By Tony Attwood
7,000 West Ham supporters filled up their allocated places along two thirds of the Clock End and the south east corner – an excellent show of away commitment to their club. Some Arsenal fans, however, seem to have had more than enough of late – or at least until Friday – for although the lower tier was reasonably full, some of the expensive seats (£20 each on the night) at either end of the ground contained huge swathes of emptiness.
The Daily Mirror said their were 44,741 there. Which I suppose is better than 24,000 the Standard reported for one of Tottenham’s games in the same competition.
Anyway, Blacksheep and I took the opportunity to sit together and thus be able to comment on the match to each other as it was in progress rather than doing so on the journey back to his house after the game, as we normally do (what with us each having a season ticket in different parts of the ground).
And what we both noticed at once was that when one’s team is not playing too well, there is always something for supporters to do – in this case West Ham’s fans being anxious to make collective comments about Arsenal fans over and over and over again.
Of course in part this was because they didn’t have too much to say about their own team’s efforts, but still, content isn’t everything, especially when your team has just one shot in the entire game (a free kick in the second half, which went well off target). But it was the cause of an outbreak of mass celebration almost to the point of hysteria at the Clock End lower.
The reason for such poverty of shooting efforts was the way the side lined up. Five at the back, three defensive midfielders in front of the five, and two forwards. And when I say five at the back I don’t mean three central defenders with two wing backs who spend half the game being forwards, no I mean five sold defenders in a line, who whole that line throughout the game.
Arsenal were indeed also limited in their attack to eight shots throughout the evening, primarily because of this double wall of defenders. But interestingly, the way Arsenal chose to unsettle the serried ranks of negativity was by giving Mo Elneny free reign. Goodness knows how many miles he ran in the course of the match but he was everywhere, working to intercept loose passes, catch anyone hesitating, and overall make sure that West Ham could never settle and do what they apparently had planned to do, play it around at the back and then wait for just one chance to get forward. It never really came.
This was also a chance to get a good look at Reiss Nelson who in his cameo performance showed us what an extraordinary player he is. Nothing phases him – not even being on the same pitch as Andy Carroll’s elbows. Joe Willock, playing from the start, was another who looked assured and certain of what he had to do and how to do it.
All of which makes the media’s reaction to Giroud’s injury seem slightly, well, desperate I suppose. A lot of commentators picked up on the fact that Mr Wenger apparently said Arsenal cannot afford further injuries over the busy Christmas period after Giroud suffered a hamstring problem. And maybe he did. But Mr Wenger always stresses the importance of each player.
Yes Giroud is a great alternative to Lacazette, but he’s not the only one, and the fact that none of the players from last night had played the previous match, nor were expected to play the next match, is really the thing that needs to be mentioned. It is the sort of back up facility that one can only have either by doing everything imaginable to attract youngsters to your squad (and then getting your academy banned from signing players for a year, in the style of Manchester City and Liverpool) or by being known as a club that gives youngsters a chance.
Arsenal have 10 games in 36 days, and Mr Wenger gave the verbal equivalent of a Gallic shrug when he said, “It is very demanding, especially because we already have a tough schedule behind us. We have to sit down and analyse what we can do.
“What is very worrying is when you start to lose players, like Giroud tonight. After, you cannot afford to lose another one. I have to look how I can manage the schedule. When you look at our fixtures in January and February, you cannot imagine we will always play with the same players in every game.
“Will I change from Premier League game to Premier League or only in the Carabao Cup? I don’t know yet – I have to look at the fixtures to see what I do.”
But I think he knows perfectly well. He has a plan B, a plan C all the way through to a plan X, Y, Z. This squad of 25 players plus all the youngsters might not have the ability to match Manchester City in the League, but it certainly has the sort of strength in depth that many other clubs can only imagine. Better still, by having two more games for the Arsenal II side to feature in, more players will be kept happy and feel they have a part to play in the club, even if they are not being selected match after match.
- League Cup Arsenal II – West Ham United 1-0.
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