West Ham preview + Saturday round-up

Morning all, and we’ll start with a look ahead to West Ham this evening.

I’m not a fan of the late Saturday evening kick-off, even more than Monday night football, it feels unnatural and weird to me, and when you’re then facing a manager as repellent and atrocious as the Walrus it gives it an an extra edge.

In terms of team news there’s little new or exciting, either in terms of players fit again or those injured. Per Mertesacker should be back but there’s some kind of plague sweeping the training ground, so much so that Arsene Wenger has banned handshakes, and that might affect things above and beyond what we know right now. If he’s fully fit and not feeling the way you do after a virus/cold thingy then he’s got to come back into the team for me. There are suggestions that his return is to counter the threat of Andy Carroll but Mertesacker’s strength is not in the air. It seems odd for a guy who is 12’9 but I’m more interested in the calmness and organisation he brings at the back.

There was no mention of Coq being limp so I expect he’ll stay in the team, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we lined up the way we did away to Man City with Aaron Ramsey on the right hand side. It’s not my ideal starting XI, I have to say, but the manager clearly feels there’s a benefit to it. Personally, against a team like West Ham, who will test us physically, I’d play Gervinho on the right hand side and Giroud up front. Not only would he give us a focal point in attack, he adds some height and power to the team, and while many focus on the goals he hasn’t scored, his defensive contribution is underrated, in my opinion.

If set pieces are a problem having an extra body in there to get a head on it is no bad thing. Plus I think we saw enough in his late cameo on Wednesday night to suggest that he’ll be able to contribute higher up the pitch. But the manager knows his players, which ones might be slightly unwell, carrying knocks etc, so it’s hard to predict exactly how we’re going to line up.

I think our midfield will find themselves tested by Kevin Nolan, a player who has been around the block but who, in recent seasons, has found himself chipping in with plenty of goals. It’ll test our discipline there, no question, and we know that a game against a Walrus team is always going to be a tough one. From our point of view it’ll be interesting to see if they do to us what the last couple of opponents have and that’s try and man-mark Cazorla out of the game.

The Spaniard has found himself shackled, to a certain extent, and the reality is that any team who doesn’t identify him as a threat hasn’t done their homework. Much will depend on the quality of the player they use to try and negate his impact, but there are others in the team who can influence the game. Arsene Wenger spoke yesterday at his press conference about the way the team can share goals and it’s an interesting read. He makes the point that if you go into a game without the one player that scores most of your goals there’s a psychological impact, understandably so.

Now we have goals coming from places we didn’t expect (Gervinho), with the likes of Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott and even Ramsey able to chip in. In fact, to see someone like Gervinho scoring is great,  not just because it’s an Arsenal player scoring and it’s nice to see him improve his game, but because it gives the opposition something else to worry about. It’s hard to think opponents would have been overly worried about Gervinho before the season began. Now, like it or not, they have to factor him into their thinking and his unpredictability, while frustrating at times, must make their heads hurt too.

Of course it also makes it hard to for us to predict what we’re going to do (as I alluded to when talking about the potential line-up) but that’s no bad thing in my opinion. The fluidity of the front three, and Cazorla, makes life difficult for teams when we click, and not being utterly predictable (Dutch Skunk + 10 others) means we’re not as easy for other teams to set up against. We have a bit more variety about us and thus far it’s worked pretty well.

We head into an Interlull after this game and it’ll be another interminable two weeks of bollockery as national teams play games most of us don’t really care about, so to ease that it’s important we go into it with three points under our belt. Not to mention the fact that of our six league games this season we have only won two, so it’s time we started getting points on the board. It will be tricky, West Ham looked quite decent when I watched them on Monday night, but if we play well and resist the temptation to shoot ourselves in the foot, I think this is one we can take three points from.

In other news, there’s a nice interview with Santi Cazorla in the Mirror, AW has kind words for Gervinho and says something about Walcott playing as a striker which is a bit confusing, and the boss reckons that Aaron Ramsey playing without the burden of the Welsh captaincy will be a good thing for the young midfielder.

As always we’ll have full live blog coverage of the game later on. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back here around 5pm for another post with all the information, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

If you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

And that’s that. The sun is shining, there’s a dog to be walked/run/let loose in the fields, have a good Saturday and catch you back later on for the game.

Till then.

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