What appears to be Unai Emery’s true test of how far he has taken this squad is now about to start.
After our first two games pitted us against the reigning champions and then Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Emery will be keen to see how we fare against more run-of-the-mill opposition – as will we all.
West Ham actually are in a similar position to us, including league position. Both winless from our first two games, both clubs have a new regime in place, both teams have a fair amount of new personnel – West Ham significantly more so.
The Hammers spent a fair wedge this summer, and Manuel Pellegrini is tasked with the gelling of the team. The signings have been impressive – Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko alone would make most European squads, but mashing them into a team is another matter entirely, and the Hammers have suffered so far.
Still, it’s early days for both clubs, but there can be no underestimating how big this game is. Whoever comes out of this fixture with the L will have zero points from three games, and the pressure mounts.
Plus, we’ve got the added drama of Jack coming back to The Emirates – let’s hope it’s not a happy reunion.
Emery is without Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac for this fixture and the foreseeable future – all defenders.
The same central defensive pairing should play this game, as Emery will be keen to forge some form of partnership between Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi, although they both need to grasp these new instructions a bit firmer if we are to hold out hope of shutting out the Hammers.
In midfield, Emery was quick to sub Granit Xhaka at half time in our loss to Chelsea, so we could see new boy Lucas Torreira line up with Matteo Guendouzi – a very young but incredibly vibrant engine room.
We are all waiting to see if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will line up alongside Alexandre Lacazette, and with both such shining talents, our future must include both on the pitch at the same time, at least when we are not expected to struggle too much. Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are raring to go in attack, but Alex Iwobi played well last time out and could push for another start.
It is incredibly hard to assess how this game will pan out, but with both teams struggling in defence, there is a chance this could rain goals. Both eleven’s will be resplendent with attacking jewels, and the best form of defence is attack.
We do have to be wary of the old pals act – namely Jack Wilshere and Lucas Perez. It is a common thing for ex-players to come back and haunt their old clubs, and this would smart just a little. Wilshere will most likely start this game at his old home, and Lucas will be pushing to play a part too.
Cech has impressed in goal since getting the nod over new boy Bernd Leno and he could be busy, but if our attack comes good, then we should grab the points.
I’m plumping for a 3-1 win today. I think both Auba and Laca will break their ducks for the season too, if they play I don’t think West Ham have enough defensively to quieten them for 90 minutes.
I do think West Ham will score though, and it could be a nail-biting afternoon, but I hope to see the Guendouzi who has impressed since joining, and Lucas Torreira doing what he does best.
We should have enough to grab the points here and get Emery’s era off to a proper start.
A London derby has a habit of destroying form books and league superiority. No matter where the opponent is in the table, the geographical closeness negates it and the atmosphere levels the playing field.
West Ham are coming off the back of a fantastic 1-0 win over Chelsea at the London Stadium. They were resolute at the back, industrious in the middle and effective up top. They have another home game, and the fans will be bang up for it.
Arsenal, on the other hand, scraped a somewhat fortunate 1-1 draw at St Mary’s, as our awful away record continued.
Southampton may have seen fewer of the ball, but the best chances fell to the feet of Charlie Austin, Ward-Prowse, Redmond and Boufal. We looked ponderous, with precious little movement in between the lines. We were the Arsenal that stutters and costs us points. We’ve seen this incarnation of our side many times, but it never gets any easier to deal with.
Now, we’ve got another away game, against a team buoyed by recent results. We need a performance, and now.
The festive fixture list is cramming games in every three days, so squad rotation will be key. This game comes three days after the Saints draw, and three days before we face struggling Newcastle at The Emirates. We need to keep pace and be ready to punce when our rivals drop points, rather than dropping them ourselves.
So, Giroud’s late leveller saved us from the ignominy of defeat at St Mary’s, and the Frenchman may be ideally suited to West Ham. The Hammers have some big boys in defence, and the presence of Giroud could keep them busy enough for our runners to slip in. Danny Welbeck is another option so we can keep Lacazette fresh.
Jack Wilshere also appeared as a substitute in the draw with Southampton to good effect, and he will be hopeful of a start, either in this game or certainly against Newcastle in the weekend. Much will depend on whether Ramsey is fit after he was limping against Saints in the weekend.
