The Premier League is finally back and it’s about time. More than two months of football deprivation took its toll, with football fans and journalists alike focusing on tennis and cricket and basketball and whatnot. Transfer rumours (some wild and some a bit more credible) emerged and have become the only more-or-less football-related things all summer. You can imagine what it’s like for football fans to have only rumours to feed off for the 76 days that have elapsed since the last game of the Premier League. In a nutshell, the summer has been unbearably long.
But it all kicked off again on Saturday. Now we have almost ten months of ups and downs, before the Premier League gives way to Euro 2016. In these ten months Arsenal will have a point to prove; and our journey starts today, against West Ham, at the Emirates.
We have a good record against the Hammers. In the last 7 seasons (14 games), Arsenal have never lost and only drawn twice, and we have won the last 9 matches on the trot. Last season saw us record two wins: a 2-1 away at Boleyn ground and a 3-0 hammering (pun intended) at the Emirates.
Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud are the players that have had most fun against West Ham in recent seasons: both having scored 5 goals.
Another stat of note is headed goals and here we may want to pay attention: West Ham scored 15 headed goals last season (one of these coming against Arsenal, actually) – they are second only to West Bromwich Albion in this regard. Meanwhile, Arsenal have conceded a team’s high of headed goals – 36% – which is 13 goals out of 36 conceded overall. With Cech in, do we have this issue addressed?
Team news update
West Ham will be without Andy Carroll, who sustained a serious knee injury last season and remains out, Valencia will miss out due to a leg injury and our own Carl Jenkinson is ineligible. However their new threat, Dimitri Payet will be up-and-ready to face us.
West Ham come into this game on the back of a loss in Europa League, one which saw them crash out of the competition having not even reached the group stages. Slaven Bilic, their brand new manager, opted to rest his entire starting XI in order for them to get some proper rest in time for the first Premier League game and you can see what that led to.
As far as Arsenal is concerned, we are going into this game without three players at least: Rosicky, Wilshere and Welbeck. Wilshere has sustained a hairline crack in his fibula (in the right ankle) and will miss 4 weeks:
“I had a bad surprise because it is a hairline crack in his fibula that makes him a few weeks out.
There is minimal damage apart from the bone damage – there is no damage at all apart from that. It was a collision in training and it was all completely accidental.” – Arséne Wenger
So here we go again. Wilshere sustains an injury at the outset of the season, a season in which he is supposed to finally kick on and nail down a regular spot. It’s bad luck, of course, however, Wilshere has only played in roughly 40% of games in the last 5 seasons.
Welbeck and Rosicky could both be back for Crystal Palace, as both are have stepped up their recoveries, while Alexis most likely won’t be involved, despite coming back in good shape (surprise, surprise!):
“Alex without running around is not Alex, you know. You can’t imagine him lying on the beach somewhere and not moving! He came back in good fitness shape so that is quite positive, but I am not surprised by that because I can’t imagine him lying around for four weeks and doing nothing. That wouldn’t be him.” – Arséne Wenger
Nothing was said about David Ospina, who returned to training on the 27th, so I guess we’ll have him on board.
Squad and approach
As for the approach, I think we’ll see the Arsenal we are all used to: lots of possession, lots of intricate passing and all this leading with one purpose: break down West Ham’s defense and translate our superiority into goals.
We’ll have to do this with almost the same squad as last week against Chelsea. The only change I can see Arsene making is starting Giroud and not Walcott up front. We looked relieved when the Frenchman was introduced against Chelsea and found some attacking rhythm almost immediately. That being said, Walcott has just signed a new lucrative contract, so I expect him to play a lot, in some capacity.
However, as soon as Alexis Sanchez returns, someone will have to make way to accommodate the Chilean. For me, Coquelin, Ozil, Oxlade and Alexis should play when fit: that means it’s either Cazorla or Ramsey central with the loser on the bench. Difficult decision for Arséne, but one he won’t have to make at least until next week.
“We were 15 points behind Chelsea after 12 games. We took 58 from the other 26; they took 55. We must start strongly” – Arséne Wenger
Indeed we must. Playing catch-up is always harder than getting yourself into a good position in the first place. Last year we made 6 draws in 8 opening games – hardly champions in the making.
This time things look different. The squad is brimming with confidence gained from back-to-back wins in the FA Cup. The balance seems right, with 2 players fighting it out for each position (though we are still one short in attack). Adding that extra attacker, however, can easily disrupt the existing harmony, thus such a decision should be made with caution.
I believe we truly are ready to challenge this time. All that’s left is to show it on the field, starting this afternoon.
So come on you Gunners.