West Ham To Profit From Foxes On The Run?

Can a desperate West Ham take advantage of Leicester’s late season atrophy? Or will David Moyes overly cautious, softly softly approach once more fail to catchee monkey?

An end of season game against a side with nothing to play for, who have only won four of their last eighteen games and who have an injury list as long as a line of supporters streaming out of the stadium before the final whistle.  What could possibly go wrong?

Today the West Ham roadshow travels to the home of former champions Leicester City in search of the remaining precious points that will seal Premier League survival – at least for one more season.  David Moyes says that the mood in the camp is good despite the disappointment of last Sunday’s performance but I would take that very much with a pinch of salt.  In all probability today’s approach will be to try to contain Leicester, protect the point, and maybe hope to hit them on the break.  Recent history will already have taught most of us that containment is a risky strategy for a side with league’s worst defence but continuing to flog a dead horse has long been a favourite pastime for West Ham managers.

Leciester for their part have continued to wallow through the afterglow of their never to be repeated Premier League crown; but at least they have done it once which is more than most.  In appointing Claude Puel they seem to have accepted that mediocrity is their place in the world and it is a measure of own incompetence that mediocre looks a mighty fine place to be from right down here –even though a fine run of 5 or 6 – nil wins could still see us overhaul the Foxes.  Despite a lacklustre season for the club, Jamie Vardy has still managed to plunder seventeen goals and if there is one team who are not yet wise to the ball over the top of the defence ploy then it will be ours.  I suspect that the Hammers have spent all week practising how to defend against it but, even so, a collective amnesia will once again strike once they leave the tunnel.

 Head to Head

The home fixture against Leicester was Moyes first West Ham point back in November last year.  In the last twelve away fixtures with the Foxes, West Ham have won three, lost five and drawn three.  The last Premier League away win was in January 2000, a 3-1 success courtesy of Wanchope (2) and Di Canio – Emile Heskey scoring for the home side.

Team News

Moyes must look at his squad in much the same way that a woman rifles through her wardrobe prior to a night out and declares she has nothing to wear!  There are only the same tired unimaginative combinations to choose from while the expensive mistakes (that seemed like a good idea at the time), the ones that have seen better days and those that no longer fit are quickly discarded.  Hopefully there will be no place for Patrice Evra (whatever was he thinking last week) or Edmilson Fernandes but is there anything better available?  I don’t see anything special in Josh Cullen but could he do any worse than Mark Noble or Cheikhou Kouyate have performed of late?  Andy Carroll spent time during the week on the naughty step and his now back in contention for a place on the bench.

The West Ham academy continues to disappoint and offers no exciting alternatives. Apart from Declan Rice, the only other player who has impressed (admittedly from only brief online glimpses) is Nathan Holland.  Reece Oxford appears not to want to return to the east end and the other youngsters out on loan rarely get a game at their struggling clubs.

As mentioned Leicester have a long injury list but they still have Vardy and Mahrez available to taunt West Hams.  Also a likely starter is Iheanacho, one of the many apparent failed targets for the Board during last summer’s smoke and mirrors transfer window.  As well as those missing through injury, Leicester are also without the suspended Albrighton.

Man in the Middle

When the referee appointments are made each week there is one website that routinely proclaims ‘Referees are announced and it’s bad news for Moyes’; the logic being the existence of lucky or unlucky referees.  In truth we lose so frequently that any referee can be proved to be unlucky.  Today’s candidate is Chris Kavanagh from Lancashire and, indeed, his one and only ever West Ham game was this season’s cup defeat at Wigan – where he sent of Arthur Masuaku for spitting.

Predictions

It seems that Paul Merson couldn’t be bothered to make any predictions this week (at least not at time of writing) while Lawro goes for a 2-1 Leicester win.  I would be more confident had the Foxes not been so humiliated last week but I believe this game has a draw written all over it.

West Ham face the Foxes, the Red Devils and the Toffeemen to round off a disappointing season.

With just three games of the Premier League season to play we are still heavily involved in the relegation dogfight. Have we got enough points already, or do we need more?

We now enter the final week of the Premier League season with three games to play that could decide whether or not we return next year. Results could still go against us in the final matches meaning that we need to pick up more points, or we might already have enough. Whatever the outcome, it has been a disappointing season, and at this stage it is hard to look beyond another struggle in 2018-19.

The performance against Manchester City last weekend was dismal in many respects, even though the result was inevitable. The problem was that the players looked beaten before the game began, and showed the worthy champions too much respect. Apart from a few minutes at the end of the first half we just didn’t show enough positivity to compete with them.

