Arsenal Opposition Scout Report – West Ham
In yet another London based fixture, Arsenal play hosts to West Ham United. With both teams suffering tumultuous seasons thus far, both Mikel Arteta and David Moyes will be hoping that their teams can go strong for this fixture.
This report will analyse how David Moyes may look to set his side up and what Arsenal can expect from the clash.
For Moyes, the emphasis will dually be on the result and not so much the performance which earns it. This is in stark contrast to Mikel. He will be looking for the result to come as a by-product of playing his philosophy and his game plan. West Ham come into this game amidst a relegation battle. The Hammers are currently sitting 16th in the Premier League, level on points with 18th place Bournemouth and just two points off 19th place Aston Villa. Their mentality will surely be; to win at all costs.
West Ham’s last match saw them beat Southampton 3-2 at the London Stadium in a crucial match for the Hammers. Moyes set his team out in a 4-4-2 with new signing Jarrod Bowen making his first start for the Hammers. Moyes tasked his team with sitting deep and absorbing the pressure before quickly counterattacking through the hold-up play of Sébastien Haller and the raw pace and athleticism of Michail Antonio. Bowen’s devastating runs from right to left caused constant chaos for the Southampton defence with the former Hull player executing this move to score the first goal of the game. Bowen prefers to cut in on his left foot rather than go down the line on his right. He looks less comfortable when pinned to the touchline.
Source of Attacks
West Ham will likely look to attack through long balls up to Haller. Teammates will then look to feed off flick-ons and second balls. I’ve already mentioned the threat of Bowen and the threat which his runs can cause, however, the source of these threatening attacks comes through Mark Noble. The majority of Noble’s passes against Southampton were forward and into space for players to attack. A lot of Noble’s passes were in behind the Southampton’s fullbacks for either the wingers or forwards to run onto. Out of Noble’s 40 passes, 31 were successful. Arsenal must very wary of this. Arteta likes for his full-backs to advance and at times become the widest points of attack for the team. This might create situations where West Ham can get their wingers in behind the Arsenal defence.
Against Liverpool, West Ham focused on attacking Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Moyes aimed to overload them before using quick combination play to release and free players in space to put crosses in for the forwards in the box. By using overloads down the wings, West Ham could stretch and create spaces which favoured their attacking players. Against Southampton, Moyes decided to play the ball long towards Haller and Antonio, who were up against the Saints centre backs. Bowen and Fornals then looked to come inside on their stronger foot and attack the second balls. When doing this they setup in almost a 4-2-2-2 with the fullbacks Creswell and Ngakia advancing once West Ham had secured possession. A lot of the time Ngakia would stay tight to the midfielders aiming to help regain the ball when possible.
In attacking transition, West Ham look to force the ball quickly up to Haller and Antonio. Bowen and Fornals look to support play and attack the second balls. If West Ham won the ball in a low block, then they looked to play the ball in behind the fullbacks for the strikers who would split. The wingers would invert and attack centrally whilst the team countered. Both Haller and Antonio are very physical and therefore are real threats in situations where they isolate the centre backs in a 2v2 situation. This is a real threat Arsenal must address. These situations where West Ham turn the defensive line and create a 2v2 match up could really cause Arsenal problems. Arsenal should also be wary when the West Ham fullbacks do advance. Naturally, the opposition will get attracted to the ball and the overloads which will be central. The space the fullbacks attack out wide, then becomes very dangerous for uncontested crosses.
West Ham’s fullbacks remaining more reserved until called upon, was to both deal with the potential counter-attacking threat of Southampton through the wide positions, and also to cope with Southampton’s two strikers. West Ham didn’t want to get caught in the situation they themselves were trying to create down the other end of the pitch. Moyes didn’t want Obafemi and Long to be isolated against Diop and Ogbonna. The Saints strikers aren’t the greatest in the air, however, they are quick and tenacious. A real threat when long balls are pumped in their direction. A similar situation might be the case against Arsenal. Moyes, won’t want for the back four to get isolated against Alex Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
West Ham look to defend in a medium block 4-4-2. Unlike Everton (who also defend this way), they aren’t the most well drilled or best defensive unit in reducing the space between the lines and limiting space for opponents to occupy. West Ham also tend to be easily lured out of their shape relatively easy. By this I mean the discipline to stay and not get attracted to the ball is poor. Arsenal might look to Ceballos, Guendouzi or Willock to engage and take on West Ham’s midfielders by either dribbling at them or using their body smartly to receive the ball on the half-turn. Arteta will want for those players to attract and beat their man. This will open space, channels and angles to pass the ball through and get it the feet of the forwards in favourable situations.
A weakness in the West Ham contingent is young right-back Jeremy Ngakia. The 19-year-old who has been thrown in for the injured Ryan Fredericks has done all that could have been asked of him given the circumstances, however, there are a few weaknesses which could be exploited against him. The two main instances were when Southampton were counter-attacking and instead of running towards goal, Obafemi dropped off the line to receive the ball from a cutback. Ngakia was caught in two minds whether to go with Shane Long, who was behind him and attacking the far post or go with Obafemi. Ngakia made the incorrect decision and got caught between both players. Obafemi ended up getting free and scored the equaliser. Down that right side, West Ham do have two very young and inexperienced at this level players. Arsenal could look to overwhelm them and cause all manner of positional difficulties for them.
From goal kicks West Ham look to play it long towards Haller. The front four look to stretch the defensive line to help create gaps and channels to run in should Haller win the flick-on. A common pattern is Haller looks to win the flick-on whilst Antonio runs vertically across the back line to get onto them. Antonio will drag the other centre back with him and create space for Fornals and Bowen to run into. Declan Rice will become the enforcer and will look to win the ball back high up the pitch. Moyes wants for Rice to win the ball and catch the opposition defence disjointed and flat-footed. This will then give West Ham’s forwards a strong chance of getting a shot at goal. As well as this, it gives Rice the chance to tactically foul and prevents a counter-attack. This allows West Ham to get back in position, behind the ball. In case Rice doesn’t stop the counter-attack, Ngakia will slot in alongside Noble.
In conclusion, should West Ham set up in their 4-4-2 system, then Arsenal with the majority of possession should be well equipped to break them down. Ceballos, Guendouzi and Willock could be vital in breaking down West Ham’s low block defence. Attracting their opponents onto them in midfield before playing quick cute passes around the corner will help progress the ball through the thirds and it will help find the forwards in good positions. The 2v2 match up between West Ham’s forwards and the Arsenal centre backs could be detrimental to the Gunners. Haller and Antonio are both physically dominating. If you couple this with the smart movement of Bowen and Fornals, then Arsenal’s back line could have problems, especially if Noble is allowed to orchestrate play from deep.