Our old friend, Big Sam, is back. This time it’s with West Ham, a club that has traditionally produced some quality football players. I wonder how their fans would be feeling about supporting a team with Allardyce as the manager. It’d be understandable if getting back to the Premier League and staying up are of greater importance to them.
Anyway, we all know what to expect at Upton Park in Saturday’s late kick-off. A lot of long balls towards Carroll; runners from midfield in the form of Vaz Te, Nolan, and Jarvis; Some intelligent wing play as well, particularly from the former Wolves winger; Crosses, set-pieces, and every attempt to keep the ball in the air that is humanly possible. To this we can add some ‘strong’ tackles; maybe some elbows to the head; a whole lot of time wasting if they’re in front; and clever fouls that break up play.
In fairness, we’ll also see a team that shows fierce commitment and desire to win the duels; has the ability (particularly with players like Noble and Diame in midfield) to play some quality football when they really want to; will remain organized and hard to break down; and offer a constant threat on the break. Let’s not forget the hosts are above Arsenal in the table at the moment albeit with an admittedly easier start to the season.
The midfield battle will once again be vital. Arsenal were a tad slow in moving the ball against Olympiacos at home and will need to do much better at Upton Park as the hosts will take the field with greater belief thanks to their manager’s relative success against Wenger.
The midfield will also have a massive role to play in defending the second ball. Diaby was immense against Stoke as he battled for the first ball and left the defenders with a job of sweeping up. Stoke also had limited quality in their support players. On Saturday, Arsenal do not have the presence of Diaby and the hosts have better, more clinical and creative, attacking players to support their lone striker.
So the choice of the third midfielder could prove decisive but to be honest I’m not completely convinced Arsenal have the right man for the job at the moment. Coquelin is hardly a proven player at this level. Against Olympiacos he didn’t track Machado’s run but got away with it. Against West Ham such an error can cost a goal.
Ramsey has a bit more experienced but to me he seems a little confused when played in a deeper role. It seems he’s constantly trying to produce something fascinating to prove his worth when keeping things simple and quick would serve the purpose. This tends to leave him in a state of indecision at inopportune moments. Again, an opponent that is looking to press hard could capitalize on some such moment of dwelling on the ball.
I’m glad Wenger has to make this choice.
At the back, hopefully Mertesacker will be back. Due to his height it’s sometimes easy to think that the German offers a great presence in the air but I believe Vermaelen attacks the ball better. It will be interesting to see whether Carroll shifts towards the Belgian or the German. Arsenal’s covering play will also be vital and the defenders will have to put in a solid shift even when the midfield provides sufficient support.
In that regard, I think the German reads the game better but also has a tendency to drop back which could keep opponents on-side. Vermaelen is more aggressive with his defending but that can also be risky if there’s an error in judgment as we have seen via the recent fouls and penalty that he’s conceded. Both these players will have to produce impeccable 90 minutes whether attacking the ball or sweeping behind. Of course, Wenger could pick Koscielny again but the point remains valid.
In the recent games the Gunners have tended to defend really deep at times. This could be a dangerous tactic against a team that relies on playing the ball in the air and thrives on crosses and set-pieces. I don’t know if Arsenal will be able to push up the pitch consistently so the defence is likely to face a stern test whenever West Ham produce a spell of pressure. Diaby played a big role in minimizing Stoke chances of having such periods but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see phases where Arsenal are pinned back.
Mannone has also been suspect in the air and his judgment has been up to scratch. Again, I’ll be surprised if the hosts don’t target the goalkeeper at every opportunity.
Unless Allardyce’s team scores an early goal, Wenger’s side should get some chances to break forward into space if they can see off the initial pressure. Arsenal’s style will be the same but having a target man in Giroud, someone who can hold his own in front of a defender and can link better, could be helpful.
Mannone – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Coquelin – Gervinho, Giroud, Podolski.
I’d give Podolski and Cazorla a relatively free role when in possession, Gervinho the instructions to stay wide with a license to attack the full-back, Jenkinson to stay deeper as he’s done in most games, and Gibbs the freedom to provide width on the left. Arteta would have to provide cover for Gibbs, if necessary, and Coquelin should shoulder the responsibility of tracking runs through the middle.
This game could be decided by which side or player shows greater desire at a given moment. For the Gunners it will also be about retaining their counsel in the face of some physical challenges with an unflinching determination to impose their style on the game.
It will probably not be a very high quality game or a truly enjoyable one but avoiding basic mistakes could avert frustration at the final whistle.Follow @goonerdesi