If you read the press and social media then there are many who think that we are down already. That is most definitely not the case. Our form hasn’t looked great, but if you look at a “form” league table for the last five games, we have picked up five points. It is more than any other team from twelfth downwards in the “season to date” league table (with the notable exception of doomed West Brom), and it puts us in twelfth place for those fixtures. Our key rivals in the fight to avoid the drop are Huddersfield and Southampton who have collected four points each, Stoke three, and Swansea two from their last five games. Of course (as they say in the financial planning world) past results are not a guarantee of future performance, but nevertheless they do give an indication that other teams are struggling like ourselves.

And whilst we do not have the easiest of run-ins, I would not swap places with Huddersfield (who are below us on goal difference) who face tough away games at Manchester City and Chelsea, before a final game at home to Arsenal. Swansea, who have collected just two points in their last five games (no team in the league have less), have potentially the easiest task on paper with an away game at Bournemouth before home games versus fellow strugglers Southampton and Stoke.

I listened to the Soccer Saturday panel talking up Southampton’s chances of avoiding the drop, and although they have the best goal difference of the teams involved, they are still in the bottom three and face trips to in-form Everton and fellow strugglers Swansea, before the final game at home to Manchester City. Stoke will probably need to win their final two games (at home to Palace and away at Swansea) to have any chance. Despite picking up eight points from their last five games, West Brom would need to beat both Tottenham and Palace in their last two fixtures and hope for a miraculous set of results to escape. Brighton (almost certainly, although not mathematically safe) will be glad they have 37 points in the bag, as they are at home to Manchester United, before visits to Manchester City and Liverpool.

Much has been written about the number of goals we have conceded, and it doesn’t make for good reading. Whilst this highlights a big problem, you don’t go down based on goals against alone. If we did then the teams in biggest trouble would be West Ham (67 conceded), Stoke (65), Watford (62), and Bournemouth (60). Both West Brom and Southampton in the bottom three have conceded the same number of goals (54) as Everton who are eighth in the table.

Goals scored is a much better statistic for us, and if the league table was based on this alone then with 43 goals we would be sitting in eighth place, with only the top six teams and Leicester (9th) having scored more.

But points are the important factor, and regrettably we are not safe as we enter the final week. The trip to Leicester may not be as daunting as many would think as they seem to believe that they are on the beach already. They have only four points from their last five games and were hammered 5-0 by Palace last weekend. But conversely, that result could shake them into a big performance against us.

After the less than ideal set of results last weekend, in this round of matches we will be looking for Manchester City to beat Huddersfield (surely they will?), Swansea to lose at Bournemouth, Southampton to be beaten at Everton, and Stoke to fail to beat Palace (a draw will do from our point of view). Whatever the outcome of our game, the position should be much clearer by Sunday evening.

It would be good to believe that we will go into the Leicester game in a more positive frame of mind with greater attacking potential, but the baffling selections of the team in recent games would indicate otherwise. At this stage we have no idea if the manager will still be here next season, nor many of the players. We need a massive shake up from top to bottom of the club if we are to avoid a repeat of this season.

We don’t yet know if we will be playing in the Premier League or Championship next August. If you look at bookmakers odds then West Brom and Stoke are as good as down, with the other place closely fought out by Swansea, Southampton and Huddersfield. We are only on the fringes of the betting, and pessimists among you can get odds of up to 14/1 on us being relegated.

I have a feeling that we have enough points already, and if not, then I think we can scrape together what we need from these final games. It would be awful to go into the final game with our destiny still in the balance, and the sight of Big Sam on the touchline cupping his ear to listen to the reception he might get if things go horribly wrong would be too much to bear.

However, even if we avoid the drop, the negativity surrounding our club at the moment is a worrying thing and does not bode well for the immediate future.

Five Takeaways: West Ham’s Tame Surrender To Manchester City

Defeat to runaway champions may have been predictable but the manner of West Ham’s capitulation once again causes frustration, concern and disappointment.

An Expected Result

Getting a score prediction correct is rare for me but I was spot on with this one although, in part, that was thanks to Manchester City for taking it easy and playing at half pace.  The outcome was pretty much as expected and so probably changes very little in the scheme of things except making the Hammer’s goal difference even more desperate than it was before.  Right from the start there was a general air of resignation around the ground that West Ham were sure to lose this one.  The players did their best to reinforce this belief by only putting up a token effort of resistance, as if they had mentally written off the game.  The only brief period of optimism was that short spell before half time when Aaron Cresswell pulled a goal back to make it 2-1, but the half time pep talks quickly restored equilibrium; the Hammers not even having a sniff at the City goal in the second period.

