Taken in isolation, the renewed sense of optimism following last week’s win against Southampton seems rather misplaced. From being a team that many felt would struggle to pick up any points at all before the clocks went forward, there is now talk of plundering points from each and every game. That includes upcoming fixtures against our three snooty London neighbours, who are nominally part of the big six but not as good as they used to be, or so the theory goes.
There was a time when Arsenal were not just big six, but half of the big two, alongside Manchester United. As with Ferguson at Old Trafford, however, Arsenal have struggled so far to break free from the shadow of former long term manager, Arsene Wenger. Perhaps that is also the Hammers problem, becalmed after the fleeting balmy days of super Johnny Lyall.
In truth, Arsenal problems began midway through the Wenger reign, when he failed to find effective replacements for his dogged no-nonsense central defenders. The strategy of recruiting attacking players from the swankiest showrooms but picking up defenders from the breaker’s yard has persisted to this day. New manager, Mikel Arteta does seems to have a credible plan, but it is fair to say that his team, with its focus on youth, is very much a work in progress. Will he be given the time to see it through?
It is the Gunner’s sloppiness at the back (although it has improved in recent weeks) that will give the Hammers cause for hope. If West Ham can show the same intent, work rate and energy levels as they did last week, they will be sure to cause problems. The combination of Michail Antonio, Sebastien Haller and Jarrod Bowen are certainly capable of unsettling the Arsenal back-line. That being said, Arsenal’s attacking players also have more than enough quality to breach the Hammer’s error prone rearguard.
All this supposes that David Moyes is prepared to continue with the more enterprising line-up and style that we saw last Saturday. Any change to the starting line-up would be disappointing as well as unpopular – further ammunition for the claims of negativity. The prospect of two teams endeavouring to outscore each other through attacking bravado and defensive inadequacy would be welcome relief from the spectre of an impending virus pandemic for a couple of hours. An away win can often be the best medicine.
In the continued absence of Tomas Soucek, the weakest link in the West Ham armour will be in central midfield where Mark Noble will struggle to keep pace with those around him. As a consequence, Declan Rice will be forced to play deep, almost as an auxiliary centre back, and be prevented from making forward runs. Rice’s forward surges are an ability that sets him apart from many other holding midfield players in the Premier League – particularly English ones.
One player who will not feature this weekend (or maybe ever again) is former Gunner, Jack Wilshere. It’s a shame that his time as a Hammer has been so dismal but I don’t understand the personal abuse that he frequently gets on social media. I’m sure he would much rather be on the pitch than in the treatment room. It was clearly very foolish of the club to give him such a lengthy contract in the circumstances but that is not his fault..
This week’s referee is Martin Atkinson from West Yorkshire. Atkinson was previously in charge of the Hammer’s win at Southampton in December last year. On VAR duty will be Kevin Friend. According to the GivemeSport website, West Ham would be six points better off and well clear of the relegation places but for VAR decisions going against them. Wishful thinking probably!
The pundits take differing views this week. Lawro has gone for his favoured 1-1 draw while former Gunner, Charlie Nicholas has opted for a repeat of last season, with a 3-1 home win. Away to Arsenal has not been a happy hunting ground over the years. In fact, the records both home and away to Arsenal are poor. The last victory at The Emirates was, of course, the opening day of the 2015/16 season and West Ham have lost each of the four away meetings to take place since then. I read somewhere that Moyes has never beaten Arsenal in 15 attempts – so the omens are not good. Still how dull following football would be if we couldn’t choose to ignore the facts. With a positive attitude we easily have enough talent available now to make a game of it. That is exactly what we want to see. It is not impossible that we can come away with something from the game and I will go honours even at 2 goals apiece. COYI!