You might also enjoy: West Ham v Arsenal – the ref watch. Exclusive to Untold
by Phil Gregory
It’s West Ham vs Arsenal time, with the Gunners going into the game after two concerning results in the cups. 1-1 at Leeds, with Fabregas’ last-gasp penalty grabbing us a draw on what was just “one of those days”. The loss to Ipswich was even more shocking, given the Leeds wake-up call and the fact that Ipswich are struggling.
Such things happen however, and it is very rare that you can have a season of purely the good times. We’ve still got Ipswich at home, a couple of early goals on our own turf and we’ll be fine. What’s important is that the results didn’t cost us much, all mistakes can still be rectified. You can’t do that with a draw in the league.
West Ham are a dour team. Unexciting team, uninspriring manager and no great shakes in the league table either. Nobody expected them to be right in the relegation mix this season and yet they are. I’ve not got much love for the owners Gold and Sullivan, they both seem like absolute planks to be honest. The former was speaking on a Radio 5Live feature on football finance that I listened to last year, which I found absolutely hilarious. Here is the man who, when in charge of Birmingham, thought financial management meant racking up £40m of losses as they sought to guarantee promotion by… err, just keeping their Premier League squad despite Championship revenues. Naturally the gamble paid off, but it’s a highly risky strategy and they were shaky during much of their promotion campaign. Yet Gold was talking about sustainable football finance on the radio. Hmm…
I genuinely dislike the pair of them, they both seem to really like the limelight a little too much. Constantly in the media during Zola’s reign, it sometimes seemed they were actively trying to undermine him and make his job harder. Pulling the plug on the Sidwell transfer “because Mark Noble is back fit” is simply meddling, it doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Talking about the management, their decision to hire Avram Grant is fairly typical of their approach wishy-washy approach. You can just imagine their reasoning: “he did pretty well at Chelsea, and ok at Portsmouth, so let’s give him a go”. That’s pretty well with Mourinho’s squad, and while he won Pompey a few points, he hardly performed miracles. A quick look at his CV (or what you can find of it…) suggests a manager way out of his depth in the Premier League, who got his first job through connections and then got lucky. What a surprise he’s been in the bottom three for two years, now. That’s not a personal attack: I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But can you imagine a top executive getting a job “cos he knows the owner” and then getting two others despite a woeful CV? Only in football. (Phil – you are in for a surprise when you leave the academic world. It happens in business every day of the week. Take banking for instance… ) (Editor removed by security guards at this point with foam pouring out of mouth.)
That is all, of course, highly relevant to our match against West Ham. Ahem. Injuries are related however, so I’ll move onto them. Fabianksi is out with a shoulder inflammation, so we’ll see Szcznesy for this one. The younger of the two Poles has certainly made strides forward this season with appearances in various competitions. It looked like he might’ve been losing patience with a lack of opportunities at one point, but how happy must he be that he decided to extend his Arsenal deal. Denilson is in the squad after being rated a doubt prior to the game, while Vermaelen, Diaby, Squillaci and Almunia are out. Bacary Sagna is serving the final match of his suspension.
Leading me to expect a line-up of:
Eboue Djourou Koscielny Clichy
Walcott Van Persie Nasri
With only two keepers in the squad, we’d be wise not to take any gambles with the fitness of either of them, so I’m expecting Szcznesy to remain between the sticks. Eboue continues deputising for Sagna, and is certainly someone who needs to improve on his last performance with some notably dodgy defensive work against Ipswich. The centrebacks pick themselves as we don’t have any others, while it is a well-rested Clichy that resumes left back duties.
Song and Wilshere form the defensive shield in front of the back four. The latter has played an enormous amount of games this season and looked jaded against Ipswich so isn’t a sure starter. Further up the field Fabregas playmakes. Nasri and Van Persie come back after their knocks to start wide left and up front, with Theo on the right.
For West Ham, Wayne Bridge has signed on loan in time to be registered, so could well feature.
Needless to say, it is our strongest available line-up. I didn’t expect either of the Leeds or Ipswich results, but in my Leeds preview I mentioned that sometimes a lack of familiarity when you field a partially-changed line-up can disrupt a team. Hopefully with the best available team we can avoid that pitfall, and put together a good result before we suffer a crisis of confidence.
There’s some big players back in the line-up, such as Van Persie and Nasri. Those two are the sort of players who will make a real difference to our quality in the final third, turning an otherwise frustrating 0-0 into one or two nil to the Arsenal. I expect them both to shine given the breather they’ve had, and for a 0-1 to the Arsenal. Not the most bullish of predictions, but we’re playing away and not full of confidence. Three points would be just the tonic to get us back moving.
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