Record Breakers

Manchester City already have or are about to break all sorts of Premier League records this season as far as wins, points and goals scored are concerned.  Not to be left out, West Ham themselves have managed to snatch the baton for worst defence in the league by allowing the goals against tally to rocket to a whopping 67.  Having leaked three goals or more six times in the last ten games does not bode well for the remainder of the relegation threatened season.  The Hammers are also closing in on the record for all time Premier League defeats and currently sit just two behind Everton (350 to 348).  Ironically, if they manage to claim top spot it is likely to mean relegation and an inability to retain the title next season!

Selection Headaches

Once again the Hammers find themselves with a situation of limited competition for places which so often leads to complacency.  Strangely the exception is with strikers where the strategy of playing none is really keeping them on their toes.  In truth the problem is that the team is so poor defensively and in midfield that playing with more than one striker is regarded as a huge risk.  That each of the recognised strikers are ill-equipped to play a lone role means that Marko Arnautovic (brought to the club as a midfielder) has become the obvious choice to play up front.  Arnautovic is in a one-horse race in the Hammer of The Year stakes and it would be no surprise if he wanted out in the summer.  Despite these selection limitations why anyone would believe that Patrice Evra would be the answer to the defensive frailties against the runaway champions is beyond me.  The recruitment of Evra and Jordan Hugill in the winter transfer window was the icing on the shambolic, muddled, ill-judged and short term cake of boardroom thinking.

Lazy and Unacceptable Performance

In last week’s defeat to Arsenal there was at least an attempt to make a game of it until the late capitulation intervened.  This week the players offered nothing!  David Moyes would not have been my choice as manager but I was prepared to give him a chance because I believed he would get the team fitter and better organised.  For a while it looked to be working but now we are back to where Slaven Bilic left off.  How can a side still battling for Premier League survival put in that type of disinterested performance even if they were outclassed?  Where is the leadership both on and off the field?  What is the downside for simply going through the motions as opposed to earning those huge pay packets?  Out of yesterday’s game maybe Arnautovic and Angelo Ogbonna were close to adequate but the rest were dreadful; with special mention for dreadfulness going to the woeful central midfield pairing of Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate.

A Sorry Squad

Moyes cannot take full responsibility for all of the weaknesses in the squad.  I have no insight to what attempts were made to strengthen in January but my guess is that the Board thought they could muddle through without having to dig into their pockets – a survival at minimum cost strategy.  It was already known that Obiang would be out for the season and the failure to bring in a replacement was mindbogglingly negligent. Further, why the two Reece’s and Fonte were allowed to leave when numbers were already short is a major puzzle.  I am sure Declan Rice will go on to have a great career in football but he could be severely damaged by the recent experience of too many games too soon in such a difficult and high pressure position.  The running of the club (at least on the football side) remains completely amateurish.  West Ham are  going backwards without any pretence of a strategy for progress.  Filling the squad with past their best, ageing players is penny pinching short-termism posing as a policy of acquiring Premier League experience.  Putting up with an under-performing academy and sub-standard training facilities will do nothing to attract and retain the type of players who have other offers on the table.  From the current squad I see Arnautovic, Rice and Manual Lanzini as the only real assets and each of these could easily leave in the summer.  Of the remainder I wouldn’t lose any sleep if the lot were shipped out – they are either too old, too fragile or don’t care.

West Ham v Man City Preview

With the success yesterday of teams who can still be relegated this season, we are still in potential danger

Yesterday’s results were not the best from our point of view. With just a fortnight of the Premier League season to go there is still a lot to play for by the teams at the foot of the table. Even West Brom who have looked doomed for a long time are not yet mathematically relegated, but surely they have left it too late? They are the only team who cannot overtake us. Stoke managed an unexpected goalless draw at Anfield, perhaps something to do with Liverpool’s continuing participation in Europe and their return match in Rome this week? Had Liverpool won the game we wouldn’t really be worrying about Stoke any more in view of their poor goal difference. But they have two winnable games left and can reach 36 points, one beyond our current total.

The other three teams below us, Southampton, Swansea and Huddersfield can all overtake us. Swansea and Southampton in particular have winnable games, but it could be a blessing that Swansea still have to face both Southampton and Stoke, and can take points off each other. I certainly wouldn’t want to change our position with Huddersfield who are level on points with us, but with an inferior goal difference. Their three remaining games are away at both Manchester City and Chelsea, with a final day at home to Arsenal.

