Thursday, February 29, 2024

West Ham preview: You can rotate, and still be strong

It’s EFL Cup action tonight as we take on West Ham at the London Stadium. Like the last round, it’s Premier League opposition, and we’ll have to wait and see how much that impacts Mikel Arteta’s team selection.

He was asked how much Saturday’s trip to Newcastle was on his mind, and he said:

Nothing. We just have to beat West Ham. It’s a competition that we have the chance to progress and win a trophy and our mindset is going to be focused just on West Ham.

While I get the focus part, I can’t believe for a second he doesn’t have half an eye on the weekend. For the game against Brentford, a team at a similar level to West Ham, there were more than a few changes, not least a debut for 19 year old winger Charles Sagoe Jr, whose presence in the team allowed Bukayo Saka some rest. We also saw starts for Jakub Kiwior, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith Rowe and Jorginho, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them play from the off tonight.

The question of whether Declan Rice would play came up, and as you might expect Arteta said he was in consideration. He wasn’t in the squad for the Brentford game in the last round, but he was taken off at half-time in the North London derby the previous weekend, so there was a bit more going on that time. If it were me, and with a game against one of the most powerful, hardest-running sides in the league in a few days time, I wouldn’t start him in this one, but we know how singular the manager can be with his decision making.

The sidebar of his return to his former club – something both Arteta and David Moyes spoke about – is hard to ignore. I also think the long-standing relationship between the two managers might play a part in this one too, but as I said above, I don’t think Rice should start. Bench? Fine. If you need him, you need him, but as Saturday’s result showed, the depth is there in the squad to make changes and still be effective. Arteta has to trust in that this evening.

On Martin Odegaard, and whether this was a chance to rest him again after he sat out the 5-0 win over Sheffield United, Arteta said:

We rested him the other day, innit! It’s how long we rest him and how we manage now the minutes and the rhythm that he needs as well to be at his best. We had the opportunity to do it, we didn’t use him at the end, so that was a good offload for him.

With the skipper, I’d be a little more comfortable if he were involved – assuming that the decision might be made first and foremost on his fitness. If there’s any risk, we won’t do it, but perhaps Arteta might see some involvement tonight as useful towards him finding some form again. He wasn’t anywhere close to his best against Chelsea or Sevilla, and if we want to take three points from Newcastle, we’ve got a better chance of doing that if Odegaard can rediscover some of his va-va-voom.

The other question is, with Gabriel Jesus out injured, whether you play Eddie Nketiah up front, and Arteta suggested capitalising on his hat-trick would play a part in his thinking this evening:

We have to be conscious with the amount of minutes that they play. He has started a lot of games in the Premier League, but I think in terms of how we have utilised him, I think he’s fresh and he’s in a really good moment. So when players are like this, they have to be used, whether we do it as a starter or on the bench, we’ll see.

If I had to guess, we might see something like: Ramsdale, White, Tomiyasu, Gabriel, Kiwior, Jorginho, Vieira, Smith Rowe, Trossard, Nelson, Havertz.

That keeps Eddie on the bench, I realise, but unless Jesus is pushing hard for contention on Saturday, it’s probably sensible to do that. It’s going to be tough against Premier League opposition, but we’ll most likely have a bench with plenty of players who you can back to make an impact. If you have the luxury of being able to call on the likes of Rice, Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli, Nketiah etc, I think you can afford to rotate more easily from the start.

Anyway, we’ll see later on. As ever we’ll have live blog coverage for you, and all the rest on Arseblog News.

Catch you later for the game.

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