Shkodran Mustafi is still doubtful, so Mertesacker, Chambers and Holding will all be in with a shout for the next few games, as fatigue and injuries bite.
West Ham haven’t won at home against us since 2007. They have one other win since that time, a 2-0 win at The Emirates in 2015.
Aside from those two occasions, it has been a goal fest for Arsenal.
I’d feel confident predicting an Arsenal win, but I’ve no idea what Gunners side will show up. We seem unable to string more than two victories together with regularity, and that is exactly what we need. It is our away record that is severely hampering us however.
Two wins on the road in the league is concerning. The 5-2 win over Everton was great, and the 1-0 win at Turf Moor was heartening, but we too often look brittle or we choose the wrong approach to the game. Our home attack is full of verve, and West Ham, if faced with the same, would struggle to keep us at bay.
So, we may make some changes, but it is not the lineup that concerns us too much. It is the style we showed in our draw with Southampton, our loss to Watford, to Stoke, to Liverpool. We need to eradicate this version of us if we are to keep pace with the Top4.
After months of underwhelming, unconvincing and ill-fitting performances on the pitch, the Arsenal that we all know exists roared into gear – and destroyed West Ham in devestating fashion.
Goals from Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a blazing-hot hat-trick from Alexis Sanchez first put the home side on the ropes, and then sent them to the canvas.
Both sides were carrying injuries – Arsenal were missing Santi Cazorla, Hector Bellerin, Olivier Giroud and their long-term injured, and West Ham were missing Diafra Sakho, Michail Antonio, Aaron Cresswell and Gunners-terror Andy Carroll could only make the bench – but it was the quality of replacements that showed the gap between both clubs.
Arsenal brought in Gabriel, Granit Xhaka, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to fill the gaps in the eleven, whilst West Ham drafted in Fernandes, Ashley Fletcher and Arthur Masuaku. The difference in quality is marked, although all the back-ups for both teams were still more than able to cause damage.
The pattern of the match was visible from the start – Arsenal bossed possession, and West Ham looked to counter through Lanzini and Payet – but the lackadaisical ball carrying that has been the Gunners hallmark over recent outings was not on show. Instead, we moved the ball with purpose, with Ozil prying and poking in every cranny and Alexis looking to cause damage every time he received the ball.
West Ham’s game plan was being foiled by the awareness of Xhaka and Coquelin, who then offloaded quickly without fuss, to either of Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott. The end product may have been missing from both, but they were tireless and full of running, which took defenders out of position.
In short, Arsenal looked dangerous, vibrant and unplayable. The deadlock was broken, and predictably, it was Alexis and Ozil who were the architects. It began with Angelo Ogbonna attempting to play out from the back, but his tardiness meant that the alert Coquelin could block his pass. Alexis sniffed out the ball and ran into the box, before squaring it to Ozil to finish from six yards.
A simple goal maybe, but the positioning from the 3 Arsenal players completely built that goal.
The first half ended with Arsenal on top, and West Ham playing in fits and burst, but not truly troubling Petr Cech – the only threatening moment came when Obiang headed over from a decent position.
On the whole, it was a pretty perfect half from Arsenal – aside from a little profligacy in front of goal.
The second half was the fruition of wishes from Gooners everywhere – for Arsenal to return to the potent side they always threaten to be.
For the first twenty minutes or so, Arsenal continued to press and push the Hammers. That in turn created openings that really could have seen a shedload of goals and which would have killed off our London rivals.
West Ham at least woke from their slumber for five minutes. Dmitri Payet and Lanzini could have created an equaliser if it weren’t for Koscielny’s intervention – and Ashley Fletcher drew a smart save from Cech.
Then, Alexis made the difference again. Mustafi’s attempted pass was too strong, but the Chilean controlled it almost like he had boots covered in glue. He then turned sharply and angled a shot past Randolph in the Hammers goal.
The spirit had been dampened, West Ham were reeling, and seven minutes later, the Gunners had three.
Ozil attempted to outwit a defender, and the foiled attempt fell to Alexis, who fired past the keeper yet again. Clinical, and West Ham’s corner were ready to throw in the towel.
