Arsenal overcame West Ham United 2-1 with goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah, but did Mikel Arteta get his lineup right?
Despite the result and Arsenal dominating the possession against West Ham, the visitors had the better chances overall. The Gunners were lucky not to fall behind before they took the lead through Lacazette, assisted by Aubameyang.
Eventually, the Hammers’ pressure told, with Michail Antonio levelling the scores just before half time. They had further chances to take the lead, but substitute Nketiah won Arsenal the three points instead, set up by Ceballos.
In fairness, Arteta didn’t have much choice with large sections of his team selection. Leno is the only real option in goal, and Luiz and Tierney’s injury situations forced him into starting the only remaining centre-backs – Holding, Gabriel and Kolasinac.
Bellerin may not have had a great game, but I don’t think anyone was arguing with the decision to start him. Similarly, Aubameyang and Lacazette were clear choices after the Fulham game last week.
Saka was one of few changes from that Fulham win, replacing the in-form Maitland-Niles. That was perhaps a bit of a controversial decision, but it’s one that ended up paying dividends, as Saka had key involvements in both Arsenal goals.
The Midfield Pairing
Ceballos was the other player to come in, and it’s rather surprising that the team struggled more creatively with the Spaniard than they had with Elneny. Until the last five minutes, neither Ceballos nor Xhaka created a single chance.
Of course, the Real Madrid loanee ended up setting up the winning goal, so it’s not all bad. But recent performances are starting to raise questions around how Xhaka and Ceballos do in the ‘smaller’ games.
We’ve seen the pair performing well against Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, but struggling against West Ham, Watford and Aston Villa recently. They beat West Ham and Watford in the end, but not in a particularly sustainable manner.
Whether Elneny solves the problem is another matter. He did well against Fulham, but we’ve seen plenty of poor performances with Xhaka and Elneny together in the past. The same goes for Guendouzi and Torreira, absent on this occasion.
Realistically, Arsenal need that extra midfield signing the fans are clamouring for. I don’t think Arteta’s selection was necessarily wrong, but he needs more to choose from.
Willian or Pépé?
It was absolutely no surprise to see Willian making the starting lineup after his debut performance. If a player is directly involved in all three goals in a 3-0 win, you’re unlikely to drop them for the next game.
Yet we’ve all pretty quickly forgotten how well Pepe was playing at the end of last season. He was a key player in each FA Cup match from the quarter-final onwards. He was consistently one of the team’s key creative options last campaign.
Replacing him with Willian feels like a bit of a sideways step. It doesn’t add a creative outlet, just swaps one for another. In these kinds of games, it might be better to find a way to fit both of them into the team.
Willian can play on the left (with Aubameyang at centre-forward), or in the middle (with Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe in front of him), as he and Arteta have said on multiple occasions.
I wouldn’t do it against Liverpool, but it might be worth a shot against the teams lower down in the table.
Still, for the most part, I don’t think there’s too much to complain about in Arteta’s team selection. These are just some ideas for potential alternatives in similar fixtures in future.