It could be that we have enough points already, and I think that just one more will probably be enough, but that may not necessarily be the case with an unfortunate set of results. I just hope that we can achieve safety sooner rather than later, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go into the final fixture at home to Everton with the possibility of relegation still there. Everton have picked up in recent matches and have taken fourteen points from their last seven. Just imagine how Big Sam would relish that situation.

So where can we pick up any points in our final four games? Today will be the toughest task of all with bookmakers odds at 9/1 for us to win, and as long as 9/2 to even get a draw. If we do lose, and even wearing my optimistic hat I am afraid that is a likely outcome, then I hope that unlike their two most recent visits to us, they don’t inflict too much damage on our goal difference.

It would be absolutely brilliant to be walking back to Stratford station at 4.15 today with three points under our belt and almost certain safety. Stranger things have happened but if offered a draw now then we would surely bite the hand for it. But it is the most unlikely outcome of the game, and it looks as though we will need to get something from the last week of the season, either from our visit to Leicester, or from our final two home games against Manchester United or Everton.

Trust me, we will be OK.

Will West Ham Set A Lack Of Possession Record Against Manchester City?

A pivotal weekend in the Premier League survival stakes where West Ham may need to pin their hopes on events away from the London Stadium

As a schoolboy I used to spend my Sunday’s checking coupons for Zetter’s Pools as a way of supporting my extravagant lifestyle; following West Ham, watching live bands at Dagenham Roundhouse and drinking light and bitter.  The pools was not just about Treble Chance and score draws and punters were also able to seek their fortune by predicting five matches that were likely to result in away wins.  If anyone had been looking for an away banker from this weekend’s matches then they wouldn’t need to look much further than the uneven contest scheduled to be played out at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The rationale for drinking light and bitter back then was that in the days before electronic measures (and with the assistance of a friendly barmaid) you could end up with close to a pint and a half for your two shilling’s worth.  It seemed like a bargain (it probably wasn’t) but for a cheapskate it ticked all the boxes in the same way that the West Ham board approach the business of football – cheap and cheerful at the expense of quality and class.  The Hammers are the light and bitter to Manchester City’s cellar of fine wine.  They are the Zetters to City’s Littlewoods – for people who can’t really afford to compete and who wouldn’t win anything worthwhile anyway.

Without doubt today’s visitors are worthy champions and manager Pep Guardiola has (at great expense) assembled a fine team that plays attractive and inventive football.  I can’t help feeling, however, that managing is rather more straightforward where money is no object; where if you sign a few £50 million duds (normally the English ones) you simply throw them away and sign some more.  The inequality caused by money is slowly but surely ruining the game for the regular paying customer and City are the worst of the current culprits.  Being owned by a small middle eastern country with a questionable record on human rights just plain seems wrong but it is amazing how a blind eye can be turned when money is involved and it is in one’s own interests.  Maybe I would be just the same if it were to happen at West Ham and perhaps the Supreme Leader will be wanting to invest a few billion in a Premier League club now that he is making overtures to rejoin the international community.

By the time our game kicks off on Sunday the Hammers could have slipped to fourth from bottom just three points outside the bottom three.  By the end of the weekend we cannot have sunk any lower but there is a good chance that goal difference could be considerably worse if recent encounters with City are anything to go by.

Head to Head

Victories over City are rarer than a blue moon with the Hammers winning just two of their last twelve home games against the visitors; in 2009 and 2014.  We can but hope that past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Team News

With the news of Abba reforming after 35 years I wonder if there is any possibility of including Brooking and Devonshire in tomorrow’s starting eleven?  Could they do any worse?

I have read that David Moyes has been using training sessions to teach the West Ham players how to play without the ball.  It seems to me that we have already had plenty of practice with that during the course of the season. Time might have been better spent on practising not giving the ball immediately back to the opposition once possession has been gained.

I don’t see many changes in lineup (apart from Adrain returning in goal in place of the ineligible Joe Hart) from that which tried hard but were ultimately left wanting at Arsenal last week.  It will be painful to watch Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate floundering against City’s quick and slick midfield interplay.

City will field an array of talent each of whom will have cost more than our entire squad (probably!)

