Match Preview, Predicted Line-ups. Big Motivation for both teams in a London derby sure to shape the run in. Like I say, it’s Hammer Time:
Sorry…But, like Stanley Burrell, aka, MC Hammer, I grew up in the East Bay (Northern California, USA) and came of age in the 1980s. Our paths actually crossed (just a bit) as I had a co-worker whose boyfriend was in Hammer’s entourage… Tune in next week for the story of my personal connection to the Green Day guys… 😀
Hammer’s personal journey from rags to riches (and then bankruptcy, but now religious work) in some ways mirrors the story of West Ham United. Their glory days were the 1960s, when the Hammers had three players on the World Cup winning English team of 1966, most notably, Sir Bobby Moore. It’s been up and down in the decades since, but, with new manager Slaven Bilic at the helm, WHU are sitting 6th in the league and are only 2 points away from hosting European Football in their new stadium (the site of the 2012 London Olympics) next year. That would be Europa League football if they can catch Manchester United in fifth; if they could haul in ManCity, just one point ahead further ahead (currently) or one of the top three teams, a Champions League spot would be theirs.
Regardless, it’s been a great final season at the Boleyn Ground where they haven’t lost a league match since the third week of the season.
Arsenal won’t even realize the Hammers had a relatively tough start (they lost their first two at home) given that we lost to them on the opening day, in our stadium, way back in August. That was the Arsenal debut for our single summer buy, goalkeeper Petr Cech. Inauspicious would be the word. Who can forget this image?
After our near perfect pre-season, including winning the Charity Shield, Cech’s attempted punch landed squarely in the gut of the Gooner hopeful and presaged what has turned out to be perhaps the craziest Premier League season ever.
Now, desperate to keep some pressure on surprise league leaders Leicester City, and restore sanity to the battle with Tottenham for North London supremacy, Arsenal have to take on the Hammers at their place. Can we burst their bubble(s)?
Well, if we can, it won’t be easy.
This will be the third consecutive London derby for the Hammers and they will feel aggrieved in the extreme to have drawn both matches 2-2 while being on the short end of some very controversial referee decisions. At Chelsea, it was a late penalty award, despite replays showing that Ruben Loftus-Cheek hooked his own foot (cheeky, indeed) and outside the box, no less. Crystal Palace, last weekend, were able to find an equalizer only after Cheik Kayoute (the goal scorer in the photo above) had been sent off and the Hammers reduced to ten men. The card has successfully been appealed, but the result, of course, stands.
So, any boost from a Kayoute suspension is gone and the Hammers should feel confident hosting. The other player many Gooners met that opening day, Frenchman Dimitri Payet, has continued his outstanding form and scored perhaps the outstanding free-kick of the season vs Palace. We can’t focus only on him, however, as Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio have also been scoring with regularity. Even Andy Carroll, pound for pound (and inch for inch) one of the biggest flops in English football is finally fit and making goals as well as providing a constant worry (along with Kayoute) at set pieces and under other high passes.
Luckily Arsenal bring a measure of improved form into the match and might even get a boost with the possible return of Aaron Ramsey, a guy who has gotten us a couple of late results at Upton Park in years past. He’s probably won’t start, due to fitness concerns, but also because Manager Arsene Wenger will be unlikely to want to tinker with the group that has won two matches in a row and scored 6 goals total. Oh how nice it is to simply copy and paste in the line-upthat won 2-nil at Everton away and 4-nil vs Watford.
Subs: Cech, Chambers, Gibbs, Ramsey, Campbell, Giroud, Walcott
Of course, I could be wrong, but it would have been easier for Wenger to switch things up after the break for international matches, I think.
The one spot I worry about is at keeper, where the size of Cech, even it didn’t work for us on opening day, could be an asset if Bilic uses Carroll at any point in the match. Diafra Sakho, a big enough aerial threat of his own, is the regular starter at the #9 position, but Carroll might come in earlier than usual if Wenger opts for David Ospina in goal. It would seem awfully harsh to drop the Colombian, but Wenger might be chastened by the criticism he received using him in the earliest Champions League group matches Arsenal went on to lose. Of course, another way to combat the set piece threat might be to restore either Per Mertesacker or Olivier Giroud to the starting eleven; the line-up above is definitely not our biggest.
Your guess is as good as mine, so have at it. This match seems a pivotal one for the rest of the run-in and a game that might also be more open than most. Arsenal need the full points to put a tiny bit of pressure on Leicester (and Spurs who currently stand 4 points ahead of us, although we have a game in hand), but West Ham need the points almost as badly after the two derby draws and the Manchester teams in better recent form.
It will likely also be a far better test for the players newly installed in the line-up, Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny, as West Ham, motivated as they are, will probably be quicker to the ball and more keen to close down space, especially on players they might believe to be weak links. As such, the others must do their part to keep our ‘chain’ intact and the gears humming as they have been.
Go on then…