After Arsenal’s unbeaten run was ended in underwhelming fashion in an EFL Cup quarter-final against Southampton on Wednesday, it’s a welcome return to Premier League football for Arsène Wenger’s side.
A much-changed team than the one who were knocked out of the cup is widely expected.
Slaven Bilic’s men have not won a league game since October 22, a 1-0 home victory against Sunderland where Winston Reid’s stoppage time winner gave the Hammers only their third win of the season.
All things considered, it’s fair to say that West Ham have struggled to match expectations following their lucrative move to the London Stadium this term. With that in mind, it’s still early days and they’ll be eager to put their own Cup defeat (4-1, Manchester United) behind them when they prepare to host their London rivals on Saturday evening.
Arsène was keen to stress the importance of starting quickly with effectiveness, something that his much-changed side struggled to do in midweek.
As quoted by the club’s official website he said, “It’s important to start well because that’s where you dictate your authority on the game, and because it’s our style. It’s always difficult to get in the zone of playing with speed when you start slowly, it’s kind of a race.”
The boss also had praise for Francis Coquelin, who has featured regularly this term in the heart of midfield, “Francis has improved a lot, every year he’s getting better and he’s very focused, committed and conscious of his responsibilities in the team.
“He’s certainly the most defensively efficient midfielder, so it allows me to balance the team around him. We are an offensive team and to have someone who can break things up and whose first pass is very good, helps a lot for us to be efficient.”
With a pass completion rate of 88%, and more than half of them being forward, it’s clear that the Frenchman is improving at a constant rate, in spite of the criticism he often receives from disgruntled supporters when Granit Xhaka doesn’t start.
As previously mentioned, Arsène is expected to make a number of changes to the side that lost in midweek; most who featured were either fringe players or youngsters.
Mohamed Elneny (illness) could feature amongst the substitutes, but isn’t expected to start in midfield. Mathieu Debuchy’s hamstring injury means the experienced right-back will be sidelined for six weeks, whilst Santi Cazorla requires surgery to fully recover from the troublesome Achilles issues he has suffered since this period last year.
Hector Bellerín (ankle) and the other absentees are said to all be recovering well from their respective injuries. Gabriel Paulista could make his first league start of the campaign at right-back, a position he has played on a handful of occasions previously.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs; Coquelin, Xhaka; Ox, Sánchez, Özil; Giroud.
Form aside, West Ham have a group of quality players in their ranks. Unfortunately for them though, they’ve got a number of their key men injured and unavailable for Saturday’s match too.
Aaron Cresswell and the club’s top goalscorer Michail Antonio (both groin) are sidelined, as well as Sam Bryam, Diafra Sakho (both hamstring) and Gökhan Töre (knee) are all out of action.
However, Bilic has confirmed that summer signing Andre Ayew (hamstring) is back in the matchday squad, and will be joined by one of our old foes: Andy Carroll.
The 27-year-old striker has been sidelined with a knee injury since the opening round of Premier League fixtures, but netted a hat-trick during our memorable 3-3 draw at the Boleyn Ground back in April.
Possible XI (3-4-3): Randolph; Kouyaté, Reid, Ogbonna; Fernandes, Obiang, Noble, Masuaku; Lanzini, Payet, Fletcher.