After the disappointments of Arsenal two cup performances in the last week, it's back to the basics of the Premier League today. Arsenal make the short journey to Upton Park to play West Ham, who are currently sitting on the bottom of a very tight league table. Like so many other Arsenal fans I was disappointed with the performances against both Leeds and Ipswich, and the Ipswich game in particular. Luckily for Arsenal they will get another chance against both teams in the next couple of weeks, and I expect them to emerge victorious in both competitions.
Today's opponents have been on a good run recently, but that came to an abrupt end away to Newcastle in their last league game when they were beaten 5-0. That result put them back to the foot of the table, but a win today would probably lift them out of the relegation zone. Despite that defeat to Newcastle I'm sure West Ham will still be fairly confident, as they followed it up with a win in the FA Cup, and another one in the first leg of their Caling Cup semi-final.
West Ham's manager Avram Grant had been under a lot of pressure at the end of last year, but their good run relieved that pressure for a while at least. Unfortunately that pressure was right back on him after that drubbing by Newcastle. West Ham aren't expected to get anything out of this game, which probably means that Grant has a game free from the pressure of a possible sacking afterwards, and that could be something to West Ham's advantage.
From an Arsenal perspective Arsene Wenger just has to play his strongest possible team, as three points are a necessity. There's a chance for Arsenal to make up some ground on league leaders "Manure" this weekend, as they have a tough game away to the Spuds tomorrow afternoon. With "Manure's" poor away record so far this season it won't be an easy game for them. The Spuds usually roll over and play dead when they play at home or away to "Manure", but if they are to be taken seriously they have to change that tomorrow.
The only possible addition to Arsenal's injury list is Lukasz Fabianski who might miss the game, but if he dies I have no worries about Wojciech Szczesny's ability to fill in for him. With Bakary Sagna still suspended it means that Emmanuel Eboue will continue at right back, and I hope that he performs a lot better than he has in the last two games. After his traumatic time against Wigan in late 2008, he has come back and become a cult figure among a lot of Arsenal fans. That cult will end very quickly if he puts in more performances like the ones he did in those two cup games.
I was at the Emirates on that day when some of the Arsenal fans turned on Eboue, and booed him. He had come on as a sub for the injured Sanir Nasri in that game, and things got so bad that he was substituted himself just before the end. I still maintain that the fans who booed him that day were justified to do so, as I have never seen a professional footballer play so badly, or put in so little effort in a game. The straw that broke the camel's back that day was when he tackled Kolo Toure as he broke out of the defence, and he then gave the ball straight back to Wigan. He was visibly upset when he came off in that game, and he did well to recover, but if he continues in his current vein all of his good work will have been wasted.
Gael Clichy should return to the team, after having the cup games off, and the other two defenders will have to be Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny again, as they are the only two fit centre backs in the first team squad. I do not like the idea of Alex Song playing at centre back, particularly if it opens the door for the ineffectual Denilson to get a game in midfield. The boss has said that he will consider signing a centre back in the January transfer window, and I think that player has to be signed this week. Hopefully it will be a top class central defender to improve the overall quality of the team, but I won't be holding my breath.
In midfield I hope to see Alex Song, Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas all playing, as they are currently the best trio available. They played very well together in the victory over Chelsea, and the draw with Man City, and I think they have earned the right to be considered Arsenal's best option in midfield. Hopefully Cesc can play more like he did in the final 20 minutes against Ipswich on Wednesday night, and not like he did in the preceding 70 minutes. I've made him my fantasy football captain this week, and I really hope he can turn in a starring performance for Arsenal, and me too.
The attacking trio have to be Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, and Ribin Van Persie in my opinion, as the alternatives to them have performed so poorly recently. RVP just needs a goal from open play to be back to his best, and hopefully it will arrive in this game. Nasri is Arsenal's top scorer so far this season, and Walcott has shown that he has a lot more desire than Andrey Arshavin when he plays. His pace is a genuine threat to any team, and I think he will get a few goalscoring chances today, and hopefully take one of them too.
When you look at the two teams Arsenal are far superior to West Ham, but the players cannot let the complacency that was so evident against Ipswich rear it's ugly head again. All too often this season Arsenal have failed to play well, and have had to work very hard late on to rescue results. I want to see the team that went at Man City from the first minute, or the one that wore Chelsea by playing good football from first minute to last. There's no place for the team that showed up against West Brom, Newcastle or Wigan, and if that team shows up there will be some real questions about attitude and commitment to be asked.
West Ham will be perfectly aware that the longer they can keep the scores level, the better it is for them. As Arsenal push forward they become vulnerable at the back, and Ipswich were able to exploit that on Wednesday night with high balls down the middle. Arsenal have to have a better plan to deal with those tactics, and that means that both Eboue and Clichy have to be prepared to do the defensive part of the game as well. I'd also like to see both of them contributing a little more when they're attacking too, starting with a few good crosses.
I think Arsenal will put in a performance that will win them the three points. West Ham are fairly poor at the back, and Arsenal need to put that defence under pressure from the first minute to the last. When West Ham played at the Emirates they very nearly got a draw, and they will probably look to employ the same tactics. Arsenal need to play a fast passing game with some real tempo from the first minute to the last, and they need to concentrate for every single minute at the back too.
If Arsenal can do all of those things I predict a 3-1 win for them with Cesc, Walcott and RVP getting the goals. The match is live on ESPN, so I'm not sure where I'll get to watch it, but I do plan to do so. After this game Arsenal will have up to four more games this month, with only one of them in the Premier League. They will need to win that game at home to Wigan too to make up ground on "Manure" who play their game in hand that week.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at what Theo Walcott can do.
See You Tomorrow.