This feels like a big one for us tonight, because after Liverpool’s win and City getting helped by officials for their second goal yesterday, anything other than three points at The Emirates this evening will feel like we’ve lost a bit of ground on the main protagonists around us this season.

West Ham at home represents an opportunity to put us back on top spot ahead of the New Year’s Eve set of fixtures in just a few days time and it’s a match up that we need to be very mindful of, because this West Ham side are in a bit of form. They played United at home on 23rd December a few hours before we picked up our draw at Anfield and I watched a team cede possession but deliver some hammer counter-attacking blows against a United side that dominated the passing stats, the accuracy stats and the territory stats, but who failed on the shot creation and conversion metrics, i.e. the most important numbers you need to rack up in a football match.

And I suspect the West Ham game plan will be very similar for David Moyes tonight against us; give Arsenal the possession and let them try to play everything in front of us, then when we can turn the ball over, use the quality and pace of the likes of Kudus and Bowen to see if we can spring some rapid counters to catch them off guard. So tonight we need to be mindful of that and make sure we don’t fall in to the trap. West Ham don’t break in such waves as Liverpool do (think the five on one chance they had when Odegaard and Zinchenko bumped into each other at Anfield), but they will find pockets of space if we play with a high line to try to compress the pitch and let the game play exclusively in the West Ham half. So our back line need to be very mindful of that and not do anything silly.

We’ve had five days since our last game (the Christmas fixture schedule has been kind to us) and as a result we should have players a little more rested, so I am not expecting much rotation from the side that played on Saturday, save for Kai Havertz coming out because of his suspension. That means that Arteta has some thinking to do about who fills the space. I believe Jorginho has been back in training (although I’m not 100% on that) but putting him in the anchor of midfield and then having Rice in the left eight position feels like we’re losing a bit more attacking flair in our line up, so I’m not sure that’s the move I’d do.

He could opt for Smith Rowe in that position and many fans – me included – have wondered if Arteta will chuck him in there, but he hasn’t been getting many sub minutes so I am wondering if he will want to risk getting him in from the start. His other option could be Trossard in the left eight positions and if West Ham are going to sit deep and congest their defensive third of the pitch, then it’s another creative attacking player who works well in tight spaces, so that could work well. He might even decide to split minutes between the two; Trossard for 60 then maybe Smith Rowe for 30 depending on the game state. But it does feel as though it needs to be one of those three in that position and if I’m going from what I think Arteta is most likely to do I would suspect he’d put Jorginho in there; he loves the Italian for the control he gives in possession and if he is truly fully recovered from his knock then that feels like the most likely outcome.

The other question mark from Liverpool was some of the issues Zinchenko had in that left back slot, but I think this will be a very different game tonight. For one thing Zinchenko was up against the in-form player in the country in Mo Salah, but also a Liverpool side who at home are always going to be more of a threat than most sides, but tonight you’d expect us to have more of the ball, play in more parts of the pitch where having him is important, therefore it very much feels like a ‘Zinchenko game’ up against the Hammers.

What we do need to see tonight is a better performance from our front three. It feels like we’ve been a wee bit wasteful in the last few matches and even if you look at a game like the Brighton one at home, we still had 26 attempts created with only nine on target. We need to up our ratios and we need to be testing Areola more and making him work for his money tonight.

West Ham themselves are a funny ol’ team. They’ve scored as many as they’ve conceded and they’ve had some big wins as well as some pretty interesting humbling’s. They beat United as I’ve mentioned, they’ve smashed Wolves 3-0 and they got a very good win against the Scum away from home, but in the last five games they’ve also been hammered at Craven Cottage 5-0, been smashed at Villa Park 4-1, as well as results like a 3-2 loss away from home to Brentford. So they’ve had a weird season and when you look at some of the metrics on West Ham and where they come in the league, it’s a real mixed bag:

  • Won four and lost four away from home
  • Fifth from bottom on away goals conceded
  • Fourth from bottom on progressive carries – so they don’t really travel with the ball much
  • Seventh from bottom on the shots on target against – so they will give teams chances and attempts at goal
  • Top five for number of times the ‘keeper launches the ball – so it looks like they try to go long – which would make sense if you think about their desire to hit teams on the counter
  • Fourth from bottom on total number of shots, but seventh from top on shots on target – suggesting that they don’t have a lot of shots, but they convert a decent number and if you look at the distances, they only take shots from shorter distances than a lot of teams, so it looks as though they focus on higher quality than volume.

It feels to me we’re going to get a game where West Ham defend deep, then launch the ball to find their tricky forwards, so we’re going to need to be wary of that defensively and have Saliba and Gabriel winning plenty of duels today. Do that and we could and should snuff out their threat. Then it comes down to what we can do with finishing our chances.

It’s not a game we should take lightly, it’s an opponent who have already picked up plenty of decent wins this season both at home and on the road, but if you have aspirations of the title then it’s the kind of game that you need to looking at as one you absolutely need to win. Let’s hope Arteta has the lads prepped for it tonight.

Annoyingly I can’t be there as I’m still up north for the family Christmas festivities, but I’ll be roaring on from the sofa’s and I hope to see an Arsenal performance that can continue the good vibes we’ve got right now.

Cookie and I are doing a post match debrief tomorrow evening after I get back down south so if you want to listen in you can do so here from 6pm.

Have a good one peeps!