Football rudely interrupts the gossip of the transfer window and it is a time of year when matches come thick and fast. Ordinarily, cup replays are an unwelcome distraction. Last week, the visit of Swansea City provided the perfect opportunity to administer the antidote to the disappointment of losing at home to Manchester City. Tonight the visit of West Ham offers the same solution to the same problem. A win would do wonders for Arsenal and contribute towards increasing the squad’s belief in itself.
This is a match that Arsenal have to win but then again, they always are. This time there is a tangible outcome if they do. The gap to fourth is seven points; a win would almost halve that and put pressure on Tottenham. Despite consecutive Premier League defeats, Ladbrokes still have Arsenal as overwhelming favourites to win tonight’s London derby. Such confidence is not misplaced. Since losing the first meeting at The Emirates between the two sides, Arsenal have won six and drawn two of the eight subsequent meetings. A repeat of that winning history is by no means guaranteed given current form and should not be taken as such. Not that there is enough confidence to breed the arrogance which begats complacency.
The world is out of kilter when Arsenal do not consider this a home banker though. Even Sam Allardyce thinks it is although you have to think he has the same ban on newspapers in the dressing room as Arsène – has he not read of the lack of belief and self-doubts that have been expressed by the players and emphasised by the manager? No doubt they have seen those words and with his tendency toward the less attractive edges of football, the visitors starting line-up will be filled with as many neanderthals as possible. Allardyce has previous that is not easily forgotten.
Wenger spoke of the mental aspects of the game. He hasn’t questioned their character but then went onto do so by pointing out their inconsistency in big games. Tonight falls into that category, pressure exists for points. Failure to win will seriously damage hopes of fourth place. It is not a sign of unquestionable character if they leave the pitch knowing they have underperformed. We had an answer of sorts against Swansea and Arsenal need to reproduce that belligerence and respectful lack of respect for their opponents on a regular basis.
Changes are likely to be forced on Arsenal following the weekend’s exertions. Francis Coquelin has hamstring-knack whilst Abou Diaby is just Abou Diaby. One of those midfield changes will be covered by the return of Lukas Podolski, allowing Santi Cazorla to move centrally to the attacking midfield role whilst Aaron Ramsey would cover the other absence. Plenty will groan at the latter’s inclusion but he did well on Sunday when he entered the fray. The Welshman suffers unfair detraction; even when he plays well, some will never acknowledge that so ingrained is their dislike of the player.
Diaby has been pushed too far according to the latest reports, consecutive games in quick succession have taken their toll on the player. The quick nature of the games meant that his inclusion from the start on Sunday was a gamble by Wenger, had Arteta been fit I wonder if such a risk would have been taken with the Frenchman? To play him tonight from the start might be considered reckless in view of Wenger’s comments, tantamount to an admission by the manager that he has no confidence in his compatriot remaining fit for any sustained period of time. Expectations have been placed on the shoulders of Diaby to an unfair extent in some quarters; as good a player as he is, there can be no reliance upon his fitness at the moment. It would take an injury-free season for that to begin to emerge and I am not sure that is something anyone can really envisage at the moment.
Other changes might be contemplated. The defence was somewhat dishevelled in the first half at great cost, Sagna most culpable. The Frenchman is out of form at the moment, being dropped might refocus his mind. Whilst he was injured, Jenkinson deputised ably and considering a graduated replacement schedule might be advisable, starting tonight.
The line-up I would expect tonight is:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere; Walcott, Giroud, Podolski
The bench remains bereft of attacking talent. Arshavin is the only forward option which is unacceptable for Arsenal; David Villa remains a high priority if newspaper reports are to be believed whilst Diame wants away from West Ham. This is the same Diame who was nowhere near anyone’s radar at the start of the season when the demand was for World Class midfielders. Now sights seem to have been lowered although problems have emerged with Alan Pardew stealing all of our reported targets moving to the North East. This is the same Alan Pardew…you know where this one is going, don’t you….
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.