Could it be? Is the Premier League finally back after an extended mid-season hiatus? In a way, this feels a little bit like Deja Vu all over again. Sure, it’s not quite like Project Restart after the abrupt halt following the COVID pandemic, but having to hop right back into the season after a lengthy break feels weird no matter the circumstance.
Few clubs probably disliked the break as much as Arsenal. While every club will have the same task of rediscovering (or outright finding) their rhythm, Arsenal have a slightly tougher task ahead of them - maintaining their five point lead atop the Premier League table. The Gunners were in the midst of an historic run of form to begin the season with 12 wins from 14, and momentum is a fickle mistress.
A win, though, is always the best way to get started, or in this case, restarted, and the Gunners have a good opportunity to do so as they welcome West Ham to the Emirates on Boxing Day. The Hammers are a side that Mikel Arteta has had consistent success against since taking over for Unai Emery three years ago, as he has won all but one of the six matches against West Ham since he has been in charge, a lone draw the only blemish against the cross town competitors. The matchup, on paper, is favorable for the Gunners. West Ham are in 16th, one point above the drop with 14 points from 15 matches played. They are not without talent - Jarod Bowen is still one of the league’s most exciting attackers - but they certainly are not the same side that finished just outside the top 6 a few seasons ago.
But nothing comes for free in the Premier League. Complicating things for the Gunners is a minor injury crisis. Arsenal’s core of first team players did not come out of the break unscathed, with the most notable injury coming to striker Gabriel Jesus, who needed surgery to repair a meniscus tear during the break and will be out until March. His injury is the only long term one, but the list of players carrying knocks or minor injuries is becoming a bit of a concern.
Alex Zinchenko and Takehiro Tomiyasu may or may not be available against West Ham, with Zinchenko’s regular absence become a frustrating issue. He has missed more matches than he has played, and despite not having to play at the World Cup or during any of Arsenal’s friendlies, he is still nursing a calf issue. To his credit, it looked like Kieran Tierney had been working on his inverted fullback play during the break, emulating the sort of playing style that Zinchenko utilizes to be so instrumental in the attack.
Reiss Nelson, only just returning to first the first team rotation before the break, was subbed off in the first half against Juventus with an apparent injury. Although nothing has been shared, it’s a further blow to an attacking line that was already missing Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Jesus as the World Cup break wrapped up.
But not all is doom and gloom - far from it. The Gunners are still a team in good health and fine form. In the stead of Jesus will be Eddie Nketiah, whose showing at the end of last season earned him a new contract and the no. 14 kit. He is no stranger to the high stakes pressure of leading the line, and his tenacious pressing and dogged pursuit of the ball make him a tough player for other teams to deal with. And, if Arteta’s claims are to be believed, Arsenal will be active in the January transfer window, which almost certainly includes an attacker in the plans.
Across the rest of the pitch, all but the injured players and possibly William Saliba, whose France side played in the World Cup final, should be available to play. The silver lining of so few Arsenal players making it deep into the World Cup means that they have nearly all returned to full training. You feel for them from a national team standpoint, but since we are an Arsenal blog first and foremost, the selfish side is happy to see them all back so soon.
Regardless of who West Ham trot out, the expectation should be for Arsenal to come out on top. The big question by pundits ahead of the break was whether or not Arsenal could maintain their momentum after an extended hiatus. Nothing would please many of them more than for Arsenal to look a little leggy and tired, but if this season has shown us anything, it’s that if the players trust the process, everything finds a way of working itself out.
WHAT: Arsenal vs West Ham
WHEN: Monday, December 26th, 3:00pm EST/12:00pm PST/8:00pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
HOW TO WATCH: Live on Peacock.
For all your international streaming needs, check LiveSoccerTV.com. Please do not discuss or share links to illegal streams here.