Happy Sunday and Happy match day Gooners. It’s a bank holiday here in the UK so it’s one of those weird Sunday’s that actually sort of feel like a Saturday, but they are still a Sunday, so you half feel lazy and half feel like you should be doing your Saturday chores. Except they’re already done. Mental.
Whatever the ‘feels’ for the day, one thing is for sure that I bet most of us Gooners are feeling right now, which is nerves because today represents a massive game, a big opportunity, a massive chance to pick up three points against an opponent that will not be lying down.
West Ham might rotate. They might prioritise their game on Thursday next week and Moyes might bring in a whole new load of players who didn’t play on Wednesday. But even if he does that he’ll still be able to pick a group of players who are experienced, capable of beating us, plus they have the extra motivation of trying to force the manager’s mind if he wants to change it next Thursday. Those players playing today will absolutely be looking to show the manager they deserve a start in the Europa League semi final and for that reason I have a lot of nerves about today.
I was thinking a week ago about how this would be a shadow team by West Ham and I had hope, but then when I saw the players that didn’t play on Thursday, I’ve realised this is going to be a tougher ask for Mikel Arteta’s side than I first thought:
- Fabianski is their number one ‘keeper and didn’t play in midweek because Areola is getting cup minutes
- Cresswell plays all the time and will probably start – he’s kind of like their Xhaka in that regard
- Zouma might be fight having just come back from injury
- Like Cresswell, Soucek also plays in pretty much every game in midfield
- Mark Noble is an experienced head and will add that to the West Ham midfield, he’ll also want to impress in front of a crowd that he may not be seeing much of as a West Ham player as the season draws to a close
- They’ve got Fornals who also plays regularly
- Coufal didn’t start against Frankfurt so I reckon he’ll play
- The same can be said for Benrahma so I suspect he’ll get game time.
That’s eight first teamers that I reckon will play and suddenly it doesn’t feel like Moyes and his team will be completely rested. I could be wrong and he could totally rotate out everyone and play a bunch of kids, but I doubt it, because a win for them today puts them on 55 points and still in with a chance of overtaking Man United, the Scum and us for the Top Four. It’s unlikely, but Europa League is still possible for them and so I am not expecting an end of season wind down game from the Hammers.
Which means we need to be on it from the start. We need to show the kind of intensity that we’ve shown in big games at home, but haven’t replicated as much away. The home fans will be in buoyant mood despite the fact they’ve just lost their first leg in Europe at home and I think they’ll start loud, so Arteta’s men need to be proactive and on the front foot early on so we avoid any issues like West Ham gave us last season. That game was a travesty in the first half and we were all over the place. But an Odegaard inspired Arsenal clawed it back to 3-3 and we could have won it with a couple of chances at the end I recall. We need more of that second half and less of the first half from last year, because West Ham have the players who can punish us.
Team wise, if I was in Arteta’s shoes, I’d be looking at Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares, Elneny, Xhaka, Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli and Nketiah. Smith Rowe was quiet against United and in a game like today with a big pitch like we have I feel like a Martinelli to run at whoever plays at right back for West Ham, sounds like a decent enough plan to me. Of course I’d be just as happy with Smith Rowe starting and Martinelli from the bench to maybe have a run at tired West Ham legs in the second half. I think there’s also been a little too much chaos defensively and so I’d be giving Tomiyasu that start ahead of Cedric as we all pretty much know and talk about how Cedric and Tavares together just doesn’t feel like it works.
Other than those two tweaks I think he has to stick with the same team. Elneny and Xhaka have looked more solid, Nketiah is running the channels (and is looking fresher than the laboured Lacazette) and Saka and Odegaard appear to be finding their connections again. So personally I don’t think too many tweaks are needed. But we do need to be better defensively. We’ve looked a lot less solid in the last month or so and if we continue to ride our luck and continue with some of those silly brain fart moments that we’ve seen creep in to our game, then we will get punished today. Fatigued or not, West Ham have quality players and there’s a reason they’re still up there fighting for the European places.
But we have to show that we are fresher, that we have had a week to prepare, that we are ready and that the extra time that we’ve been afforded over them can pay dividends. There is no excuse for a lethargic performance from The Arsenal and I’m hoping not to see that today. Let’s control the football, work the spaces, probe West Ham and see if they have been impacted mentally from their defeat on Thursday.
Up the Arsenal. Catch you all tomorrow with some more ramblings.