The Man in the Middle

Making his fourth Hammers appearance of the season is Neil Swarbrick from Lancashire, near Manchester.  His previous associations saw West Ham defeats away at Newcastle and home to Liverpool plus the home draw with Palace.  In 23 games this season he has shown 65 yellow cards but has yet to see red.

Predictions

Reinforcing the banker away win claims, Lawro says 2-0 to City while Merson plumps for 4-0 to the visitors.  The most desperate of straw clutching leads us to the hope  that City might take their foot off the pedal now that the league title is sewn up – a shame that they are still not playing in Europe.  Damage limitation will be the name of the game and, given that we do normally score in a game, I am predicting a 1-4 away win.  Naturally, I am hopeful that I will be sensationally wrong. The games played elsewhere this weekend are likely to have more bearing on the potential for survival than our own game.

West Ham Prepare To Poop The Wenger Boys Farewell Party?

West Ham look to add to their collection of survival points as Arsenal balance Europa League glory against the ignominy falling out of the top six.

Earlier in the week I had planned to begin my review on the assertion that surely this would be West Ham’s last encounter with an Arsene Wenger Arsenal side.  That speculation has been subsequently overtaken by events as the Frenchman announced that he would jump rather than wait to be pushed from his long running position as Gunner’s manager.  It has been a reign that has had many highs but one which, in recent years, has seen his team fall away from pace setters to also rans in the top six stakes.

The timing of the announcement was unusual and I will admit, to borrow from Arsene’s repertoire, that “I didn’t see it” coming!  What effect it will have on the afternoon’s proceedings and Arsenal’s priorities is now a puzzle.  My hope was that Wenger was prepared to put all the Arsenal ‘ouefs’ into the Europa League basket as he went all out in search of the rear entry into next season’s Champion’s League qualification.  Now the conundrum is whether to go out with one last trophy or failure to finish in the top six as Burnley remain hot on their heels.  At the same time those Arsenal fans who have been vociferously calling for his head are now able to get back behind him and create an emotional afternoon at the Emirates Stadium.  My original theory that the Hammers could take sneaky advantage of a half-hearted Arsenal is now up in the air.

West Ham’s failure to beat Stoke last Monday leaves them with a bit a work to do before any lingering thoughts of relegation can be entirely dismissed – at least we cannot now finish bottom of table.  The chances of either Stoke or Southampton collecting enough points to overhaul the Hammers are slim but it is still possible and  it will be as well for the health of all concerned to gather those additional two or three points sooner rather than later.  Then we can get down to the messy business of a World Cup year transfer window where our hopes can once again be dashed by a raft of over-aged, underwhelming panic signings that do little to resolve the underlying weaknesses in the squad.

Head to Head

Today will be the 42nd West Ham fixture in all competitions against an Arsene Wenger managed Arsenal. Of those past encounters the Hammers have won just five, drawn ten and lost twenty six.  Three of those wins came in a period of just over a year between February 2006 and April 2007 while the most recent was the famous season opener in August 2015 (the only win in the last 21).  The remaining victory (and most memorable for me) was in October 1999 courtesy of a Paolo Di Canio brace in an incident packed 2-1 win at Upton Park.

Team News

By all accounts, apart from the long term injured, the only other player not available for selection is James Collins.  It is probable that David Moyes will remain in safety first mode to reach the survival target one point at a time.  His dilemma being that although Arsenal are now very suspect at the back they still have more than enough flair and movement in forward positions to dazzle West Ham if they do not have sufficient bodies as well as organisation and concentration in their defensive ranks. Thus I believe Moyes will stick with the 3-4-2-1 formation with Marko Arnautovic once again given the free lone striker role.  The only uncertainty for me is who the two immediately behind him will be – quite possibly the returning Manuel Lanzini alongside Joao Mario.

Many supporters will be hoping to see a start for Javier Hernandez but I expect to see him once again a little pea’d off on the bench.  Likewise Andy Carroll will be used as an impact substitute as needed.

It will be interesting to see whether Joe Hart keeps his place following his gaffe on Monday and the newspaper talk of the Hammers wanting to keep him (for some reason) beyond the expiry of his loan.  I can’t help thinking that if it had been Adrian that fumbled the ball leading to the Stoke goal he would be straight back to the bench.

Difficult to judge the Arsenal approach to the game.  In recent Premier League games in the lead up to European action they put out weakened sides and looked below par despite (fortunately) seeing off both Southampton and Stoke.  The players that always worry me in exposing West Ham weaknesses are Ozil and Bellerin while Welbeck is in a rare run of goal-scoring form.

