West Ham Preview: Continue The Good Form Please
West Ham United arrive at The Emirates this afternoon rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, a solitary win all season with three 1-1 draws to accompany it in the paltry six points from nine games. The sort of home banker which Arsene has been careful to warn his charges about, stopping the complacency which cost dear against West Brom recently.
West Ham seem to enjoy visiting Arsenal in October; the nine matches previously played in this month at Highbury ended with five draws and the sides emerging victorious in equal measure in the remaining four matches. If they need straws to clutch at, this is a pretty decent one to hold onto. That the last fixture was in 1982 makes that straw bend significantly.
Having seen his squad win four consecutive matches, Wenger noted that this sort of sequence must be maintained if the title is to be delivered,
It is very tight at the top and two conclusions come out of that. The consistency will be rewarded in the end and that everybody can drop points against everybody.
I believe that the League is very difficult and you have to be focused for every single game or you will drop points. But realistically seven teams could win the League.
Whilst the seven could win the league, realistically anyone outside of four would be a surprise. Even then, there is some debate as to whether or not the four are in with a chance, many content to proclaim the title already at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal needs a good run to put that suggestion to bed and the matches between now and the end of November are a good chance to test their title credentials, wins essential.
It is this focus which has been evident in the past fortnight and needs to be maintained. Wenger has undoubtedly been aided by the return of fitness to the majority of his walking wounded, Robin van Persie aiming for the derby against Tottenham as a comeback game is further good news.
For Wenger, the biggest boost has been the return of Nicklas Bendtner and his confidence in front of goal. Two goals in less than a game and a half is devastating form, difficult to maintain but enough to make those ahead of him think about their own game and realise that their place in the starting line-up is not as secure as they might believe. Likewise, Theo Walcott’s brace at St James’ Park puts him firmly in the manager’s mind for a starting place this afternoon. Maybe two games in three days might be too much, too soon but nonetheless Wenger will be relishing the options available.
In particular, Andrey Arshavin will be thinking hardest. The versatility of the returning strike force might induce more consistency from the Russian. He has the ability to be an automatic choice in the starting line-up but at times drifts out of games, infuriatingly. It seems to me unlikely though that Chamakh and Bendtner would start the same match unless the Dane was played on the right hand side of the attack. Even then that would surely be if injuries arose in others? It is van Persie’s return which may spark the Russian into action, the Dutchman more than capable of asserting his right to a place with goals on a regular basis.
Younger players though are occupying Wenger’s mind. Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny are being offered new deals, the young goalkeeper gave a hint that the hype surrounding him might have some substance, on Wednesday at Newcastle. A nervous start was followed by an excellent contribution, notable for his concentration through to the final minutes. Wenger seemed confident that a deal could be negotiated and is revelling in the choices he has for his main custodian.
It is a little early to be crowing that the problem is solved but the form of Lukasz Fabianski has clouded the issue. He needs time to prove that his erratic previous is down to a lack of match action but Wenger believes that he is going to prove his doubters wrong,
He always felt that if he could get a run of games, then he could show how good he is. He always felt it [his reputation] was only on one game and he felt under pressure to show how good he is in one game. Now he is a bit more relaxed.
He is what I call a natural goalkeeper, the rhythm of the game runs through his body. He smells what will happen. He is technically very gifted, after that every goalkeeper progresses and they blossom at 28 until 38.
Having seen how confidence, or lack of it, destroyed the Arsenal career of Philippe Senderos, little wonder that Wenger is sensitive to the subject,
Of course [the mistakes he made last season] affected him. The Porto game was very bad for him. The confidence problem is a very interesting subject in top-level sport. You feel it goes quickly and comes back slowly. If you are an established name and you make a mistake, then people say ‘you have had a bad day’. If you come into the team and you make a mistake people say you are not good enough. That’s a massive difference.
There is undoutebly a chance for him to prove people wrong and Wenger has to contribute to that. Replace Fabianski with Almunia and that confidence will once more ebb away. Yet the feeling is that the Pole is still as good as his last mistake. That he has so far come back and played well is testament to his ability and mental strength. Long may that continue.
This afternoon’s team is more likely to be that which took the pitch at Eastlands last weekend. Wenger will no doubt be keen to avoid muscular injuries following various injury lay-offs although Laurent Koscielny’s performance at Newcastle suggests he will return to the starting line-up at the expense of Johan Djourou. I would expect the starting XI to be:
Fabianski; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Denilson; Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin
The key is a win. The only tough fixture this afternoon for any of the top five is Tottenham v Manchester United. Chelsea ought to win at Blackburn, Manchester City likewise at Wolves. It is important that Arsenal focus on winning first, presuming that the gap will not widen this weekend. Any reduction in the five points between first and second is a bonus.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.