Matchday! Get in!
These are some of the best ones of the season for me because:
1. There’s still the excitement of how this season is going to pan out.
2. You haven’t been fatigued by the volume of games, often made worse if Arsenal are terrible, or the season has deflated like an old birthday balloon.
Both of these points ring true today as we welcome West Ham to The Emirates. Well, I say “we”, but of course none of us will actually be able to physically ‘welcome’ anyone, given we’re all stuck at home. But I’m sure you catch my drift.
The game represents another opportunity for three points and given how challenging the next month is going to be in terms of the difficulty of opponent, it is one that you’d think Arsenal really do need to be taking advantage of tonight. West Ham we’re defeated to Newcastle at the London Stadium last weekend and I thought they didn’t look that great going forward either last weekend, so I’m fully expecting a team that plays like peak Barcelona when they rock up at our gaff. They looked shaky at the back and the goal that they conceded looked like the epitome of a lack of communication between each other as Wilson toed in the first and then Hendricks smashed home the second with acres of space inside the West Ham penalty box to do so. I can’t see us getting that much space tonight, that’s for sure!
At least we have some positive news over David Luiz, who has recovered from his neck injury, so the selection headaches are starting for Arteta already, which is good. Ordinarily you’d say that you can’t change a winning team and perhaps that will be the mindset this evening as we face off against another London club, but I do think West Ham play a different style of football, they are better than Fulham, plus Moyes will want a reaction from his players in a game in which they will probably see as a ‘free hit’.
That makes them dangerous and last season it was these types of games that set the tone for frustration for us all as we failed to break down teams sitting mid table or below. West Ham will be stubborn opponents and I think they will look to frustrate us and then counter. Their physicality with Antonio is obvious, but in Bowen they have a tricky wide player who looked good against us last season at the Emirates in what was our last game before lockdown. That day saw a VAR decision be the difference but West Ham missed a lot of chances and so I’m not 100% sure that this will be that easy at all, because even though we’re still riding high from the FA Cup and the way we played against Fulham, we won’t always get our own way this evening.
I suppose the first question mark has to be around the formation. Is Arteta going to stick with three centre halves or will he move to a back four? As we’ve all seen – and I’ve said before – the way in which we set up and the fluidity of the team structure makes formations on paper a little redundant, but it is still an indication as to where the manager’s head is at and to me that feels like he’s going to keep things relative simple and similar to last weekend. I wonder if the only change we might see is Ceballos for Elneny though. The Egyptian was tidy enough on Saturday but tonight I feel like we’re going to need more than just ‘tidy’ because we’re at home and will be expected to dominate the ball. My hope is that a back three with Gabriel, Tierney and possibly Holding offers a little more protection, but I do also wonder if Arteta is tempted in to playing David Luiz, shifting Gabriel to the left and Tierney as the wing back, but that does mean dropping an in-form Maitland-Niles.
It’s like I said above in this piece; Arteta has a bit of a selection headache on his hands and that is a good thing.
I suspect it will remain as a back three and we’ll have Leno in goal, Bellerin on the right, Xhaka and Ceballos in the middle with the three in front of him remaining the same too. The message to Pepe will be “earn your place with performances” and if that is the place to the whole squad then you can’t drop any of Willian, Lacazette and Aubameyang after two of them scored and the other one picked up two assists and had a brilliant debut. But it’s nice to know we have options. Pepe, Nketiah, even Reiss Nelson and the only problem there is that the subs bench isn’t allowed to be as big as we’d probably want it to be.
I feel positive about this game but as an Arsenal fan it’s always dangerous to be over zealous when it comes to the expectations from my team. Last season we were ‘Draw FC’ and that was because we couldn’t finish teams off and we conceded too many chances. I would hope that the chance creation side against us can be minimised tonight, but it is in the creative third that we still need to see more and we need to be banging down West Ham’s door from very early in the game.
Fingers crossed for another three points tonight before a very difficult double header away to both Leicester and Liverpool in cup and league respectively.
Catch y’all tomorrow.