Friday, March 1, 2024

West Ham preview + Arteta wants early January arrival

44 days.

That’s how long it’s been since we’ve played – the 2-0 win away at Wolves. We go again today, facing West Ham at home, and the big question is how this gap is going to impact us. There are other things at play, but this unprecedented halt to our momentum was untimely and it feels like that will be a major challenge for Mikel Arteta and this team.

You could suggest that we’re well rested, well coached, and ready to go, and I’d have no arguments with that, but it is genuinely hard to know what we’re going to get. I suppose the same is true of West Ham to an extent, although they might have looked at the World Cup break as more timely – a chance to regroup.

The major team news today is the absence of Gabriel Jesus, a key player for us this season, and his replacement up front by Eddie Nketiah. We could, had things gone differently in Qatar, have been facing a scenario tonight where the entire front three was absent, but I assume Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli will play, and that should make things a bit easier.

It will be interesting to see how the manager might tweak things though. Eddie can do some of what Jesus does, but not all of it, and not (yet) with the quality of touch the Brazilian brings. Will that mean our game is slightly altered to offset that? Will there be more onus on the wide men to attack central spaces? Nketiah showed at the end of last season he can score goals, with 5 in 8 starts, and this is a big chance for him. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to worry about life without Jesus, but let’s hope Eddie can deliver what’s required with a solid supporting cast around him.

The only other question mark might be at the back. William Saliba only arrived back late in the week from the World Cup, so it’s not certain if he’ll play. Arsenal have given everyone who went some time off, and after watching France lose from the bench he might need to decompress a bit and settle back in. If he isn’t involved, the fitness of Takehiro Tomiyasu should dictate the change with the Japan international at right back, and Ben White moving to centre-half. Otherwise you’re looking at Rob Holding deputising. It’s also quite possible that having not played very much in Qatar, Saliba just wants to get back into the saddle in domestic terms, so let’s see later on.

Beyond that, it’s a night-time game at home in the festive period, spirits should be high, and hopefully that creates a fantastic atmosphere. Fingers crossed we can pick up right where we left off, and with Man City not playing until Wednesday, it’s a chance to go 8 points clear of them. I suspect they’ll demolish Leeds then, but in the meantime a little bit of extra pressure from us won’t hurt.

As ever, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game for you, and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. Join us for that.

Meanwhile, there are further comments from the manager on January, and what he’d like to do – which seems to be get the player he wants in as soon as possible. He says:

We knew the importance of getting players early in the summer and that is what we want to do in January. This is idealistic but sometimes it is not realistic. Obviously, if you ask my opinion, as quick as possible we want the players in.

He’s also made it clear that is must be the right player, not just a warm body to fill the gap:

We can afford to get a striker for sure if we want one, I don’t know if he plays in League Two, League Five, Spain, Portugal or Africa. We can get a striker, I can guarantee you that.

But what we cannot afford to do is get a player here that is not for us. This is what we cannot afford, that is for sure.

I think personalities that have the mentality that want to win and we have to focus on that. We have to be very strict with what we have done and the policy we have had to make the team successful.

Arsenal have a done a lot in the last couple of years to rebuild this team, and part of that is a change in recruitment policy. No more short-term thinking, no doing deals which are of more benefit to players and agents than the club. The benefits of that have been obvious. Look at this team, look where it is, and how it has the potential to develop even further. So any deviation from that now wouldn’t make much sense. Let’s just hope that our scouts in League Five can identify the right player.

Ok, that’s it for now. Catch you later for the game. Come on you reds!

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