Arsenal vs West Ham: The Preview
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
We take on West Ham this Saturday afternoon with a chance to reduce the gap between ourselves and the top five ahead of our midweek clash with Manchester City. The Hammers come into the game off the back off a resounding 3-1 victory over Southampton, although this was following a dismal run of form which sees them right in the midst of a relegation battle. You'd expect us to attain nothing less than 3 points.
David Moyes’ side tend to sit in a low block against superior technical teams, particularly away from the London Stadium, relying on the physicality of Sebastian Haller and the pace of Michail Antonio to exploit the opposition on the counter. This was evident in their recent encounter with Liverpool at Anfield, where they pushed the league leaders all the way by sitting in a compact shape that was difficult to break down. Antonio’s pace and movement caused Liverpool problems throughout the game and had it not been for a rare mistake from former gunner Lukasz Fabianksi, they may well have taken something from the match.
Their ability to threaten from set-pieces should also not be underestimated. They scored from one at Anfield, and created a 36% chance from another against the Saints last Saturday. They also scored from one in the reverse fixture in December. Both centre-halves Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna are aerially threats from dead ball situations. Having conceded from four set-pieces in our last two games at the Emirates, this has to be an area Arteta is focusing on ahead of Saturday’s game.
Despite possessing the ability to threaten from set-pieces and on the counter, in both their recent trips to Anfield and the Etihad, they failed to create a number of high quality opportunities from open play, amassing a mere 0.78 xG across the 180 combined minutes. With Arsenal’s upturn in preventing high quality chances against us, you’d expect it to be a fairly routine defensive display.
Whilst remaining sturdy for long periods of these recent away games, the Irons do eventually succumb to pressure and concede high quality chances late on in games. Against Liverpool and City, they suffered a large 4.71 xGA, with 3.12 of this coming in the final 30 minutes of the two games. This signals that Arsenal must remain patient but also relentless in their pressure, and we’ll eventually reap the rewards.
As for our line-up, you'd expect Arteta to revert to a similar side that beat Everton at the Emirates almost two weeks ago. Torreira joins a list of absentees, including Chambers and Kolasinac, which will obviously be a huge blow for the rest of the season. Whilst Arteta may be tempted to rotate heavily with City in mind, I think this game is a more realistic opportunity for points, and we must go full strength.
Leno will return to the side in goal, whilst you'd expect Luiz and Mustafi to maintain their starting births as they continue to build their surprisingly impressive partnership at the heart of our defence (despite Mari's positive display at Fratton Park). Bellerin will return after being rested on Monday night, whilst Kieran Tierney may well be deemed fit enough to make his long awaited return, and thus give Saka a much needed rest.
In midfield, with Torreira's absence it's almost inevitable that the Xhaka-Ceballos pivot will be given another try, and having two ball progressors in the pivot could be crucial to breaking down West Ham. Ozil will return ahead of them, whilst Aubameyang and Pepe will fill the wide roles after not playing against Portsmouth. With Nketiah flourishing at the moment, and Lacazette in poor form, I expect Arteta to opt for the young English striker for the third consecutive league game from the start.
No excuses on Saturday for us not to pick up all 3 points. COYG.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Tierney, Xhaka, Ceballos, Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang, Nketiah
West Ham: Fabianski, Ngakia, Ogbonna, Diop, Cresswell, Rice, Noble, Bowen, Fornals, Antonio, Haller