The footballing month of December that seemed to go on forever finally comes to an end, and a fixture packed month that will probably feel just as long begins with a home match against West Ham, a side we’ve already beaten this season. December ended quite happily as we go into the new year top of the league by two points. After we drew against Portsmouth, in the sort of game that the unstoppable Manchester United would never drop points in, they’ve gone on to lose against our opponents on Tuesday and hand us top spot. They’ve now lost three away games as opposed to our one, and our home forms are identical. While we’re not playing amazingly, our overall form for this first half of the season has been title winningly good. Ideally, in the new year we’ll return to the wonderful football of earlier in the season and continue to pick up the results we need.
Whether we end up challenging for the league in the final weeks of the season or not, this has certainly been a hugely successful season up to this point. If, at the end of February, we’re still top of the league, having won the Carling Cup and having beaten AC Milan, we’ll start getting tipped to win everything. A bit of a stretch of the imagination, if one were to think about this happening shortly after losing to West Ham at Ashburton Grove last season, on our way to a fourth place finish in the league for the second season running. If we’d lost to Everton on Saturday, finding ourselves one point off top spot, the prognosis for the second half of the season would be doom and gloom. But, hey, we’re Arsenal fans. It’s what we do.
West Ham find themselves ninth in the league after a patchy bit of form over the last few weeks. Of their last eight games in all competitions, they’ve won three, drawn two and lost three. Their away form this season has kept them in the race for UEFA Cup slots really, they’ve won as many away games as Arsenal and Manchester United, while their measly three wins at home has dragged them down. This won’t be a straight forward game by any stretch of the imagination; this is always a tough fixture, Curbishley’s team aren’t a bad side by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s a London derby. They’ll play in the same fashion as they did against United, 4-5-1, pack the midfield, try and nick goals. It works spectacularly against Arsenal, just ask David Moy…..oh. Our next ten league fixtures are all very winnable, as are United’s. The next hairy patch for us comes at the end of March. The cup competitions, however, will provide a distraction during January and February. I forgot what point I was trying to make here. Something to do with opening a gap over United, no easy games in the league this season, etc.
Before the match at Upton Park earlier this season, West Ham had beaten us three times in a row. At home against the hammers in the Premier League, we’ve won eight, drawn one and lost three times. In all competitions home and away, it’s sixteen wins, six draws and five losses. The last time we managed three points at home against West Ham was January 19th 2003. Since then, the last loss at Highbury and the first loss at Ashburton Grove have come at the hands of the bubble blowers.
Robin van Persie is still unavailable, but he is our only major injury concern. I expect that the next time we see him will be in the next league game against Birmingham in a couple of weeks time. Bendtner is suspended following his stupidity in the Everton match. Flamini picked up his fifth yellow in the same game and will be absent for the Burnley FA Cup game. Eboue and Walcott return to the squad after being rested. Denilson has served his three match ban for the red card against Blackburn and could be back in the squad. Gilberto is absent with sickness, Song is to be rested, with Hoyte taking his place.
This is probably the last game where we’ll see Eboue, Toure and/or Song in the squad before they leave for the African Cup of Nations. I expect the defence will stay the same as it has been, before the enforced absence of Kolo causes us to make some changes in the coming weeks. We’ll go back to full strength, with Rosicky and Adebayor returning to the starting line up, and we’ll either go 4-5-1, with Eboue back on the right and Hleb behind Ade, or 4-4-2, with Hleb right, Tomas left, and Walcott or Eduardo alongside the big man. I think Wenger will be looking to utilise Dudu in the coming games against Burnley and Spurs, so it’s Walcott up front or Eboue on the right. With 4-4-2 bringing us our biggest win for two months, I’d like to see Walcott get a game upfront. But I doubt it’ll happen.
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Diarra, Walcott, Eduardo.
West Ham currently top the PhysioRoom.com injury league table, with a whopping ten. Gabbidon, Etherington, Collins, Davenport, Bellamy, Bowyer, Zamora, Dyer and Faubert are definitely out, Boa Morte is a possibility. They went with 4-5-1 at home to United, I expect it’ll be essentially the same team and setup against us. Maybe with Ashton coming in for Carlton Cole. Freddie will most likely start at his old ground, and will probably get a decent ovation.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Mean Lean