It wouldn’t be Arsenal without a wobble – and it was perennial Arsenal-botherer Andy Carroll who provided the drama. The big man had hobbled off the bench, and he was the first to react to a Payet free-kick which had pinged off the bar.
Jitters? Newcastle 4-4? Banterlecht? Last season against West Ham? Not this time.
Only a minute after conceding the goal from Carroll, Arsenal reapplied their foot firmly upon West Ham’s throat. It was lovely to see The Ox grab the goal with a great finish, especially after his previous minutes were not the most productive. It was a fantastic curling shot from outside the box.
The next goal was typical Arsenal – if there is such a thing.
Again, just a minute later, Arsenal threw a haymaker which connected flush with West Ham’s jaw.
Mesut Ozil laid a through ball on a plate for our wonderful Chilean. He was right on the threshold of offside, but his finish was a delightful dink over Darren Randolph. The assist and finish were pretty much the special moves from the respective players. Look out for Alexis’s little dummy before applying the chip – it was special.
Full time, and in truth, Arsenal deserved more. If it weren’t for some off-finishing and Randolph’s saves, West Ham fans would have left far earlier than they actually did.
There was so much to take from this game, but here are five big talking points from the ninety minutes:
Alexis MUST be signed long term
The Chilean’s dynamism, movement, desire and intensity were arrows the Hammers could not shield from. He is one of the leading lights in Europe and if Arsenal have any objectives this coming year, signing Alexis up long term must surely be top of the agenda. Imperative.Six of our last seven goals have come from him in one way or the other. He is the future. Pay him what he deserves.
Ozil was EVERYWHERE
There is an upcoming blog from myself objectively looking at Ozil and whether he has underperformed this season. It gets released tomorrow, and it is going to make me look like an idiot after this performance – as he showed the changing role he is playing this season. His touch map for the first half showed he was instrumental in everything we did. He is the catalyst, and he was the finsiher too for the first goal. It would be great if he could bag assists like they were going out of fashion, but his touch and vision can be implemented anywhere on the pitch. The German is genius.
Arsenal’s press was on point
At times this season, our harrying was not exactly efficient enough to cause our opponents problems. We didn’t see it through to all points of the pitch, but this game we didn’t give the Hammers makeshift backline any time to settle. We capitalised on a weakness, like a ruthless hunter. It will be needed throughout the season.
Xhaka and Coquelin worked
Coquelin is a destroyer, perhaps one of the best in the League. He does have his limits though. What he did do well in this game is he offloaded quickly and simply. He won the ball as he does, and then gave it to someone who can cause damage. Xhaka was just as protective, but his passing really did bypass any lurking Hammers midfielders, setting off Arsenal attacks regularly. While Ramsey may be a more conductive option, this combo is safe, and as long as Coq doesn’t go full Alexandre Song on us, we have options.
Revenge is sweet
West Ham recorded our first ever defeat at The Emirates. So to beat them so convincingly in our first match at the Tesco Arena really did add a cherry to the five-tier cake that was our win. Records stay around for a long time, so this blot on the Hammers copybook will always show that the Hammers were hammered by us in our first match together in the London stadium.
There was so much more to feast on in this game. Koscielny was solid, as was Gabriel at right-back.
It was so great – and relieving – to see Arsenal steamroller a side rather than tentatively poke at them with weak jabs whilst dancing around them. We showed the power we possess, and the confidence we can take from this will stand us in good stead for the flurry of tests which will follow in December and January.
The run of games without a loss may have ended, but the Premiership bid is still alive and kicking.
With Wednesday’s EFL Cup exit at the hands of Southampton being the first game we have lost since the start of the season against Liverpool, today’s game allows us to instantly bounce back from the disappointment of our cup exit.
It will also be the first time we have visited West Ham’s new stadium, and the incumbents of the stadia are seeing that a bigger capacity and modern amenities don’t necessarily bring bigger success. The Hammers, after enjoying a sparkling previous season, are languishing in 16th place, and were also dumped out of the EFL Cup at the same stage, going down 4-1 to Man Utd.
That is not to downplay the threat of the home side though. West Ham still have the same squad that finished so strongly last season, and we have been burned by the Hammers on more than one occasion recently.
