You go without Arsenal for two weeks then you get them twice in the space of a few days. The Premier League enters another round of arbitrary mid-week fixtures, which means there are no breaks from the Arsenal circus. It’s a big week where rivals have tough fixtures and Arsenal have an easy-on-paper fixture but, as we know all too well, it’s never as straightforward as that. This week, struggling West Ham visit the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal and winning – a fractured relationship
If you’re counting, it’s now been three Premier League games since Arsenal last won. While this isn’t the worst winless streak you’ll ever see, every point dropped increases the pressure on an Arsenal team already struggling to keep up with their rivals. This winless run has shown a rather scatter-brained Arsenal who are one week apathetic and the next hyperactive. Meanwhile, Wenger continues to be frustratingly evasive about his future, Gazidis promises the club will change, Alexis keeps giving that pretty, successful team in blue the eye and the fans are stepping up their protest efforts. The display outside London Colney consisting of a flag, a cardboard cut-out and two toy dogs is truly spectacular.
It’s almost at the point where it’s becoming unreasonable to expect a focused and competent Arsenal performance. No doubt the impatient Emirates crowd will communicate their expectation and inevitable disappointing to the players on Wednesday night, but Arsenal are, understandably, labouring in a very uncertain environment. It’s a real test of their unity as a team and commitment to the Arsenal cause.
If the City game proved anything, it was that there is still fight left in this team. It wasn’t the most coordinated performance but there was actual effort and intensity that suggested the team really wanted to win. The trick, then, is to repeat this against West Ham.
Andy Carroll and the most predictable threat ever
The Hammers are without a win in six and are creeping closer to a relegation scrap they thought they’d distanced themselves from. Bilic’s men have leaked goals all season and now have the fourth worst defensive record in the league, somehow conceding three more than David Moyes’ Sunderland. Without a bothered Dimitri Payet creating tonnes of chances every game and still without that ever-elusive striker, a lack of defensive structure and poor individual defenders have been exposed. Yes, it’s not entirely the new stadium’s fault.
Despite that, West Ham will know that Arsenal are hardly giving a masterclass in defending at the moment and are prone to all types of errors. While they might have difficulty keeping Arsenal out, they can feel confident of getting a goal so long as Andy Carroll is in good form. The big Geordie has made a habit of troubling Arsenal defences over the years and bagged himself a hat-trick against them just last season. He scored West Ham’s only goal when they lost 5-1 to Arsenal earlier this season. It’s not so much Arsenal lack of height in defence that’s the problem as it is their inability to prevent crosses coming into their penalty area.
So it seems predictable that a West Ham cross will land right on Carroll’s forehead at some point during the game and it’s completely up in the air if Arsenal will have a plan for that or not.
Arsenal should also be aware of Michail Antonio’s aerial threat. The forward has had a good scoring season, with most of his goals coming from back-post headers. Monreal is useful in the air, so part of me wonders if Antonio will play on the left to get at Bellerin instead.
The Team News
Arsenal have lost Laurent Koscielny to an Achilles injury that Wenger describes as “serious”. Koscielny has been doing his best to hold the defence together and we’ve seen what happens when he’s not there. With concerns over Gabriel’s form, we could see the belated return of Per Mertesacker. Petr Cech hasn’t recovered in time, so David Ospina will take on West Ham’s crosses and no doubt hurt himself in dramatic fashion as per usual.
Further up the pitch, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who both missed out last weekend, should be passed fit to play on Wednesday. Lucas remains absent.
West Ham have a host of injury problems, especially in defence. Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid are out, and Aaron Cresswell is unlikely to return. Pedro Obiang and Diafra Sakho are their other absentees.
Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal; Coquelin, Xhaka; Walcott, Ozil, Alexis; Giroud
Randolph; Byram, Collins, Fonte, Masuaku; Kouyate, Noble; Antonio, Lanzini, Snodgrass; Carroll
Two teams in poor form and in desperate need of a win and two teams that can’t defend. I’m not foreseeing a chaotic car crash of a match but I can’t see it being a cagey, nervous affair either. It’s a safe bet that both teams will concede due to sheer incompetence.
As a change of pace, I’m going to predict a 3-1 Arsenal win. The draw will have steadied things for them and I’m taking that performance as a sign the team is ready to play again.