An important game for the team today at Upton Park on several levels. Firstly, it is without doubt the most difficult match that any of the top four have; Newcastle in fifth travel to Manchester City but with due respect to both sides, I doubt that by Christmas they will occupy their current positions. I could be wrong but I do not think so. Three points are vital for Arsenal, ensuring that the good start continues, imbuing more confidence not that they should need this boost any more given that their unbeaten run this season has already stretched to double figures.
It is a match that allows them the opportunity to put myths and ghosts of yesteryear to bed, gaining maximum points at a ground which has in the recent past been something of a barren hunting ground. Not since 2001 have we won there, 2 – 1 that day. Since then three draws and a defeat have been the Premiership returns. A win might help convince those from without that a serious title challenge can be mounted. Indeed, with Chelsea entertaining Fulham and Liverpool and Manchester United visiting Wigan and Birmingham respectively, a win might be hugely beneficial in building a bigger gap between Arsenal and those expected to occupy the other top four spots; that is the best case scenario.
West Ham should not be underestimated yet their elevated league position seems to be based more on their away form than that at home. I think that their only maximum so far is the recent win over Middlesbrough with Manchester City and Wigan coming away from Upton Park with at least a share of the spoils. A win should be attainable but it will be a performance more akin to the visit to Ewood Park than Tottenham this time, a mix of the battling and beautiful. I suspect that the hosts confidence will be higher than last season when we visited and hopefully that will make them more expansive than packing the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation. We were undone by the inability to get the passing game going last season, West Ham hunting in packs for the tackle. Yet the durability of this season’s Arsenal is also a level higher than last; we were likely to score late goals last season, now it is almost expected. It would be nice if tomorrow the late goal should it arrive, emphasised the win rather than sealed it.
Team news is pretty uneventful in terms of the numbers of those returning. Only Alex Hleb is confirmed as he returning. That said, it is one of two changes I expect to see from last week. Whether it is Hleb or Eboue who replaces Walcott remains to be seen but my money is on the latter. Perhaps Diarra is in with a shout but I would be surprised if that is the case. Up front, I fully expect RvP to return in place of Eduardo, now absent through injury with Adebayor’s place will not be under threat in the immediate future other than through injury.
The team I suspect will be
Almunia; Sagna, Toure, Senderos, Clichy; Eboue, Fabregas, Flamini, Diaby; RvP, Adebayor
with a bench of
Fabianski, Gilberto, Diarra, Hoyte, Bendtner
The question for me will be whether or not Gilberto returns. If he does, I do not think it will be at the expense of Flamini. More likely, Diaby would drop to the bench and Flamini moves to the left. However, Arsene could use the Brazilian instead of Senderos to rest him after midweek, ahead of next weeks Champions League tie. Otherwise there is little, if any, need to change the side. All are playing well, contributing to the team. The key thing for this match and those coming up is that the opposition can no longer be sure where the goals are coming from. If they stop Adebayor, van Persie is more than capable of filling that void. Trying to stop Fabregas seems to be something that is difficult to do for the whole of the ninety minutes, no-one has succeeded so far but they will stop the scoring run but not the range of damaging passes that he has displayed this season.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. Hopefully, and there is a strong reason to say this, I’ll be back on Sunday but if not, Monday it is.