It’s match day today and it’s one that always has significance in my family, because it is where rivalries are split, given a large chunk of my family are West Ham fans. It’s a little like the North London Derby because i’m not really a fan of it, but it doesn’t have the same level of intensity, which I’m kind of ok with. Having sat through all of that worry last weekend until the final whistle went, I’m in no rush to do it again any time soon, so it’s good from that perspective.
There’s also a question mark as to whether today’s match really means anything in the wider context of our season. Of course I want us to win, of course I want to see us put together a string of results in the league, but with the number of games left, the number of points we have to make up, as well as the inconsistency of our team, in my mind i’ve kind of put the domestic season to one side and it’s the Europa League that I’m the most invested in.
Of course come 3pm today I will most likely be as nervous as I always am. That’s just how it goes being a football fan. That’s especially how it goes being an Arsenal fan.
I asked my brother about West Ham and he seemed to think that for bigger clubs – yes, he still classes us as that – they have tended to shy away a little bit and not proper ‘go for it’, but I think Moyes will be looking to spring a trap on us today. West Ham will be happy to be compact and will know that hitting us on the counter with the threat of players like Soucek and Antonio, they will know that we have a mistake in us and if they press at the right time then they will cause us some worries.
They did so right at the beginning of the season. I thought we edged it on the day and relied on a late Nketiah goal (remember him?), but they had a fair few chances and I think they will replicate the approach of that today. My brother has said how they are decent at set pieces and have been doing well with them lately, so that’s where I hope our better organisation at the back helps us out. We still concede stupid goals, but I don’t remember too many teams outdoing us with a set piece recently. Of course now I’ve said that West Ham will inevitably nod one in from a corner, but there you go; such is life.
Mikel Arteta rotated a bit in midweek so my hope is that fatigue is less of a thing and I wonder if he’ll switch it up again today. Perhaps we’ll see Cedric return for Bellerin, or Holding and Mari in for West Ham’s aerial threat from set pieces? He pretty much has to choose Tierney because of the lack of other options at left back, but I suspect the Scot will be eager to play himself; this was the stadium with which he dislocated his shoulder last year and spent a good chunk of time out for us, so banishing those particular demons might be something he’s desperate to do today.
In midfield Partey should start. He didn’t play the full 90 on Thursday and so should be fresh and him coming in alongside Granit Xhaka gives us that security when we have the ball in the middle of the park. What both of them just need to make sure they do is not to brain fart at important times. They both looked good together away at Burnley and also in the NLD, so I hope Arteta is thinking that their duet in midfield is critical to us trying to get three points today.
In front of that two there is quite an array of choices. I think Arteta will go with Odegaard given he didn’t start in the last game and I wonder if he gives Lacazette another crack up top. Personally I’d play Auba because I don’t think he’ll be going away on international duty after this, but I guess it depends on what his fitness and fatigue levels are after the game on Thursday. He missed a number of very good chances so will be desperate to get a start and hopefully bag a goal today, but I just have a feeling about Lacazette, you know?
I think he’ll also bring Saka back on in the right and that would be harsh on Pepe who has played well of late, but I feel like Arteta will fancy his young trio of ESR, Odegaard and Saka behind one of the strikers. I think that is his preferred trio and with an international break looming he will think that he can afford to do that before sending them all off with their respective international teams.
This will be a tough game. west Ham have had a good season and they still harbor hopes of a Champions League spot. So I think there will be periods today when they put us under the kosh a bit. But we need to weather any storm they bring and take our chances in those passages of play in which we have dominance in possession.
Let’s hope we’re smiling come 5pm.
As usual I’ll be doing the post match pubcast on GunnersTown straight after the game, so tune in and have your say on what will no doubt be an eventful afternoon, whatever happens!