In a few short hours we take on West Ham and it’s fair to say this game doesn’t look nearly as straightforward as it did two weeks ago.
Back then we have battered Huddersfield at home while West Ham was at the wrong end of a pasting at Goodison Park. This in itself tells you a lot: Everton have been struggling badly up to that point, going 4-1 and 5-1 down to Southampton and Atalanta respectively, earlier in the week.
However since then David Moyes was appointed. Initially laughed at, in part because of the Scotsman’s inability to keep Sunderland up last season, former Everton’s boss had quite an influence on the Hammers’ fortunes recently.
His team very nearly held City to a draw at the Etihad, and just this weekend bested Chelsea at the London Stadium. You can barely those results an aberration too: despite conceding quite a few shots inside the box, West Ham only allowed City and Chelsea to create 3 big chances combined. That is some impressive defensive effort. For comparison’s sake, we have conceded 6 big chances in our last two games.
What speaks in our favour is the Gunners’ record against the Hammers. We have lost just once in the last 19 competitive games, – no prizes for guessing when – winning on 15 occasions. West Ham are also without a win against Arsene Wenger’s men in 9 successive home games, losing 7 in the process. I think our last visit to the London Stadium is still fresh in the memory – the Alexis Sanchez masterclass.
The Hammers’ recent turnaround is still in its early stages too: before beating Chelsea on Saturday West Ham failed to win any of the previous 8 league matches. However interestingly enough, all 3 of West Ham’s wins this season have come at home – Swansea and Huddersfield were overcome before Chelsea came to town. This goes against the narrative West Ham are performing worse at home than away.
Arsenal, meanwhile, visit Moyes’ men on the back of a dreadful season, and year, on the road. We have run out winners away from home just twice this season – against Everton and Burnley – from 8 attempts. Of the 11 losses the Gunners endured this calendar year (the highest in a single year under Wenger), 9 came away from home. That is simply appalling, especially if we throw in the number of goals conceded in away games – 32. Only West Ham themselves (35), Stoke and Watford (33 each) have let in more.
The only reason I’m not pessimistic about our chances of getting three points today is the fact West Ham, as outlined above, is a comfortable opponent for us. Home or away we are the overwhelming favourites. This time around I do not expect a walk in the park though.
Team news update
We will be without Aaron Ramsey, whose hammy’s gone all jammy once again. Wenger appears to be optimistic about the extent of the Welshman’s injury however:
“It’s a hamstring injury, but normally [he’ll be out for] a short period. It’s not a big one.”
Given hamstring strains, even mild ones, take 2-3 weeks to heal, I do not expect Ramsey to feature this December at all. Horrible timing really, it’s the busiest time of the season, and being sidelined for even 3 weeks will see Aaron miss 6 games.
The only other absentee will be Shkodran Mustafi:
“He will be out a little bit longer. He’s out in training, running. The medical staff have decided that he’s not completely ready. Will he be ready for Saturday against Newcastle? Yes.”
That is encouraging, but it’s still not ideal for reasons I will stop on below.
The absence of Mustafi is not as straightforward as Ramsey’s. Whereas with the Welshman we will most likely just throw in Jack Wilshere, plugging the Mustafi hole appears to be a much more difficult task, and not because we are short on central defenders.
I fully expect Koscielny to be rested, after that we are down to Monreal, Mertesacker, Holding and Chambers to choose from. Not a limited choice by any stretch of imagination, at least at first glance, but the house of cards comes tumbling down when you take a closer look.
Monreal will surely play, he has the endurance and the front-footed style we so desperately need in Mustafi’s, and likely Koscielny’s, absence today. Mertesacker has been abysmal against Southampton’s Charlie Austin. After that I have even less faith he can deal with Chicharito’s, Antonio’s, or even Arnautovic’s threat.
Holding and Chambers seem to be frozen out by the manager. The latter hasn’t played a single league minute this season, and hasn’t, as far as I recall, even made the bench, the former had a disastrous first few games and hasn’t been trusted in the league since.
The good news here is that our options may force Wenger’s hand to revert to four at the back. The bad news is that I don’t expect his attitude towards our English duo changing, and fielding a pair of Koscielny and Monreal as a result. Yummy. Just what our veteran French defender needs with his Achilles heel.
Further up I fully expect Jack Wilshere to be handed a league start, the question is whether Wenger is sufficiently pissed off with Xhaka to drop the Swiss. I think he might well be, meaning we’ll see Coquelin alongside Wilshere. I have no problem with such a pairing. It allows us to avoid a situation with two left-footed central midfielders, it adds defensive solidity and final third enterprise, and it is the closest we have to the fabled Coqzorla duo.
Player in focus: Olivier Giroud
I back the Frenchman to start today. The player has recently talked about how the World Cup is at the back of his mind every time he plays, and that he will be assessing his options come January:
“It wouldn’t have been good to leave for leaving’s sake, but it’s certain that eventually, even in January, I’m going to have to ask myself the question again. It won’t be easy to find the right solution and take the right decision, but we’ll look at the opportunities.”
The Frenchman appears to be under pressure to play more, pressure exerted by Didier Deschamps and his assistant Guy Stephan, who said this:
“It’s clear that, in terms of playing time, it’s insufficient and Didier has already spoken to him about it.
“He has a very good goals-to-games ratio, but he now has to play. He has to find a solution in the coming weeks.”
Now, going by Wenger’s comments that Giroud is a regular player for him, not a sub, I simply cannot see our manager leaving Olivier on the bench again today. Giroud is fresh, he just scored an important goal, he has a good record against West Ham and, last but not least, Lacazette needs a break. Given Wenger’s propensity to sub Alexandre off, it will be weird to see him start.
If Giroud finds himself on the bench today, I think he will leave in January and I won’t hold a grudge. If he’s not trusted enough to play against West Ham, how on Earth will he be able to expect to get regular football? I simply see no way Wenger would be willing to send out such a message to our bearded genius.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Monreal – Kolasinac – Wilshere – Coquelin – Welbeck – Ozil – Alexis – Giroud
Having dropped points in two previous games, we can’t allow to drop more points today. I think everyone understands that. Furthermore, we need a good performance, a convincing one, to go with a win.
Our travails on the road are well-documented this season. Only once was our performance up to scratch: at Goodison Park. One game out of eight, that is simply not good enough. We have to reverse that trend, we have to force a change in perception as to how we play away from home. Not only to shut up large sections of the media, but to actually strike a degree of fear into the hearts of our opponents from now on.
Teams no longer seem to buckle when we come to town. The Gunners are still formidable at home, but we can’t expect to fight for top 4 if we only perform at the Emirates. This is a sure way to fight relegation, not challenge for the coveted Champions League spots.
So come on you Gunners. Wake the hell up.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.