It’s match day and after last weekend’s high, anything other than a win today will make that feel like quite a fruitless exercise. Last weekend we worked so hard to get back to touching difference and asper expectations, yesterday all of the results went the way we expected and now we find ourselves five points off Liverpool and three off Man City. It just goes to show you the relentlessness of the Premier League; you cannot afford to slip up and at this stage of the season, when the stakes get higher week-by-week, it feels like any match that you don’t win is more of a hammer blow than it would have done in October, for example.

Liverpool and Man City both had easy home bankers against relegation-threatened teams, but as Anthony Gale and Alan Alger said on the Same Old Arsenal podcast preview earlier this week, West Ham’s form is that of a side that would also be struggling at the bottom if they’d have played like they have since the turn of the year. Their last win was the 2-0 victory for them at the Emirates, they haven’t been playing amazing football and Anthony himself as a West Ham fan thought that we’d win it 4-1.

I’m not so sure. West Ham may be in a poor run of form, but at home, against a big team, they usually get up for it so I’m not expecting a game in which we can run riot. West Ham will play in a defensive low block and do exactly what they did in the other two games against us: they will sit in and look for the out balls to their rapid forward men. Mohammed Kudus is back from the AFCON and he has one heck of a sprint on him. Jarrod Bowen is also rapid and he has a very good record against us. Much like how last weekend I was worried about Jota and his record, this weekend it is Bowen who whilst his record isn’t as crazy-good as Jota against us, it’s still pretty impressive. He has played against us nine times and he has four goals and two assists. In his last four matches against us he has a goal or an assist in each of the games and West Ham and Bowen will no doubt want to get him in to goalscoring positions today when the ball turns over. So I’m expecting a compact West Ham team who will look to break quickly on us, probably by going longer and looking for balls in to the channels in behind our full backs.

That’s why I’d be going with Tomiyasu today because as much as Kiwior was good, I think Tomi is one of the best one-on-one duel merchants in our team, so if we’re going to find ourselves in foot races with West Ham players, it’s him and White who i’d want out wide. Then in the middle to also mop up it’d be the usual duo of Gabriel and Saliba.

We’re going to see a lot of the ball today, but West Ham will want it played in front of them, so returning former Hammer Declan Rice will need to be able to get that ball moving quicker, but who will play in those two eight positions is interesting. Does Arteta repeat what he did with Jorginho and play him and Rice in alternating six and left eight roles? Or does he recognise that we aren’t going to have the space and therefore we should look at players who can beat a man to create space?

That’s where my head is leaning if I’m honest and that’s why I have a hankering for Emile Smith Rowe and maybe even Trossard today. Both players are tricky dribblers who can work in tight spaces and if the game is going to be similar to the one we played against them at the Emirates, or the game we played away to Forest, then I want players who can wriggle out of congested places. Last weekend Martinelli was the hero and we all love him, but he’s a guy who needs space to exploit. If he’s having to face up against two or three static West Ham defenders I just feel like his powers are going to be neutralised somewhat. That’s why the team I’d pick today would be:


White   –   Saliba   –   Gabriel   –   Tomiyasu


Odegaard   –  ESR

Saka   –   Havertz   –   Trossard

Gabriel Jesus may well be back and he may well be fit enough to start, but there’s a combination of Havertz occupying and busying the two West Ham centre halves, as well as his good performance last weekend, which makes me think that we should be giving him the nod from the start. Gabriel Jesus should absolutely have a role to play in this game if fit, but maybe that is from the bench in the second half.

West Ham have Paqueta out which I hope is a big blow for them today. He is their quarter back and pass master and a quick look at FBref tells me that they attempt the joint most big switches in their pass pattern. They prefer to go long and today they’ll be looking for those big switches like Liverpool do when they set the likes of Salah, Nunez, Jota or Diaz off from a Trent long diagonal. Today it will be Ward Prowse or probably their full backs looking for those diagonals to set Kudus or Bowen in, so our players need to be ready. West Ham also make the second fewest number of touches in the attacking third, which tells me they want to be a big counter-attacking threat and so switching on and staying switched on is massive for our defenders.

This will be a tough watch today, so we all need to be ready for it, because if West Ham score first it’ll be tough and then get even tougher. If we score first and early enough then it might make for a more open and enjoyable game, but if they score then it’ll be just like the Emirates in December; they’ll camp inside their box and frustrate us. So my hope for today is a first half goal for us to open up the match in the second. But we might have to be patient so just prepare yourself mentally for some frustration. I know I am.

Catch you all straight after the game if you fancy listening in to the Same Old Arsenal pod straight after the game, or tomorrow for some written thoughts from me on here.