With Leicester and Tottenham not playing until Sunday, Arsenal’s game at Upton Park on Saturday lunchtime might represent the Gunners’ last chance of putting any meaningful pressure on their title rivals before all hopes of winning the league are truly extinguished.
Arsene Wenger tried to keep the focus on the West Ham game, but Jack Wilshere’s 2am ramble last weekend seemed to be what most questions were asked about. Wenger refused to discuss the matter, other than to say that it had been dealt with ‘internally’. Those of you who know middle management jargon and clichés will know that ‘dealing with something internally’ means ‘sitting him down in the office and giving him a b*llocking’, so maybe Jack will be on his best behaviour for a while to come.
After dealing with the gossip pages, Wenger confirmed that there were no new injuries to report. He also said that Aaron Ramsey could be available after coming through a training session on Wednesday, but did admit that he is unlikely to change the starting XI that won 4-0 against Watford last weekend, as he is “reluctant to change what works”. That would indicate that the team sheet on Saturday will look like this:
Cech; Monreal, Koscielny, Gabriel, Bellerin; Elneny, Coquelin; Iwobi, Özil, Alexis; Welbeck.
Upton Park has been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal over the last few years, having won six and drawn one of the last seven games played there. But West Ham have been a far more formidable team to beat this season, as shown by their league position, sixth in the table and only seven points behind the Gunners.
As much as it would be unfair to dismiss the Hammers as merely a one-man team, Dimitri Payet has been the driving force behind West Ham’s rise towards a place in Europe next season. With 12 goals, eight assists, and a right foot that turns into a magic wand as soon as he gets a chance to take a free-kick within thirty yards of the opposition’s goal, Payet will have to be closely guarded for the full 90 minutes if Arsenal are to mark their last ever game at the Boleyn Ground with a win.
Possible XI – Adrian; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Reid, Antonio; Noble, Kouyate, Lanzini, Payet, Emenike; Sakho.
West Ham have only lost one of their last 13 fixtures, and have a huge FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United coming up on Wednesday. So whilst Arsenal have had the fortune of playing under-motivated teams of late, Saturday’s game will be no such occasion.
An early goal for Arsenal would make things a hell of a lot easier, as West Ham have shown to be vulnerable to counter attacks, but it will require the likes of Coquelin and Elneny to be at the peak of their powers to stop Payet weaving his magic around the penalty area.
If they do manage this, expect an appearance from Andy Carroll with 20 minutes to go, and put on a hard hat. West Ham can go from possession football to route one in a heartbeat, and Arsenal’s defence of set-pieces has been… mixed.
Expect both teams to display their strengths and weaknesses in this game, only to end up cancelling each other out at the end. 1-1.