Poor Arsene Wenger is having to go through it all again in what is supposed to be a period of festivities around England. As Arsenal knocked themselves out of the EFL Cup through a suicidal lack of desire and drive against Southampton, the club struck “crisis” by the time the final whistle had been blown – at least, that’s what the fans think.
The Gunners currently sit fourth in the Premier League table, just three points adrift of league leaders Chelsea (whom they beat 3-0), have already qualified for the round of 16 in UCL and are still unbeaten in the league since their opening day defeat to Liverpool which was more or less a result of Arsenal’s depleted squad. If that’s crisis, then every club would love to experience it.
Crisis Club Arsenal now travel to the the cursed London Stadium which, though West Ham United’s home feels far from it as is clear from their recent struggles at their own turf. A year ago, we would have been talking what Arsene Wenger’s side would have to do to overcome West Ham but the scenario is so different a few months into the Hammers’ new era that you can only discuss how Slaven Bilic’s men can avoid another embarrassing day at the office.
Of course, that’s good news for Arsenal who would not want anything other than a resounding win to put an end to any doubts that may have emerged as a result of their EFL Cup defeat.
But before that, Arsenal do have an issue or two to address: How do they find their fluidity back in Santi Cazorla’s absence? Since the Spaniard has been sidelined, Wenger’s hopes to keep going with the same flair have waned.
The Arsenal boss has tried a number of combinations but none has worked so far when it comes to creating more chances and dictating the terms in the middle of the park. Aaron Ramsey was expected to step up in Cazorla’s absence but he hasn’t so far, putting in a number of disappointing displays.
Maybe, Arsenal can try pairing Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka in the centre of the pitch, although that might disturb the defensive balance of the side, enabling West Ham United to drive right through the middle, so it’s highly unlikely that Wenger would opt for the two against a team that does have enough ammo to hurt the opponent.
The best option, therefore, is the Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny partnership which has shown a lot of promise when the former has been given enough game time. The Swiss, as we have seen on a number of occasions, does have a creative dimension to his game, including an excellent long-range pass ability. In all fairness, there’s no reason to drop Granit Xhaka to the bench anymore (if there ever was one).
Another problem is Hector Bellerin’s absence. Mathieu Debuchy’s done for the season and Carl Jenkinson seems way too short of confidence. Gabriel did the job well against Bournemouth after Debuchy went off but again, The Professor may well avoid a risk and just go with Jenkinson.
Whatever the decision (on the playing XI), it just doesn’t feel like Arsenal should have a lot of trouble winning the London Derby, unless, of course, they come out to self-destruct as they have in the previous years in fixtures of the exact ilk – improbable but possible.
Probable XI: Cech, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Elneny, Ozil, Walcott, Chamberlain, Sanchez.
Prediction: West Ham United 1 – 3 Arsenal.