West Ham arrive at the Emirates for the opening match of the season. It was almost the second and twenty minutes or so at Stamford Bridge, it seemed it might be. But no, it was not to be. The ‘free passes’ – a phrase which will become as detestable as ‘deadwood’ – expired and the hard work on the training ground must pay dividends.
That’s the narrative out of the way so onto the preview. An article in this morning’s Guardian snapped me out of a moment’s reverie; Willie Young’s trip at Wembley springs easily to mind but not the Brady-inspired West Ham win in the FA Cup third round replay in 1989.
I shoved the match in the drawer crammed with games never mentioned. I don’t recall Brady playing, but can see Leroy Rosenoir grabbing the only goal in mind’s eye, from our vantage point in the East Lower.
Brady’s return to England caused some division among our small section of the fanbase at the time. Think of re-signing Cesc from Barcelona; that kind of division. More petty disagreements than anything else.
Some of us thought George should have signed him; others disagreed. All of us agreed that the Brady was imperious at Upton Park during the 3 – 1 win against Arsenal in his first game against us. On that night, it felt like George made a mistake. Not that we cared; three days earlier, it was “one-nil down, two-one up, we f*cked Rush’s record up”…
Jack Wilshere returns today, West Ham’s stereotypical skilful midfielder whose best days are behind him. The victorious return he, Fabianski and Perez dreamed can’t happen. We need three points.
It’s Time To Get Ill!
There’s talk this morning that Mesut Özil is unwell and likely to miss the fixture. A convenient illness to manage the brand after being dropped, or a genuine malady? You decide. Your answer is coloured by the cynicism with which you view the German’s performances. Get well soon, Mes.
Which gives Emery another headache. Mkhitaryan is far more effective centrally than on the flank but so too is Aaron Ramsey, the likeliest replacement for Özil. The Welshman is more effective in a more advanced role than on the right if the team plays to his strengths.
However, his work-rate is desperately needed in front of Bellerin. We’ve left full-backs hopelessly exposed to now and that has to stop. With the Spaniard’s desire to bomb forward at every opportunity, Ramsey’s desire to drift in-field creates a lot of space on the right. That attacking side worked well at Chelsea for a while and was productive. We need to retain that effectiveness.
Today is the first match where we expect the lion’s share of possession. The troublesome opponent who cedes the ball and sits with banks of four and five as we pass sideways ad infinitum. Which will show us where the differences between Emery’s Arsenal and Wengerball really lie. These fixtures, once routine, proved troublesome in the recent past. We must get back to the days of swatting these teams aside.
A key platform for success is our defensive midfield performance. We lost our way in the second half at Chelsea but I guess the coach told the players to cool it, to protect what we’d recovered and to play sensibly. Gung-ho served its’ purpose but a point needed protecting.
Guen Will I See Again?
It’s also an ideal game for Lucas Torreira to get his full debut. A bit of grit in midfield in a London derby, something for he and Guendouzi to get stuck into but also a game in which we shouldn’t be shell-shocked or over-run. The Uruguayan’s reputation in club colours is built on statistics that this game demands. Passing, tackling, recycling possession; the continual building of pressure on the visitors until they crack.
Which West Ham have a reputation of doing.
I’d hazard a guess that the XI will be:
Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Guendouzi; Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Aubameyang
There’s scope to drop Mustafi, bring in Mavorpanos, but I suspect the German is being given enough rope. A poor, mistake-ridden performance today will see him hooked for a while. Xhaka blotted his copybook last week and with Guendouzi going from strength to strength, the Swiss is looking at a sustained spell on the sidelines. Maybe just becoming a Europa League and cup player?
Just as he threw a curveball last week, Emery probably has another this. Maybe he won’t tinker with the team? Perhaps Leno starts? Not long until we find out.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.