The vacation was great fun for us but it seems the Gunners have had a tough week. I did have a feeling Arsenal were going to struggle in the big games as this analysis, done for the betting expert blog just before I left, showed the impact certain big wins had on Arsenal’s numbers in the table.
After returning I updated some numbers and created the table in the following tweet. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading but it paints a truer picture of Arsenal’s struggles this season. Obviously, if you take out four of any team’s best wins, their numbers will lose some gloss. But as that article shows, the drop for Arsene Wenger’s side is particularly sharp.
Throughout the season there has been a problem of balance. The initial 4-4-1-1 approach – presumably, Steve Bould’s brainchild – didn’t last long. It is a somewhat archaic system more suited to the smaller defensive minded teams that rely on long balls and counter-attacks. The defence was fairly strong in those games but it came at a noticeable cost of attacking potency. Another, possibly related, problem that has plagued Wenger’s side is their inability to consistently and effective press higher up the pitch. It’s quite possible that the initial tactic of dropping deep has confused the players and they can’t start on the front foot, so to speak. It seems to me they’re only able to dominate possession in the opposition half when the opponents ease off and allow them to. The big wins have also come in games where the opponents just haven’t competed in the midfield.
As the season has progressed we’ve seen the Gunners push up a bit more but a number of old structural problems are now coming back as a direct result. The ease with which City and Chelsea scored their goals – refereeing decisions are only part of the equation – has to be a major concern for Wenger.
Anyway, I don’t want to make this a broad discussion of the season so let’s return to the upcoming fixture. Arsenal’s performance at Upton Park was one of their better ones but even then the game wasn’t as comfortable as the 1-3 score suggests. West Ham were in it for long periods. It could be the same in the reverse fixture.
I doubt anyone is expecting too many surprises on Wednesday. Both managers have their preferred styles and they’re very likely to stick to them.
West Ham’s aerial and physical qualities will pose a constant threat to Szczesny’s goal. The Gunners did well in the reverse fixture with Arteta playing a superb role in front of the defence. But the Spaniard will be missing in this one and Wenger will have to find a replacement. Diaby, too, had a good game away at Stoke against a similar style of play. He could again be a vital player. Of course, as Wenger mentioned, he’s played a lot of minutes soon after a long injury lay-off and the risk of losing him again cannot be rationalized easily.
The thing that could work in Arsenal’s favour in this game is that West Ham’s game is very vertical. They rely on defending deep and narrow. If they don’t compete in the central third of the pitch and allow the Gunners to build from the back, Arsenal should get opportunities to score. Then again, they could have a game like they did against Bradford and do everything but score. Nevertheless, the odds will favour Wenger’s side if Allardyce sets his team up in a defensive manner and relies solely on long balls.
The former Blackburn and Bolton manager will hope that Arsenal are just as chaotic and disorganized at the back as they were in the first half against Chelsea and City. Rugby tackles, crowding the centre, dozing at set-pieces, and other such antics will give West Ham a fair chance of scoring. Kevin Nolan in particular will be a genuine dangerman for the Gunners.
Arsene Wenger’s choices for the starting eleven should also be interesting. After returning I saw the changes in Wilshere and Cazorla’s positions. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to but it might not be ideal if the Spaniard loses form in the second half of the season – something we’ve seen from Mata and Silva in the recent past.
I also saw that Walcott has moved back to the right in the last couple of games but has been given the license to stay higher up the pitch on a consistent basis. Again it’s an approach I agree with but it is going to put greater strain on Sagna for sure.
Then there is the problem of the central striker. Giroud was an average finisher in the early games and it seems he’s only worsened in the last few games. The Frenchman’s propensity to lose possession is annoying and breaks many attacks down. But where are the options? Podolski through the middle has been Wenger’s best bet from the start of the season but he seems reluctant to use the German in that role. Will Cazorla’s move to the left give Arsene the chance to play Poldi centrally?
Injuries have also limited the options. And that thing about Arsenal struggling without Arteta isn’t just a series of random coincidental occurances. He’s the team’s most tactically aware player and his absence clearly weakens the defence as well as the side’s ability to hold or bring the ball forward.
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Diaby, Wilshere, Cazorla – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.
I’d like to see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Diaby, Wilshere, Ramsey – Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla.
Giroud’s presence is useful while defending set-pieces and could be handy in the West Ham box if they sit back, but I think he brings too many weaknesses to the side. Ramsey hasn’t had a great season but he brings something different to the side. His energy could help ease the burden on Wilshere and Cazorla while also creating an opening in the middle for Podolski. That said, I’ll be genuinely surprised if Wenger does go for such a line-up.
This was one of the five eminently winnable games. Just because it was postponed doesn’t change that. In games against clubs currently above them, the Hammers have P12 W1 D4 L7 F10 A21. Of these, five have been away games which have resulted in a solitary point with one goal scored and ten conceded. Their away attack is by far the weakest in the League as they’ve scored just five goals in ten games. The visitors’ current form isn’t great either with just one win in their last seven games.
Arsenal already have serious problems and not winning a game of this nature will only compound their worries. If normal service resumes, it should at least be a strong win even if it isn’t an emphatic one but, based on current form and confidence levels, it’s not too hard to imagine points being dropped.Follow @goonerdesi