Over the course of the last nine months, we’ve learned a lot.
Led by our Spanish supremo, we’ve developed actual, genuine patterns to our play. No running around like headless chickens unaware of what the manager wants, or bizarre positional changes. Mikel Arteta has got Arsenal looking like a proper football team again.
While us common folk are not even in the same stratosphere of tactical nous, it’s become much easier to pick up the stylistic intricacies he wants to adopt. Going into matches, we actually have an idea of what we can expect from the team. It’s so refreshing.
Against Fulham on the opening day it was relative cruise control barring a few nervy minutes at the start, where the Gunners were then able to come into their own and demonstrate their total understanding of Arteta’s demands.
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With West Ham next up on the firing line, what can we expect to see from our first home clash of the 2020/21 season?
Alexandre Lacazette Will Be Hungry
Statistically, Alexandre Lacazette is far more comfortable playing at home. Of the 37 Premier League goals he’s scored for Arsenal, 28 have come at the Emirates Stadium. This included the winner in the reverse fixture last season where West Ham were unlucky to leave empty handed as the Frenchman’s goals secured a narrow 1-0 win.
That’s not the sole reason to expect this, as whatever viewpoint you may have on Lacazette, he’s a striker who is utterly dependent on confidence.
With the fire in his belly and that extra jump in his step, he can be a menace to the toughest of defences. His touch is better, his focus is sharper, but above all his finishing his much improved. Yet when the goals don’t come, he looks a shadow of his former self.
The 29-year-old endured a torrid run last season where he went nine games without a goal. Nine games is bad, but it was his overall demeanour that was off. He just looks….sad, when the goals don’t come. We want him to be angry in this situations, but it shouldn’t impact his performances as much as it does.
Off the mark already this season, he’ll be well up for Saturday night.
Willian Given (More) Freedom to Roam
It’s been mentioned at length about the creativity that Willian can bring to Arsenal (I’m not going to get too carried away after just one game, especially Fulham) but said creativity comes in many forms.
At the bigger Emirates pitch, he’ll have even more license to drift away from his right-wing role and patrol the back line. In situations where the Brazilian tucks inside, Hector Bellerin will provide the overlapping width, while if he opts to stick to the touchline, the Spaniard can move into an inside central position to allow one of either Mohamed Elneny or Dani Ceballos to attack the channels.
The addition of diversity in attacking phases is massively unsettling for opposition sides. It’s what Arteta had been missing, and Willian is a good stop-gap until he gets the younger, long-term targets in his sights.
On Saturday, however, we could see Willian roaming even more than he had done at Craven Cottage. Given Arsenal will likely see more of the ball, it will be on the shoulders of the forward to drag defenders out of position to create gaps. Question marks persist of Arthur Masuaku’s defensive capabilities, and it will be the 32-year-old’s task of breaking apart the structure across the back four, with a keen eye on Masuaku.
…..Watch Nico start now.
Some Meaty & Niggly Challenges
West Ham know full well that if they allow Arsenal to get into their rhythm then they open themselves up for a battering. Breaking up that momentum will be key to them being able to impose their own game on proceedings, which will come in the form of niggling and meaty fouls.
More so the former, though. Minor shirt pulls, dangling legs and shoulder barges will be in full force. The rough and tumble side of football is undeniably important, and we can expect the Hammers to make the most of it.
Mark Noble and Tomas Soucek are no speed merchants, if they’re dealing with the midfield runs of Bellerin or Ainsley Maitland-Niles, they’ll come unstuck. If Ceballos plays then his quick feet will see him win a shedload of fouls.
Slowing down the pace of the game wherever possible and ensuring the 90 minutes are as stop-start as possible will be high on the Irons’ list of priorities.