Once again I am able to use my analogy from Forrest Gump that West Ham are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. The win against champions Chelsea on Saturday was unexpected and gave us a much-needed three points in our efforts to climb the table. Nevertheless we are still in the bottom three, and need to continue to demonstrate a consistency of effort and performance to retain the excellent backing from the fans. The atmosphere generated in the London Stadium once again disproved the nonsensical argument that the venue can be compared to a library. All football grounds can be like that at times when the home team are not doing well. Yes, it is not an ideal stadium at the present time and we can hope that structural changes at some stage in the future can make it better. For the time being we have to live with it and not keep harping back to Upton Park. We are not going back. For the record I love the stadium and speak to many others who feel likewise, but until we win more games at home then there will always be doubters.
With three points for a win and just one for a draw, then even if we remained unbeaten and managed a draw in each of the Chelsea and Arsenal games this week, we wouldn’t have been in as good a position as winning one and losing one. And having won the first then hopefully we can do it again in the second against the odds.
Recent history of this fixture suggests that it won’t be an easy task to say the least. Of course we won on their ground in the opening game of the 2015-16 season when Reece Oxford famously kept Ozil in his pocket, but that followed ten consecutive defeats at the hands of the Gunners. The last time we beat them at home was when Marlon Harewood scored a late winner in 2006 which sparked an interesting confrontation between Pardew and Wenger. The Arsenal manager seemed to take offence at our manager’s celebrations, a situation which has reared its head this week following accusations of over-celebration by City players when they won the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Sunday.
We now have 13 points from 16 games, which means that even a win tonight would still not bring us up to the one point per game average that is the absolute minimum needed to keep us in with a chance of avoiding the drop. But I am looking forward to more than that.
I will repeat the run of 10 league games following Arsenal tonight to highlight the opportunity that we have to significantly improve our position by 10 February. It would be good if we could collect an average of somewhere between 1.5 and 2 points a game in these fixtures. If we could achieve this we will be going a long way towards allaying relegation fears. (A) v Stoke, (H) v Newcastle, (A) v Bournemouth, (H) v West Brom, (A) v Tottenham, (A) v Huddersfield, (H) v Bournemouth, (H) v Palace, (A) v Brighton, and (H) v Watford, presents a realistic opportunity (on paper) to start to climb the table. Failure to do so will bring a nervous run-in to the season.
It is pleasing to see that the way-over-the-top negative reaction to the appointment of David Moyes has died down considerably. There is still a long way to go of course, but the work ethic and organisation he (and his staff) has introduced are clearly evident in recent games. He has a good record and must be given the opportunity to make an impact. Rome wasn’t built in a day and I believe that he realises the task ahead and is prioritising what is necessary to achieve improvement. One small criticism I would level against him in the Chelsea game was his inability to realise that Antonio was out on his feet long before he was substituted.
Once again the bookmakers have virtually written off our chances but if you believe that there is a chance that we will cause another upset you can get around 9/2 on a West Ham win. Personally I would take a draw from this game, but hope of course for a second victory in five days. Despite being a top six side, Arsenal are not quite the team that they once were, and are eminently beatable. One statistic that surprised me was that the Gunners are fourth in the table of goals conceded in 2017, showing that their once renowned defence can be breached. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the 5-1 defeat that we suffered here last season.
The much under-rated Pedro Obiang was in my opinion one of the reasons that we kept a world class player like Hazard quiet at the weekend, and I don’t believe that he gets the credit he deserves for this unfashionable role. I would expect him to be deployed in similar fashion against Ozil, or perhaps Sanchez tonight. Arnautavic and Masuaku were rightly singled out for excellent games, but it really was a whole team performance. Masuaku is really becoming a bit a bit of a revelation in an attacking sense, and providing he doesn’t try his wonderful tricks in vulnerable areas of the pitch then he can become a major creator for us going forward. I would expect Hernandez to play a part now that he appears to have recovered, and Carroll does have a very good record of scoring against Arsenal as witnessed in the 3-3 draw a couple of seasons ago, and even in his Newcastle days.
Adrian deserves his chance to continue between the sticks, but I cannot agree with the vilification of Hart that I read. Hopefully the competition between the two keepers will spur them both on to produce top class performances. Cresswell had one of his best games for ages at the weekend, and the unlikely threesome when he combined with Reid and Ogbonna, who both performed excellently, is likely to be the selection for this game. Noble performed admirably, and Lanzini, whilst not being at the top of his game at the moment, is still our best hope of unlocking opposition defences. But whoever is selected (and I don’t expect many changes) let us hope for another stirring game and three more points.