West Ham opens 2008 as the visitors to The Emirates, still the only team to have won there. The win at Everton has revived a buoyancy surrounding Arsenal that had become unnecessarily deflated following a tough run of fixtures in the Premier League. The team deserve considerable credit for amassing enough points to be top of the division at the turn of the year.
Arsene has announced some changes to the team that took the field on Merseyside. Bacary Sagna will be replaced by Justin Hoyte with Emmanuel Eboue and Theo Walcott returning to the squad. Bendtner is likely to drop to the bench or out of the sixteen completely; irrespective of his upcoming suspension, my feeling is that Arsene had the switch planned although his thinking may alter with Walcott taking his place on the bench.
It is the last time we shall see Eboue and Kolo Toure in an Arsenal shirt until probably mid-February. The latter’s departure is going to be a huge hole to fill, Arsene commented yesterday,
Toure is a real rock, consistently motivated, consistently up for it. He is highly focused every day and in every game
Equally, Eboue will be missed. Not the theatrics that sporadically surface but the defensive cover in midfield. On the right with Sagna, there is a solidity that you notice when he is not there. For example, Everton enjoyed fruitful endeavours on Saturday as they were not pressed in possession in the midfield. That said, if we win 4 – 1 in every game who is going to complain about either’s absence?
Johan Djourou returns to the club once his match at Old Trafford is completed; a good performance there would instil some confidence in the player and support that we might be in good hands for next six weeks.
Arsene said in this morning’s Daily Mirror,
We’ve known about this since the start of the season and I’m confident we can come out of it in a strong position. I’m confident the players who come in are strong enough and have enough experience to make sure we don’t pay with points
There will be little surprise in how West Ham line-up in terms of their formation. They opted for 4-5-1 at home to United at the weekend; they will do the same today. Despite the fact that their goals came with two forwards on the pitch, enough chances were created beforehand for them to be considered dangerous on the break. Freddie Ljungberg is fit to return and deserves a warm welcome this afternoon, which I trust he will get. The memories ought to be fond enough for it is only in his last two seasons that the goals per game ratio dropped to something like one in five from one in three. For a midfielder, that is an excellent return. Arsene though got it right in the timing of his departure because I do not think Freddie would have got a sniff of a place in this side. In his prime, yes he would, for his goals and all-round team play was greatly appreciated.
I suspect Arsene will field
Almunia; Hoyte, Toure, Gallas, Clichy; Rosicky, Fabregas, Flamini, Diaby; Eduardo, Adebayor
With the bench being
Lehmann, Senderos, Hleb, Diarra, Walcott
There may be a case for starting Walcott to add some dynamism to the flanks but he has been missing for a while and the first few games back are likely to be tough for him, the risk of muscular injury higher. Robin van Persie is the warning in that respect, still ten days from returning according to Arsene. With the next match against Burnley on Sunday, I do not think it too onerous on those who played at Goodison Park to turn out today for Arsene will probably field an almost Carling Cup-tie side at Turf Moor.
Hleb meanwhile has played a lot of football since returning from injury and perhaps is due an afternoon off. That said, Rosicky was rested to the bench at the weekend and I can see the same for Alex this afternoon. If that is the case, Bendtner would come into the bench.
Some criticism emerged in the fallout from Everton concerning the partnership of Adebayor and Eduardo. There was some merit in the observations regarding how they worked together compared to the Croat and Bendtner. That misses two crucial points. Eduardo has yet to play in a 4-4-2 with Adebayor; every time he has started with the Togolese international, Eduardo has been put into the left hand midfield position. Playing him centrally has brought obvious benefits with nine goals in eighteen appearances this season in all competitions. My observation about him a while back, in the Premier League at least, was that he needed a goal and then the floodgates would open. They are slightly ajar at the moment with the two on Saturday being a trickle.
Robert Green and the woodwork were key reasons for West Ham’s win last season. Time for some payback.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ‘til Tomorrow.