If, as they say, you are as good as your last game, then Arsenal are in for a torrid time against a rejuvenated West Ham at the The Emirates on Saturday evening. Alternatively, using the more realistic yardstick of how the two teams performed in their opening games of the season and the only conclusion reached is that the Hammers could be in deep, deep trouble.
With another week gone by where the east London arrivals lounge has been closed for business, there are few options available to freshen up the side this weekend. Reinforcements continue to be desperately needed for three or four starting positions.
There are more than two weeks remaining before the ceremonial slamming shut of the transfer window and the Hammers should be one of several clubs looking to get more business done. With a few exceptions it has been quite a relatively cagey window so far, as changing financial realities hit the game at all levels.
This uncertainty does not to give a free pass to the dithering Board regarding our own lack of transfer engagement, though, as they once again give the impression that the opening of the window has taken them by surprise. Any thought that they might have prepared a recruitment master plan with detailed plans and scouting dossiers on well researched targets would be simple flight of fancy. As usual we have been drip fed the annual long running transfer pursuit saga (Tarkowski on this occasion) who will end up going elsewhere (Leicester) for twice what we were hoping to pay. At the same time, a succession of young, promising talent gets snaffled by more imaginative clubs while we are not looking.
The official club narrative (and their mouthpieces) tell us of frenetic behind the scenes activity involving gallons of midnight oil being burned as bids are prepared and deals hammered out. No doubt there will eventually be money spent on oven-ready deals as the clock ticks down and the Black Friday sales or liquidation sales become apparent. Like the man who doesn’t buy his presents until Christmas Eve, we will get what’s left rather than what we need.
The West Ham performance against Newcastle was bitterly disappointing but not that surprising. It reminded me of that first post lockdown effort back in June against Wolves – enough possession but not knowing what to do with it. Will we now see a similar level of improvement? Or was the change in fortune back then more the result of opponents lacking season end commitment?
Until the deep seated issues in the squad of defensive frailty, lack of pace and the absence of midfield creativity are addressed, it is difficult to break free of the pessimism. The only consolation from last weekend was how bad Fulham and West Bromwich Albion looked. appearing even more clueless than we were.
I have seen plenty of debate over the last few days regarding playing Sebastien Haller in a front two, supported either by Michail Antonio or Andriy Yarmolenko. In an ideal world that makes a lot of sense. Haller did his best work at Eintracht Frankfurt in a two and looks a fish out of water in the lone striker role. The fly in that particular ointment, however, are the consequences that removing a player from midfield would have on the rest of the team’s setup. If there was more mobility and athleticism in midfield and if the defence wasn’t so abysmal then it could be a decent plan. Failing that it is an open invitation for opponents to overrun us.
Arsenal may no longer be the title contenders that they were, but they have chosen well in appointing Mikel Arteta as manager – the kind of progressive appointment we can only dream about. They will believe a return to Champion’s League football is a real possibility next season. Although not the strongest defensively, they have attacking flair in spades. The worrying thing from a West Ham point of view is the pace at which they attack. Any two of Willian, Pepe and Bellerin marauding down the right wing promises to make it a disastrous evening on the left side of our defence – the weakest of our weak positions. With no other options than Aaron Cresswell or Arthur Masuaku to provide resistance, I’m glad it’s not me not picking the team!
The game has all the hallmarks of being a very long ninety minutes for Hammer’s supporters. David Moyes will make a few changes from last week but none of them will be inspiring or carry much hope with it. Maybe Haller, Yarmolenko or Robert Snodgrass are all in with a shout of a start, but with damage limitation likely at the forefront of the manager’s thinking, it might all be academic. The objective may be to play for a goalless draw (there were no draws in the last round of games) but that plan often falls to pieces once a goal is conceded, allowing the floodgates to open.
It pains me to say this, but West Ham will lose this game – and probably quite heavily!