Both Arsenal and West Ham came into this Carabao Cup quarter-final hoping to continue their push towards silverware, with Wenger hoping to finally add the League Cup to his trophy case. Arsenal was able to claim a drab 1-0 win thanks to Danny Welbeck, who scored a goal that only he could score.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Ospina // Kolasinac – Chambers – Holding – Debuchy // Elneny – Coquelin (Da Silva, 90’) – Willock (Sheaf, 84’) // Welbeck – Walcott – Giroud (Nelson, 78’)
West Ham United (3-5-2): Hart // Masuaku – Reid – Ogbonna – Collins – Cresswell (Carroll, 65’) // Quina (Arnautovic, 83’) – Obiang – Rice // Ayew – Chicharito (Sakho, 65’)
Arsenal’s Midfield Stability Without Creativity
Wenger set up his heavily rotated side around a sensible 4-3-3 with a preference towards a compact central structure dominated by wing occupation through high wingbacks and wide wingers. At times Walcott and Welbeck would tuck into the half-spaces during Arsenal’s initial progressions, though Debuchy and Kolasinac made several inverted runs to cause confusion amongst West Ham’s defenders. These half-space positions adopted by Arsenal’s attacking forwards proved thorny for West Ham and are a naturally difficult area of the pitch to press with a back three; without effective communication, the ball-side center back and wingback can leave the carrier in space to dictate the flow of possession. Some sloppy passes, however, failed to penetrate their low block.
Arsenal’s early build-up centered around Chambers and Holding serving as the passing options to access each flank. The deeper of the three midfielders – mostly Coquelin, though not exclusively – would act as the central axis and pivot their position towards the ball-side to provide clean circulation. With Chicharito and Ayew the only forwards and their midfield unwilling to break their static defensive structure, Arsenal were able to retain possession through 3v2 overloads.
They struggled, however, to break down West Ham’s compact 5-3-2 in the final third. West Ham did not allow easy central penetration and deliberately forced Arsenal to make slow side to side passes. The addition of Coquelin and Elneny into the midfield took away any creativity in the central areas, making Arsenal’s early progressions predictable. Some of Arsenal’s best attacking forays occurred either through (1) deep diagonal runs from the flank into the half-spaces to leverage space on the flank for the wing backs to move into, or (2) counterattacking opportunities when West Ham ventured forward. Walcott had a clear chance after a misplaced West Ham pass that left their back three exposed. The space afforded Welbeck and Giroud to make deep runs, opening space near the penalty spot. Unfortunately, Walcott put his header wide.
Chambers and Holding, The Future?
Two games, two clean sheets for a young pair of English center backs. No doubt that West Ham and BATE Borisov do not represent stiff competition, but the early signs are encouraging for an Arsenal side that is already looking to the future in the heart of the defense. Arsenal is not getting any younger. Mertesacker is retiring after this season, Koscielny is 32-years-old and harbors a lingering Achilles issue, and Nacho Monreal is a 31-year-old repurposed left back. Chambers had a bright loan spell at Middlesbrough last year and Holding emerged as one of the signings of the season after making his move from Bolton. So far, as a pairing, they have looked sharp in possession and shown an adept reading of the game, sniffing out some of West Ham’s only attacking movements in the game. Sure, there are aspects of their games that need to be ironed out but those are easily polished with more minutes. Based on these two performances, they should seriously be considered as options for league matches, both to let them grow and to give some of our senior defenders much needed rest.