West Ham come to the Emirates on Saturday for our first home derby of the season. Johan Djourou says, “… they are the games that can finish your season”, and I agree wholeheartedly.
Home games against the smaller sides are a must win. Such a statement can be considered clichéd but that doesn’t take away the intrinsic truth. Last season we lost at home to the two sides above us and drew with City and Everton. Those were the only points we dropped at home. Tougher tests at home will be coming later in the season and we’ve already conceded three points to a sloppy display against West Brom. There can be no doubt about the importance of the three points at stake in this game.
The visitors have had a difficult start and are already feeling the pressure of a relegation battle. No doubt they will work hard to get at least a point. We will just have to do better than them and with Cesc back in the side I’m confident we won’t slip in this game.
Tactically this game will be interesting because the Hammers can mix it up. They have a big target man in Cole and can use him to hoof balls up-field. With the likes of Parker and Noble in their team, they can also play a decent technical game on the ground. In the past we have seen them do a good job of pressing us and making things difficult.
This can be seen from the following chart made using the Guardian Chalkboards,
Earlier this season they went to Old Trafford and played a good passing game as is evident from the chart on top. It’s a different matter that they lost convincingly. In stark contrast, the chart on the bottom shows they can go route one and eke out a win as they did against the Tinies. Kudos to The Irons for that by the way.
A lot will depend on the way we play. If Arsenal can keep the tempo high and make the visitors chase the ball we should create some chances. Given the fragile nature of their confidence right now, that could lead to an early goal and open the floodgates.
Obviously, Arsene will have get the balance of his starting eleven right. Amongst the back five, I think only one place is up for grabs and one of Squillaci or Djourou will get the nod alongside Fabianski, Koscielny, Sagna, and Clichy.
To be honest, I’m not sure which of the two would be the appropriate choice. Squillaci is the more experienced and solid defender. He also had a decent partnership going with Koscielny before the latter got injured. Djourou on the other hand, is bigger and stronger and could do a better job of dealing with long balls and Carlton Cole. I have a feeling experience will tilt the balance in favour of the Frenchman.
For the first time in a while Wenger is spoilt for choice in the central and attacking areas. If Arsene sticks with the midfield that did the job at Manchester, we will see Cesc, Song, and Denilson. That would mean Nasri and Rosicky will have a battle with Walcott and Arshavin for the wide roles.
We could see Nasri, Chamakh, and Arshavin coming back into the starting line-up after a good rest. Walcott and Bendtner could be on the bench, and perhaps get a start in the mid-week Champions League game. I’d prefer that Walcott starts this game and Arshavin gets the nod in Ukraine. The Russian does better in the European games and will have better experience of the conditions. Theo could continue his hot streak and have some fun on the big Emirates pitch.
The side I’d like to see is,
Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Denilson – Walcott, Chamakh, Nasri.
With a strong bench including the likes of Arshavin, Rosicky, Bendtner, and Vela.
Arsenal should win this one but it won’t be a walk in the park. The difference between success and failure at this level is really small and Fabregas will have to ensure others can match his levels of focus and concentration. Another clean sheet will be fantastic.