Sunday, April 21, 2024

West Ham preview: Win again

As expected, Manchester City eased past Leicester last night. I hope you didn’t put yourself through it.

Three goals in the opening 25 minutes, including another brace by cheat code Haaland, quickly extinguished any hopes of a new manager bounce for Dean Smith. The Foxes did pull one goal back after the break but a miraculous comeback was never on the cards even if their xG hinted otherwise.

It means our lead at the top is down to three points and City’s goal difference advantage is now seven (+50 vs +43).

Due to next weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United, they don’t play again in the league until we visit them in 10 days’ time. They might be breathing down our necks this morning but we now have the opportunity to open up the veneer of a nine-point lead by beating West Ham and Southampton.

Psychologically, that could be massive ahead of one of the biggest games in Arsenal’s recent history. Guardiola has already said it will be “a final”.

This afternoon we travel to the London Stadium to take on a West Ham side who’ve been a bit of a mess on the domestic front.

Despite last weekend’s ‘setback’ at Anfield, we should come into this with plenty of confidence. We’re on an eight-game unbeaten run, our record on their patch is pretty good – just three defeats since the Premier League began – and we’ve been brilliant in London derbies this season, winning five out of five on the road without conceding a goal.

That said, the Hammers have made us work hard in the last two seasons. Headers by centre-back pairing Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes sealed an ugly 2-1 win in May and the season before we had to fight back from 3-0 down to secure a draw.

In his press conference on Friday, Mikel Arteta was asked about the 3-3 draw. He said:

“There were certain lessons that we had to learn from that game, especially the way we started the game but also what we did afterwards [coming back from 3-0 down]. For the supporters viewing, it was probably a great game to watch but [West Ham] have that capacity to take the game into certain areas where it becomes a bit like that, and obviously we want a different game.”

West Ham were in Belgium on Thursday night where they drew 1-1 with Gent. It sounds like they were outplayed for much of the contest, so hopefully there are a few tired legs in the squad.

It wasn’t a full-strength XI but Declan Rice, who we hold a clear interest in, and Jarod Bowen both played 90 minutes and Michail Antonio, Lucas Paqueta and Said Benrahma all came off the bench. In terms of injuries, the only player sidelined is summer signing Gianluca Scamacca who is due to have a knee operation.

Will David Moyes and his players have one eye on next Thursday’s second leg? I’m not sure they can afford to.

After yesterday’s results – including wins for Palace and Wolves and Bournemouth’s hilarious last-gasp win at Sp*rs – the Hammers sit 15th in the table and are genuinely at risk of being dragged into a relegation dogfight. At the same time, they know a big result against the league leaders would give them some breathing room. You have to think they’ll be up for it today.

Having played for David Moyes at Everton, Arteta knows his former coach has the ability to get a performance out of his players.

“I loved playing under him, I would go through a brick wall for him when he was my manager, as everybody would in that squad. [He’s] a really good coach, exceptional at managing the group and dealing with individuals, and he’s a very special person, very trustworthy, and a man who honours his word. He always did it and he’s someone I learnt a lot from.”

Killing him with kindness. Clever, Mikel. Very clever.

In terms of Arsenal team news, aside from William Saliba, Mo Elneny and Takehiro Tomiyasu, the squad has a clean bill of health and I’d expect Arteta to go with the same side that started at Anfield.

Clearly, the Saliba situation is a concern but the manager, publicly at least, sounds optimistic, saying, “We need to be cautious because of the injury, but he’s evolving well.”

While there’s always a case to be made for giving Leandro Trossard a run out, Saka is too important to rest, Jesus brings the ‘chaos’ (more from Tim on that here) and Martinelli is on a roll.

Our young Brazilian has seven goals in his last nine appearances and has benefited hugely from being a fixture in the team. Arteta thinks he’s going to get even better.

“The way he approaches every single session, the way he approaches his training, his life – he just has to be the best. When that happens, and you have the consistency that he has in how he deals with every situation in every day, only good outcomes are going to be in front of him. I’m not surprised about that, and he has still a lot of things to improve on.”

When it was put to Arteta that his young wingers are already up there with the best in Europe, on a level with Vinicius Jr and Rodrigo at Real Madrid and Mahrez and Grealish at City, he quickly slapped down the reporter.

“No. You have to win a lot to be there. They know that, they know that to be at that level you have to win, and after winning, you have to win again, and after, you have to win again, you have to win again and again and again, and that’s it. That’s what these guys have been doing for such a long time.”

You can’t argue with that.

Elsewhere, Eddie Nketiah’s return to full fitness is useful but it does mean one of Emile Smith Rowe, Fabio Vieira or Reiss Nelson will have to drop out of the squad. In truth, it’s a nice problem to have.

We’ve made a habit of fast starts in away London derbies this term – eight of our 11 goals have come before half time – so we have a blueprint to follow. If City have turned up the heat, we need to prove we can handle it.

For fear of jinxing it, I don’t want to mention the other prize that’s on offer today. Hopefully, we can toast that this afternoon and talk about it on tomorrow’s blog.

Let’s fogging go, boys.

__

Right, I’m nearly done. If you’re looking to pass the time before kick-off, there’s a preview podcast on Patreon. I think we’ll have a live blog for you later (I need to check with Blogs) and, as always, the post-match reaction will be covered on Arseblog News.

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