With the race for Premier League title now down to a one-horse race, all the excitement (at least in the media) will be focused on the thrilling battle for fourth place. Today’s visitors, formerly Woolwich Arsenal, subsequently changed to just plain Arsenal could easily re-brand themselves as Fourth Placed Arsenal given their record over recent seasons. The one-time “Invincibles” are without a title since 2004 and for all of Wenger’s astuteness in the transfer market and his attack minded credentials has never been able to reproduce the defensive efficiency provided by the bulldog backbone of Tony Adams and Co.
As things stand there is a bigger gap between Arsenal and Manchester City than there is between ourselves and the Gunners; and West Ham will be looking to build on their recent upturn in fortunes to close that gap even further. It will be no surprise if tonight’s game follows a similar pattern to the one against Chelsea as Arsenal attempt to weave intricate patterns through the middle of a hopefully disciplined Hammers backline – but without any real menace until they bring on Giroud for the final ten minutes. My biggest concern for a breach, however, is how well pirouetting Arthur Masuaku deals with the forward runs of Bellerin.
The Arsenal defence was all Keystone Cops against Southampton at the weekend and they looked so vulnerable that is was a surprise that the Saints did not have the match sewn up by half-time. The dilemma for Moyes will be how to put the visitors under pressure and exploit that vulnerability while at the same time protecting against Arsenal’s quick breaks, something they continue to excel at. Recent West Ham performances have given supporters a great deal of encouragement but it is difficult to know whether the new found character would stay strong if an early goal were conceded. For that reason, I suspect that caution will be the watchword as the Hammers go in search of more bonus points in support of their survival plan.
Head to Head
The record against Arsenal is not one of West Ham’s better returns. Of the 137 games played the Hammers have won thirty four but lost sixty three. Of the last twelve encounters, the 2-0 victory in August 2015 is the only West Ham win to Arsenal’s ten.
Strangely the Hammers have won more games away against Arsenal than they have at home. The last West Ham win was in November 2006 courtesy of a Marlon Harewood strike. That was the only success in the last twelve home games to go with eight defeats and three draws. West Ham have only won fourteen of sixty-eight home fixtures against the Gunners.
It would be a huge surprise if Moyes made any changes from the side that started so well against Chelsea, relying again on Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic to unsettle the visitor’s defence (at least until they tire!)
Arsenal are without Ramsey, Mustafi and Cazorla and Wenger may be tempted to shuffle his dodgy defensive pack. Whatever else happens there will always be threat potential if Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette are at the top of their game.
Man in The Middle
Another first of the season as we welcome Jonathan Moss from West Yorkshire to the London Stadium. West Ham came across Moss twice last term in a home defeat by Southampton and an away draw at Old Trafford. In fourteen matches this season he has shown forty-two yellows and one red card.
Former Gunner Paul Merson is repeating his weekend forecast of a 1-3 defeat for the Hammers while Lawro is once again playing safe with a 1-1 draw. Personally I think there is another perfect opportunity to pull off a surprise tonight and leave Wenger moaning about how his players were tired and cold. In a patient and stealthy game I can see West Ham nabbing a 2-1 win.