Which striker (or both) gets the call?
After a perfect pre-season Arsenal open their league account with a London Derby against West Ham United. Many Gooners are expecting the summer of good vibes to continue, but we should all remember that our first loss in our new stadium was against this same club. As we say over here in the States–regarding our own version of hand, er, foot, er, deflated ball (also known as “gridiron”)–On any given Sunday, ANYTHING can happen.
West Ham have been playing Europa League qualifiers–real matches–but with mixed results. This past Thursday, traveling to Romania with a weakened squad ahead of the PL oopener, the Hammers were dumped from the competition with a 2-1 loss (4-3 agg) to Astra Giurgiu. It is likely a blessing in disguise as new manager Slaven Bilic would probably prefer to keep his team focused on domestic competition. Still, it’s his first moment of controversy (if not crisis) and Bilic will be keen to reassure supporters that his team is firmly behind him and can truly compete in the Premier League.
As such, Gooners should expect a stout and well motivated opponent even if it’s one which appears a bit unfamiliar. Bilic has been charged with breaking West Ham out of Sam Allardyce’s more pragmatic mould and, with forwards Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia sidelined through injury–and Stewart Downing allowed to return to Middlesboro–he will need to find a measure of attacking verve from new sources. Diafra Sakho should represent the sharp end of the Hammers attack, but who will supply him? Dimitri Payet, bought from Marseille this summer, is the likeliest candidate but Morgan Amalfitano and Aaron Cresswell should also be watched from wider positions. It’s a shame that Bilic cannot employ Carl Jenkinson at right back due to loan rules and that the other former Arsenal star who played a big role for the Hammers last season, Alex Song, appears in loan and contract limbo between the East London club and Barcelona while he recovers from an ankle injury.
Instead, the Hammers will probably set out to thwart Arsenal and take their chances on the break. Adrian in goal is a formidable barrier and Winston Reid is a center back many Gooners wanted to snap up in previous transfer windows. He’s nursing a hamstring injury but, if he starts, he might be paired with Angelo Ogbanno, who arrived this summer from Juventus. Bilic, however, might opt for the English experience of James Tompkins or James Collins to try and stop our attack. Cheikyou Kayoute is perhaps the Hammers best all-round player and will surely anchor the rear of their midfield.
The real question is how will Arsene Wenger attempt to break down the Hammers and get our season off on the front foot?
With his new contract, bringing his salary almost to the level of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, my guess is that Wenger will give Theo Walcott a run out in front of the home crowd. Olivier Giroud thus likely starts from the bench as might Alexis himself, even though he only rejoined the team last Monday. My bet is that Wenger reprises his line-up from the Community Shield with the following group:
Bench: Martinez, Gabriel, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, Alexis, Giroud
With the recent news about Jack Wilshere’s hairline shin fracture and the fact that Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky are not quite back to full fitness, we’re looking a little light in attack. Luckily, Wenger can also push Bellerin and Keiran Gibbs into more forward positions and surely Giroud and Alexis will be raring to go if we need a goal later in the match. My hunch is that we attempt to control the match through possession while remaining as tight as possible at the back. Coquelin will thus anchor our midfield and look to cover for our marauding Spanish fullbacks, notably Hector Bellerin. Movement and covering for one another in the center of the pitch will be the key, with Ozil, Santi, Ramsey and the Ox hopefully happy to interchange with one another in a very fluid midfield. Whoever starts up top, they too need to be willing to drop deeper and move from side to side to avoid our attack looking static and predictable.
But that’s just my view. What say you fellow Gooners? Will AW stick with the group which pegged us to the lead at Wembley a week ago or does he have some tricks up his sleeve? Might we see some surprises in the starting 11 or in the group which makes the bench? Could there be some hints about transfer activity which might be revealed via changes in the 18 who suit up? Finally, any predictions about the match itself or things about the Hammers I may have missed?
On the brink of the new season I have to admit that I’m very excited about our squad and our chances. With the early start to the season–and the fact that we don’t have to play those pesky and high stakes CL qualifiers–I think our stability and sense of togetherness in the group is much to our benefit. There’s still time for some transfer business but the squad as it is fills me with more confidence than I can recall for this time of year. We shall see, of course, and we definitely need to start the season vs the Hammers on the front foot.
Please note: After a bit of technical trouble due to a short break from blogging, we would like to offer the warmest of “welcome backs” to member of the Bergkampesque community. Thanks for all the support! Please see the previous post regarding participation policy and our hope for your thoughts and predictions for the coming season. Post them here, post them there, post them wherever you like. On the cusp of the new season let’s get behind the team and blog like there’s no tomorrow!
Everything should be functional now and we can get back to the fun (and fright and freakiness) of being Arsenal supporters…
Go on then…