The Man In The Middle

Lee Mason from Lancashire is today’s referee.  The Hammers have had little luck with Mason this term recording defeats away at Southampton and at home to Newcastle and Burnley.  In his 23 outings this season he has shown 61 red and 4 yellow cards.

Predictions

A rare alignment between Larwo and Merson who both believe that Arsenal will stroll to a leisurely 2-0 win.  I think we have a chance as no matter what is said in the dressing room the Gunners will either have a weakened team out or else the players will have at least one eye on Thursday’s semi-final.  I can see us sneaking that odd goal win but would be happy to settle for a draw.

Arsenal v West Ham Preview

Will the announcement of “Wexit” this week inspire Arsenal to victory or can West Ham edge closer to safety?

After the disappointment of our failure last Monday to beat a Stoke side that look doomed to spending next season in the Championship, we can take heart that as we go into today’s game against another of the top six elite sides, we are still in fourteenth place in the Premier League. A victory over the Potters would have virtually seen off the threat of relegation, albeit not mathematically, but nonetheless the point gained was also a point that ensured a single point for Stoke that leaves them with an uphill task of catching us as they are seven points behind with only four games to play. Similarly, Southampton who also have four games remaining are six points adrift of us. Of the six teams below us in the table, only Swansea have five games to play like ourselves. The others only have three or four games to save their season. Surely we can do enough in these remaining matches to ensure top flight football for another season, even though all of our outstanding games are against teams in the top nine of the table.

Before the announcement of the impending departure of Arsene Wenger this week I was of the opinion that this was as good a time as any to face a trip to the Emirates Stadium. So many ungrateful Arsenal fans have been staying away in protest against their manager of 22 years, who has only brought them three league titles and seven FA Cup final victories during his tenure! In 20 of those years Arsenal have finished in the top four and qualified for the Champions League each time. Virtually every other club in the country would be happy with such a record. But Arsenal fans, like all the other fans of the top six clubs, believe they have a divine right to be at the very top. When “Wexit” hit the headlines on Thursday there was some relief among the Gunners faithful and perhaps a renewed enthusiasm to follow the team, a situation that might add something to the Arsenal performance today.

Of course, Arsenal have a Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid next week, and some might believe that they could take their foot off the gas and rest some key players today, but I doubt that this will be the case. They are certainly not the invincible team that we have faced so often in recent years, and they lack the pace up front that was so regularly our undoing against them, but nevertheless they still play with a certain style that can cause us problems.

Unlike so many of our fans I would like to see Joe Hart retain his position in goal, even though he will be forced to step down in the forthcoming fixture against Manchester City. Yes, he dropped a clanger for the Stoke goal, but I was interested to read some statistics that showed he has made fewer errors that have led to goals this season than either Cech for Arsenal or Lloris for Tottenham. There has been much speculation this week that Moyes wants to sign him permanently, which has led to some fans taking to social media to express their displeasure. At his best he is a fine keeper, although I accept he has not been at this level this season. Three other goalkeepers who have played for England could also be in sides that are relegated this season, Forster, Butland and Foster. Perhaps we could be interested in one of those, although only Butland would perhaps be better than Hart in my view. Depending on whether or not Fulham are promoted to the Premier League, their highly rated custodian Bettinelli is another we might fancy.

I expect an unchanged back three of the ever-impressive Rice alongside the in-form Ogbonna and Cresswell. Zabaleta and Masuaku will probably continue as the wide players, but I fear for Noble and Kouyate being over-run in the middle. It will be interesting to see who is selected in attacking positions, with only the Hammer of the Year elect Arnie being certain to start. Mario, Lanzini, Hernandez, Carroll and Fernandes will all be vying for a place in the starting line-up. I thought that the manager was too negative with his selections for the Stoke game leaving Arnie too isolated, but I doubt that he will change for this game until we fall behind. Fernandes will be a fine player in time, but I don’t see him as an offensive threat, and if selected for today I would like to see him bolstering the middle alongside Noble and Kouyate. Carroll has a fine record against Arsenal, and thinking of horses for courses perhaps this is one game he should start. But I suspect he will once again be on the bench alongside Hernandez. Perhaps Lanzini will play in a more advanced role alongside Arnie?

But whoever is picked I am hoping that we can pick up another point to edge us closer to safety. The bookmakers don’t have us as such big outsiders as they have done against other top sides recently. We are only 5/1 to win the game and 7/2 to share the spoils. But whatever happens today we should retain our league position unless Swansea win unexpectedly at Manchester City. I’m going for 1-1.