West Ham vs. Arsenal
English Premier League
Saturday, October 6, 12:30 PM EDT
Boleyn Ground, West Ham, East London (go figure), UK
Form: WHU: WDDLW | ARS WDWLW
TV: Fox Soccer Channel
Arsenal travel to East London tomorrow to face Premier League rivals West Ham United in a derby. This match combines a lot of the things that make the hair on the back of my neck stick up: first of all, it's an away match; second of all, it's a match against West Ham, a team that I just associate with always giving a tough match to Arsenal (for instance: they were the first team to beat Arsenal at the Emirates); thirdly, they are managed by Sam Allardyce, who never makes life easy for the Arsenal; fourthly, Andy Carroll; fifthly; Mark Noble just always gives me fits, both in real life and electronically, and I cannot say precisely why, it's just one of those things.
Also, West Ham are above Arsenal in the table currently by two points, even though they've scored fewer goals and allowed more. Football! Not only is this match important for that reason, along with being a derby; one also would like to see Arsenal keep the teams above them in reach, even though it is VERY EARLY IN THE YEAR AND NOBODY SHOULD PANIC. (Still, keep them in reach).
In regards to point four above ("Andy Caroll"), although he twanged his hamstring in September on his West Ham debut after coming over on loan from Liverpool, he came on as a sub in the Hammers' win against Queens Park Rangers last weekend. The big Ponytailed Geordie Wonder has given Arsenal trouble in the past, but don't worry, Arsene Wenger has a plan:
"Carroll has the quality and that will come out with time," Wenger said. "We expect Carroll to be at his best - it is down to us to deal with that. We can only focus on our own performance and be at our best.''
"I rate Carroll, and don't think we have seen the best of him until now. He started very well, then he had to deal with a high level of expectation with a massive transfer on his shoulders (to Liverpool) going to an historic club where a lot was expected of him. Maybe it was a bit too early for him.
"Since I have seen him at West Ham, he looks back to the Carroll we have seen at Newcastle, that means with less pressure.''
Source: ESPN Soccernet
Okay, so, admittedly, that is less of a "plan" and more "analysis", but hey, at least he's aware. Hopefully part of his plan involves Per Mertesacker, but that will depend on whether or not the German has fully recovered from the flu he picked up from ailing teammates Thomas Vermaelen and Theo Walcott. A central pairing with Mertesacker plus one has worked best so far this year in conjunction with Aresnal's deeper line, and given the rickety form on display from the more aggressive pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen so far this year, the positional sense and height of Mertesacker could be a welcome sight tomorrow at Upton Park.
Kevin Nolan is West Ham's leading scorer this year, though, and from his position as a sort of left central midfielder-slash-forward, he can create problems both from set pieces and from running onto any Carroll knockdowns. This will require awareness from Mikel Arteta and his double pivot partner, who is likely to be Francis Coquelin again, assuming the mystery cramps that took him out in the late stages against Olympiakos have vanished. Coquelin's defensive solidity and ability to hold Nolan in check could come in handy, although he's going to have to do a better job tracking Nolan the runner than he did tracking Paulo Machado the runner against Olympiakos. Again, Mertesacker can help here.
Other than Mert, Arsenal have no new news on the injury front. Gervinho has been playing very well as a roaming center forward, combining with Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. However, given that this is a tough away match against an Allardyce-y opponent, one might see Aaron Ramsey slot in on the right hand side if Gervinho retains his central position, as Ramsey can function much as Yossi Benayoun did last year for Arsenal, coming inside and dropping back to help form solid banks of four when Arsenal don't have possession. Of course, Olivier Giroud could also get the start, his holdup play against 6-4 James Collins perhaps a valuable asset, and in that case, Gervinho would most likely move back to the right. His workrate in defense has been good so far this year, as has Podolski's.
So, with that in mind, Arsenal may lineup up as such:
Match prediction: Jenkinson lands on the pitch in a Harrier Jet, which he lobs into Green Street. Thankfully nobody is hurt, although it does take out a fish and chips stand and a newsagent, a move Jenkinson comes to regret post-match, as he has to eat at McDonald's instead. Neither side scores until the 79th minute, when Carroll heads home a free kick swung in by Noble. Arsenal claw one back five minutes later after Podolski combines with Giroud, the latter transforming into a semi trailer that drives towards the West Ham goal, unloads a police car which transforms into Podolski, who slides home the ball that's bounced off the side of Giroud's cab.