply isn’t enough today. I don’t expect us to get anything from our game in hand away to Man City and so West Ham today represents a match that I don’t think Arteta can be thinking too much about rotation. Play your strongest side and see if we get the win on home soil come 5pm.
For me that means Leno in goal, Bellerin right back, Saka left back, Luiz and Mustafi centre half, Ceballos and Xhaka in the middle of the pitch. That midfield does worry me because when you’ve got a powerful and physical presence like Antonio you know he’s going to fancy his chances running from deeper and ploughing straight through our lines. But Guendouzi would be a worse option and I’m not sure Willock is in form enough to deal with a deeper lying role. That’s why the Torreira injury is such a gut-wrencher for us because today and on Wednesday I’d have fancied him to get minutes. But we don’t have many options for a ball-winning defensive midfielder so unless Luiz moves forward and we replace him for someone like Pablo Mari, then we have to hope that this is a game in which West Ham give us virtually all of the ball.
In front of the defensive seven I suspect he’ll bring Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang in to form a three behind a central striker, but who that striker is remains a really tough one to predict. Nketiah has closed the gap with impressive performances, whilst Lacazette has also narrowed the gap with some stinkers, m out notably the Olympiakos game that will still be fresh in Arteta’s memory banks. I’d be inclined to see if Eddie can continue his form because as we near the end of the season if he suddenly becomes a regular and viable option by scoring goals, we can also start to look ahead at next season and see if he can make a reasonable case to be a more regular starter. With the futures of Lacazette and Aubameyang up in the air it would be nice to see another player stepping up like Martinelli has done.
He’s the other player who could potentially have a shot at playing today. I think he’ll get minutes but ut just depends on whether Arteta want’s to really go left of field with team selection. Martinelli or Auba on the right hasn’t really worked, but if you play Auba up top and ask Martinelli to play wide left, I think that could be a potent attacking threat. We saw a bit of it towards the end of the Olympiakos game and I just hope that Arteta saw enough to give it genuine consideration today.
West Ham will most probably line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation to mirror us and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the impressive Jarrod Bowen get another start. He scored on his debut, will be high on that adrenaline boost and fancy his chances up against a slower Bellerin than we’ve ever seen. So it will also be incumbent on Bellerin to be supported and so don’t be surprised to see Pepe getting an ear or two chewed off by Arteta unless he supports his full back a little more.
Normally you’d expect Arsenal to win this game but this season has taught us all that we can screw up anything. Arteta has us going in the right direction but the frailties of some of these players was laid bare against Olympiakos and so I certainly am not feeling overly confident. I have hope, but it isn’t expectation, because who knows how we’ll approach this game.
Come on Arsenal, let’s keep this faint hope of Champions League football alive, can we?