On the plus side, even though we had our annual November wobble we are still within touching distance of the top of the league. This won’t be a premise that will hang around if we continue to play like we have in the last month or two, so a welcome return to form would be a fillip for our aspirations.
Our team will still be bereft of Hector Bellerin, Danny Welbeck, Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy, and Olivier Giroud looks doubtful with a groin problem. The worst news comes from Santi Cazorla’s extended layoff. The mercurial Spaniard and his troublesome achilles will see him out of the side until at least March. So, a working midfield combination has to be found…….and quickly.
One who looks to miss out on the midfield experimentation – or at least this match – is Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian had a stomach bug in the midweek loss, and has played two games in the space of six days. This leaves Granit Xhaka, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey to duke it out for the two remaining spots.
With Mathieu Debuchy out with injury yet again, Carl Jenkinson gets another chance to show he’s worthy of a squad place, and Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal will most likely return after being left out of the EFL Cup loss.
Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott also had a rest during the week, and they will be the chief threat to the leaky West Ham backline. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi will be vying for the remaining spot in the team.
A name to bring a chill to the spine of every Gooner – Andy Carroll – has also timed his return from injury to perfection. He will be fit for the game, and with Diafra Sakho out of action, the tall frontman is prime candidate to be chief threat to Koscielny and co.
The aerial threat has been dampened a little by the absence of crossing specialist Aaron Cresswell, but they have plenty of others who can put a ball into the box, and Carroll in the box will be a nightmare for our defenders.
These are the games we must win though, if we are to have genuine aims of finishing top of the tree. Arsenal have not lost at West Ham for a decade, and we have not lost an away game in the league since February so the odds should be in our favour. The Hammers also have not won in four games. If they are to upset the form they’ve been in, they’ll need every bit of the fighting spirit they showed in last seasons 3-3 draw against us – when Andy Carroll scored a hat-trick.
The result may be different but this game normally brings goals. With Theo Walcott scoring more goals against West Ham than any other, it could be the England speedster that breaks the deadlock.
Regardless of who scores, the win is imperative. West Ham were the first side to inflict defeat at The Emirates, and it would be great if we could beat them in the first match between us in their new ground.
Everton and Watford have been chalked off emphatically as Arsenal continue to chase a highly unlikely title victory.
Next up is a visit to Slaven Bilic’s Hammers.
Seeing as West Ham were the last team to beat us at Highbury and the first to win at The Emirates – to beat them the last time we play at The Boleyn Ground would be particularly sweet. First things first though –
How do you keep a leash on Dmitri Payet?
The Frenchman’s wonderful free-kick which defied the laws of gravity was simply another instance where he showed his value.
Thankfully, we have Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny on the case in the centre of the park, and both have been in fine form of late.
This game comes too soon for the return of Aaron Ramsey & Mathieu Flamini – who have both recovered sufficiently that they will be included in the Matchday squad. Santi, Wilshere and Rosicky continue their comebacks, with Jack and Tomas featuring for the Under21 side last night.
Cheikhou Kouyate had the red card he was given last week rescinded, so he will come straight back into the side.
Bilic has no injury worries, but much like Arsenal, his side are painfully aware that the slightest slip up will end their respective dreams.
Alexis Sanchez is showing a semblance of form recently, and after revealing he was playing in fear of getting injured again – it appears the shackles are now off. With young Nigerian Alex Iwobi grabbing the last two ‘Man of the Match’ awards, Arsenal are flying in attack.
Throw a fizzing Danny Welbeck and an Özil who is capable of changing a game with a mere flick – and you have a Gunners side finally showing Gooners what they thought would be the norm.
Has it come too late though?
Eleven points is the gap, albeit with a game in hand. All games played must be won, and the margin for error is nil.
This visit to West Ham is perhaps the toughest remaining fixture Arsenal have to contend with, if you take into consideration that the Hammers haven’t lost at Upton Park since their opening two home games.
Olivier Giroud has a particularly good record against West Ham, but if he is to have any impact, then he will do it from the bench more than likely.
Arsenal will need a plan B, and a Giroud sub may be the ticket. Win this game – and as it is the early kickoff – we can sit back and hopefully watch the demise of our rivals.