It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a regular preview. Hopefully now that Arsenal have found their groove (knocks on wood) I’m back for good. Huge thumbs-up to Dave for doing a top job of standing in for yours truly at such a hard time.
We are facing West Ham at Boleyn Ground today in what will be an early kick-off and one of the two truly challenging away games left (the other being City at the Etihad). A win will allow us to get right behind Spurs with a game in hand. Tottenham, meanwhile, face Manchester United, so no guarantees for Pochettino’s men there. Inexplicably, United have actually been pretty good against the top 4 this year.
Team news update
We’ll go into this one with only two injured players: Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain:
“Santi and Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] are the only injuries now. At the moment we [are waiting] on Alex coming back to fitness and Santi to practise. They should not be too far”.
However neither Jack Wilshere nor Tomas Rosicky are likely to play any part vs West Ham. In fact, both are playing for the U21s at the moment of me writing this. Hopefully we’ll see them as part of the squad in a week.
On the bright side, Aaron Ramsey looks set to join the squad, with Cech reclaiming his spot in goal too. Even Mathieu Flamini is back, though I admit I don’t want to see him included.
We have a pretty good overall record against the Hammers, losing just one of the last 15 meetings and winning 12, though I’m not sure how much weight this argument holds, seeing as it was the last meeting we lost!
Bilic’s men are unbeaten in the last 6 league games, furthermore, they have an overall good home record, losing only twice in the entire campaign. Moreover, West Ham are pretty good against top half teams, winning 7 games out of their 14 against the likes of Manchester City and, erm, us. I still can’t quite recover the Hammers have beaten Liverpool twice, or, indeed, got 4 points in games against Chelsea and City apiece. By the way they have also beaten Spurs not long ago.
We, on the other side, have picked up the same number of points home and away (29), having played one more away game. However, we are the highest-scoring team away from home (tied with Leicester on 29), which is almost 2 goals per game. We are also no slouches against the top teams. It’s the bottom half we’ve performed poorly against this season.
“I’m always reluctant to change what works. It is down to the confidence gained from our last two games. Team play has improved in those games and our game is based on mobility, speed and technique. We have found a good balance in our game”.
Frankly, I don’t see Arsene changing his team at all, barring Cech for Ospina. I don’t think Per Mertesacker will suddenly be re-established, or that Aaron Ramsey, even if passed fit, should start over Elneny/Iwobi. Elneny does something Ramsey does not: gives us a good platform to build from the back. Arsene himself has hailed the qualities of the Egyptian:
“He has brought something to the team. He is a very intelligent player who is also very mobile and works very hard for the team. He gives us tactical stability. He made a very good pair with Coquelin in terms of winning the ball back, and also in the distribution as well”.
Dropping Iwobi for Ramsey in normal circumstances might not seem a surprise seeing as it’s Iwobi who replaced the injured Ramsey in the first place, but such a switch would still raise eyebrows for two reasons:
- It’ll most likely mean moving Alexis back on the left. Not a good idea.
- Iwobi is having a very good time, scoring, assisting and putting in all-round good performances.
There is no doubt that Ramsey, being Arsene’s favourite, has been selected by the Frenchman regardless of form this season and though he did perform well on the most of the time, recently against Spurs, I sincerely hope Wenger resists the temptation to put Ramsey back in straight away. Sanchez, meanwhile, seems to have finally clicked back into top gear and that this has occurred after he was moved to the right is surely not a coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence that it has happened with Welbeck and Iwobi in the team. The balance and mobility Wenger mentioned is evident and he hinted that he was reluctant to change what is working so fingers crossed he won’t.
Can we see Olivier Giroud up top for Danny Welbeck? Despite the Frenchman’s overall good record against West Ham (5 goals in 6 games), it doesn’t look likely either. He looks to have found himself in the “Plan B” envelope one more time.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Gabriel – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Elneny – Alexis – Ozil – Iwobi – Welbeck
We’ll have to be every bit up for it. West Ham represent a major force this year, with Payet their main asset. He is equally dangerous from open play and set-pieces, whether as an assistant or the scorer.
However I feel a bit more confident in our abilities after the last two games. We have finally found a system that suits us, we can threaten both down the centre and down the flanks, while Elneny and Coquelin do a very good job of sweeping up.
So come on you Gunners. Do your best.
And I’ll be back here with a review.