Happy Boxing Day people. But more importantly:
MERRY MATCH DAY!
It’s finally upon us. We are finally rid of international football and tonight we return to action at home to a West Ham side sitting in 16th in the table and whose form was a little ropey before they went in to the World Cup break. So in some senses they’ll be more than delighted that the Premier League finished and they will be looking at this game as an opportunity to get back on track.
It’s a game that couldn’t come at a worse time for me personally though, as I have a bunch of family on my Dad’s side who are all from Stratford and big West Ham fans. My brother is a West Ham fan and so is my nephew and today I head down from Northumberland where we’ve been seeing The Management’s family for Christmas, straight in to the lion’s den of my brothers house as I watch the game with him and my nephew. Could have done without that intensity on a day in which it is supposed to be about families and live, that’s for sure!
What I therefore need, quite desperately, is for Arsenal to do the business comfortably. That’s because if Arsenal win, I won’t be rubbing it in his face. I’ll be happy, pleased we’re back up and running with a win, but both he and I will have spoken before the game about how Arsenal should be favourites so if they win he’ll be saying “well, there you are, I expected that”. But if we don’t show up today, if we let West Ham hit us on the counter and catch us cold after this restart, then he’ll be more than happy to tease and goad me. That’s because West Ham will have been under dogs and he’ll be more chirpy than you could ever believe.
In terms of team news for them, it’s all a little in the air, which must make it difficult for Arteta to try to work out the best approach. They have doubts over Michail Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca, there was also question marks over Cresswell I believe, as well as Zouma out until later in February. That means it’ll be Dawson and Kehrer in the heart of their defence and that must surely represent an area that Arsenal should look to target.
We will need to be wary though, because even if Scamacca and Antonio aren’t fit, Jarrod Bowen has a couple of goals against us already in recent years and he’ll probably fancy his chances if he’s playing through the middle. It would, however, represent a very different threat for whoever we have playing centre half. Scamacca is a big target man, Antonio is a strong physical presence, but Jarrod will look to use his pace to get past whoever plays in centre back for us. That’s why I wouldn’t be going near Holding today, instead shifting Ben White to centre back if Saliba isn’t available. I’d then have Tomiyasu playing right back, with Gabriel and Tierney on the left given that Zinchenko hasn’t played in any of the second pre season games so far.
Midfield is a fairly obvious one to pick for us: Partey, Odegaard and Xhaka, then it surely must be Martinelli, Nketiah and Saka.
So, how do we win this game today, then? Well, I think we have to set the tone early because I think West Ham will sit deep and they’ll not look to give too much space. They will want to build up some frustration in the crowd and amongst the Arsenal team by being difficult to break down and then somebody like Bowen, being flanked by Fornals and Benrahma to try to hit us on the counter with their pace. We need to control ball, but not get suckered in to overly committing and being done on the counter. The impetus will be on us to attack but that doesn’t mean throw the kitchen sink from the first minute.
If we do score early, however, the game will open up and play in to our hands I reckon. We’ve made a decent fist of scoring early this season and that’s my hope again, but keeping that back door tight will be useful. I hope I don’t jinx us when I say this, but without Antonio or Scamacca – if both don’t play – West Ham don’t have a lot of height in their attack and so set pieces may not be as much of a problem for us, but being hit on the counter is a very real threat that we need to be aware of.
At the other end Eddie needs to be a nuisance. He needs to pick up where Gabriel Jesus left off and put pressure on those West Ham defenders and Fabianski. He’s had a few goals over the last couple of years by doing that and if we can successful adopt a high press to force turnovers in the West Ham final third, it could be a way to keep them penned in and win this football match.
We can’t take anything for granted, this will not be an easy game and we don’t know how Arsenal will react having just had a month away from all playing together, but if we can start this second half of the season as well as we did when we travelled to Palace on match day one, then it could be the continuation of something special like we have seen this season. The incentive is there to go eight points clear at the top. Will Arsenal take it?
I certainly hope so.
Catch you all tomorrow with a debrief/post-mortem.
Have a great Boxing Day folks.