The run of games without a loss may have ended, but the Premiership bid is still alive and kicking.
With Wednesday’s EFL Cup exit at the hands of Southampton being the first game we have lost since the start of the season against Liverpool, today’s game allows us to instantly bounce back from the disappointment of our cup exit.
It will also be the first time we have visited West Ham’s new stadium, and the incumbents of the stadia are seeing that a bigger capacity and modern amenities don’t necessarily bring bigger success. The Hammers, after enjoying a sparkling previous season, are languishing in 16th place, and were also dumped out of the EFL Cup at the same stage, going down 4-1 to Man Utd.
That is not to downplay the threat of the home side though. West Ham still have the same squad that finished so strongly last season, and we have been burned by the Hammers on more than one occasion recently.
On the plus side, even though we had our annual November wobble we are still within touching distance of the top of the league. This won’t be a premise that will hang around if we continue to play like we have in the last month or two, so a welcome return to form would be a fillip for our aspirations.
Our team will still be bereft of Hector Bellerin, Danny Welbeck, Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy, and Olivier Giroud looks doubtful with a groin problem. The worst news comes from Santi Cazorla’s extended layoff. The mercurial Spaniard and his troublesome achilles will see him out of the side until at least March. So, a working midfield combination has to be found…….and quickly.
One who looks to miss out on the midfield experimentation – or at least this match – is Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian had a stomach bug in the midweek loss, and has played two games in the space of six days. This leaves Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey to duke it out for the two remaining spots.
With Mathieu Debuchy out with injury yet again, Carl Jenkinson gets another chance to show he’s worthy of a squad place, and Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal will most likely return after being left out of the EFL Cup loss.
Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott also had a rest during the week, and they will be the chief threat to the leaky West Ham backline. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi will be vying for the remaining spot in the team.
A name to bring a chill to the spine of every Gooner – Andy Carroll – has also timed his return from injury to perfection. He will be fit for the game, and with Diafra Sakho out of action, the tall frontman is prime candidate to be chief threat to Koscielny and co.
The aerial threat has been dampened a little by the absence of crossing specialist Aaron Cresswell, but they have plenty of others who can put a ball into the box, and Carroll in the box will be a nightmare for our defenders.
These are the games we must win though, if we are to have genuine aims of finishing top of the tree. Arsenal have not lost at West Ham for a decade, and we have not lost an away game in the league since February so the odds should be in our favour. The Hammers also have not won in four games. If they are to upset the form they’ve been in, they’ll need every bit of the fighting spirit they showed in last seasons 3-3 draw against us – when Andy Carroll scored a hat-trick.
The result may be different but this game normally brings goals. With Theo Walcott scoring more goals against West Ham than any other, it could be the England speedster that breaks the deadlock.
Regardless of who scores, the win is imperative. West Ham were the first side to inflict defeat at The Emirates, and it would be great if we could beat them in the first match between us in their new ground.
Revenge would be sweet – and necessary.
Predicted Lineup – Cech, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Sanchez.
Predicted Scoreline – 3-1 Arsenal.