It’s matchday number 2 and a second match that every Arsenal fan will be expecting three point from. It’s a home opener, but historically, those have gone less than well for Arsenal. With only 4 wins in the last 10 season’s home openers, including a loss to West Ham to kick off the 2015-16 campaign, Arsenal have struggled to make their home-opening statement count. But those were teams of the past, not this one, and their competition hasn’t been in quite the same position as West Ham is in as a club. With the opportunity to start with the season with 6 points of 6 and a second win against a side they should be beating, the Gunners could head into a tough stretch of games on a high.
West Ham, as a club, are struggling. The environment is toxic. The relationship between the team and the fans, the fans and the club, and between club and players is deteriorating by the minute. Fans want a change in ownership, players want to see the side bolstered, ownership wants to see results before they consider any more investment, its a nasty situation and it most certainly has followed the team onto the pitch.
In their opening match West Ham played Newcastle where they were beat 2-0. While the stats suggest that West Ham were on par with Newcastle, the stats lie. West Ham looked flat, far from dangerous, uncreative, and like a team of players completely disinterested in being a member of the squad. Moyes’ men came out in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Newcastle, something notably different from the 4-4-2 shape deployed during the restart when West Ham played against Arsenal.
In their last matchup, Arteta countered that 4-4-2 shape with a 4-2-3-1 formation that was pretty standard for Arsenal at the time, but things have changed. While the onus will still be on Arsenal to break down a West Ham side that will be willing to concede the majority of possession in favor of sitting in a low block, breaking down the low block will be a repeat challenge for Arsenal who struggled last time against the Hammers, despite playing their creative maestro Mesut Ozil.
In talking about West Ham, Arteta commented on the difficult nature of playing their London rival. “[West Ham are] Always a threat, we have a good example of the game we played against them last March” Arteta said. “It was really difficult, we managed to win the game but we had a lot of problems, so we better be ready because after a defeat teams are always more dangerous.”
While West Ham struggled throughout their 2019-20 campaign, and had mutliple multi-game losing streaks, West Ham did pull themselves together down the stretch and manage to go 3 wins, 3 draws, and 3 losses to stay in the Premier League. That might not seem like an impressive record, but for a team that only managed 39 points all year, just under 1/3 of them came at the end, which wasn’t long ego.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that West Ham have momentum on their side — 10 minutes of watching their match against Newcastle shows you that — but it does mean they are capable putting something together. Be that through the physical play of Michail Antonio, the veteran play of Mark Noble, or the up and coming play of Soucek and Declan Rice – West Ham has a way of rising to the occasion and spoiling the day. Arsenal have a task in front of them and only 3 points will do.
Despite the fact that Arsenal will have the onus on them to break down West Ham, and Arteta’s decision to play a 4-2-3-1 last time out, I don’t foresee him straying from the recipe that has gotten him this far. At this point we know Arteta’s formation is more a matter of getting the personnel on the field that he wants and less about how they play, so opting for a 3-4-3 doesn’t necessarily mean we will see anything different from what we saw against Fulham.
I still expect Arsenal to drop into a 5-2-3 without the ball while looking to press, transition into a 4-3-3 shape with the ball as they look to get into attacking zones, and complete their fluid shift by ending in the 2-3-5, 2-2-6 formation we have seen in the last two matches with multiple variations to their movement. This movement is one of the reasons Fulham struggled to track attackers leading to a few dangerous moments and 3 goals.
There wasn’t much to note from the Team News announcement made by Arsenal, but Arteta went out of this way to mention that David Luzi will be available for selection in his press conference. Additionally, William Saliba started yesterday for Arsenal’s U-23 side in their 2-2 draw with Brighton. It’s fantastic that he is getting minutes under his belt, but it does suggest that we will likely see Rob Holding get the call once more.
Because of the Luiz addition in the press conference and Arteta’s recent history of being willing to play Luiz on short notice, with little training, I am left feeling as though we will see him start tomorrow. Rather than replacing Gabriel who acquitted himself quite well and scored a goal, I think we will get a taste of a Gabriel left-center back, Luiz center back pairing.
Additionally, I believe Dani Ceballos will make his way back into the side to offer a slightly more attacking option to Elneny, despite Elneny playing quite well. I could understand Arteta sticking with him given the nice partnership between him and Xhaka that was on display, but we saw a better partnership between Ceballos and Granit to end the year.
Because of the new backline, Tierney will slide out to the left wingback role, Bellerin will maintain his spot after a fantastic performance in helping the team progress through the midfield and into the box, and the front three will rightfully maintain their spots. All three were on the scoresheet against Fulham as Aubameyang scored, Lacazette scored, and Willian tallied two assists.
It may not end up being as comfortable as their Fulham match was, but I think Arsenal will limit the amount of good scoring chances West Ham get in order to remain relatively comfortable, while enjoying most the possession and chances. Getting the first goal will be the toughest, but once they get one, the gates will open.
I believe Arsenal will win 2-0.
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