Every move back to respectability requires even the smallest step in the right direction. Previous to Sunday, the only step Arsenal took were backwards. Tonight will determine if the steps taken to get the draw against City were little steps forward or big steps back.
It hasn’t been easy to watch Arsenal since mid-January. For those of us that try and write about Arsenal it hasn’t been easy writing about them. Any semblance of Arsenal seems gone.
Gone is positive possession. Gone is incisive passing. Gone is the normal end of season run. All that remains is questionable defending and questionable tactics. Arsenal are simply a shell of what we know them to be.
Still, each week I turn up to watch, as do the thousands in the stands (still less than normal) and the millions around the globe. Because we hope that Arsenal turn it around (yes, there are some out there that don’t want us to turn it around.)
It seems very simplistic to say but Arsenal need to get back to doing those things that are staples of who Arsenal are. We need to get back to connecting passes in between lines, moving the ball side to side to stretch teams, moving the ball with purpose and successfully executing even the simplest of technical aspects of the game.
It’s not only been hard to watch Arsenal because of the losses, but the technical quality has been so poor it hardly looks familiar. And while I can find plenty of blame for the manager, the drop in technical quality has to lay squarely at the feet of the players.
Players at this level shouldn’t under- or miss hit their passes. They shouldn’t look for high-risk passes or skill moves when simple options are there in front of them. They shouldn’t hold on to the ball too long and let the opportunities for releasing the ball get lost as they dribble into the final third. And oh for the love of pete – could we relearn how to receive the ball on the half turn with pace?
The players seem to have forgotten they are professionals and with that there are expectations. Some of these players need to remember that they are extremely well paid stars and start playing like it – regardless of whether they are going to be here or not.
If Arsenal can get back to doing those simple things right it might fix some of what ails them. Yes, I know it’s very simplistic in its presentation. Yes, there are other more complex issues to fix out too but this is about taking baby steps and moving forward.
West Ham aren’t as imposing as they were supposed to be and when we were freely flowing in the early dawn of the season, we dispatched them with ease. Now with Koscielny, Cech and his backup David Ospina out, combined with our inability to even play football miring us in our worst run, West Ham presents a formidable opponent today.
Where we go from here is any one’s best guess. You could make a case that at some point Arsenal should break out of their funk. But as matches pass by you wonder if that is truly the case.
Still, if Arsenal are going to get anything out of this season, this has to be the match that triggers the positive steps forward.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Emi Martinez. It sounds like the young Argentine keeper is going to get a start with both Cech and Ospina out. Can he lay a claim ahead of next year’s lineups being solidified?
West Ham. Andy Carroll. If he can stay on the pitch long enough his towering headers can really hurt us.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Koscielny (Achilles), Ospina (knock), Cech (calf), Peres (thigh), Cazorla (foot)
West Ham: Cresswell (knock), Reid (groin), Antonio (hamstring), Obiang (ankle), Ogbonna (knee), Sakho (back), Tore (knee)
West Ham: DLLLL
Goals Scored (avg per season)
West Ham: 1.37
Goals Allowed (avg per season)
West Ham: 1.80
The Manager’s Take (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
“It’s a good challenge but I think it’s perfectly possible,” Wenger said. “Certainly for 20 years I have done it and it looked always like it’s nothing. Suddenly it becomes important, so I am quite pleased that people realise that it’s not as easy as it looks.
“Of course we have a difficult task in front of us, but I am happy as well that people realise suddenly that it’s not as easy as it looked always.
“The experience will play a part of course, but I think it is just about sticking together and continuing to fight. If we show the same spirit we showed against City, we will win football games.
“We have played 19 games unbeaten this season, and I think it’s a good opportunity to remind people we are not fighting to not go down, we are fighting to have a positive end to the season. That’s why you want the fans to stand behind the team and that the debate at the moment is about that.
“Let’s finish as strong as we can and show that we have some resilience, some quality and some mental spirit that we have shown against City.”
Referee: Martin Atkinson (24M 70Y 2R)
Assistants: S Child, A Nunn
Fourth official: S Attwell
UK: Listen Live on Arsenal.com 19.45 GMT
US: Stream online at NBCSports Extra 2:45 PM EST
Arsenal 2 – 1 West Ham
Match Facts (Courtesy FourFourTwo.com via Opta)
- Arsenal have lost just one of their last 17 Premier League games against West Ham (W13 D3), though it did come in this exact fixture last season.
- West Ham have won five Premier League away games against Arsenal – they’ve only won more on the road in the competition against Fulham (6).
- Slaven Bilic could become just the third manager to win his first two Premier League visits to face Arsenal after Ron Atkinson and Guus Hiddink.
- Alexis Sanchez has scored four goals and provided one assist in his last two games against West Ham, including a hat-trick in the reverse of this fixture.
- Should the Gunners win it will be their 10th Premier League double over the Hammers, more than they’ve achieved against any other side in the competition (also 9 vs Everton).
- Andy Carroll has scored five Premier League goals against Arsenal – against no side has he scored more in the competition (also 5 vs Swansea and Man City).
- There have been four hat-tricks in Premier League meetings between these sides – Arsenal vs Liverpool is the only fixture to see more in the competition (5).
- Arsenal have won just one of their last eight Premier League matches played in midweek (Tues-Thurs); drawing four and losing three.
- West Ham United have won six of their seven midweek Premier League games (Tues-Thurs) since the start of 2016 (W6 D0 L1).
- No team has scored more headed goals than Arsenal in the Premier League this season (14, level with West Brom).