West Ham sit in 16th place after a much needed point earned against Manchester United on Sunday. Ignoring the 4-1 EFL Cup loss at Old Trafford on Wednesday, the Hammers need to focus on points gained with Arsenal coming to the London Stadium on Saturday.
The Hammers are still very much in danger of slipping into the relegation zone. West Ham are three points ahead of Swansea. If results go against West Ham this weekend, the Hammers could be sitting in 19th by the time Arsenal takes the coach back to North London.
Arsenal are unbeaten in 12 Premier League matches, but do come off of their own embarrassing EFL Cup loss on Wednesday. Even further, the Gunners have not lost an away fixture in 11 matches, dating back to February.
West Ham are without a win in four Premier League matches, and have lost 10 points from winning positions, the most of any team in the league. Slaven Bilic does seem to have Arsene Wenger’s number, playing Arsenal tough as manager of Beşiktaş, and guiding West Ham to a surprise 2-0 win at the Emirates to open last season’s campaign.
Wenger said following Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to Southampton that the Gunners would not have scored in two hours of play. That’s probably true. Wenger threw in the towel on the EFL Cup when Southampton put out such a strong lineup, his focus on the League.
Arsenal are dealing with several injuries. With Mathieu Debuchy and Hector Bellerin injured, Carl Jenkinson plays at right back. Jenkinson should enjoy the trip to Stratford to play in front of West Ham fans once again.
Santi Cazorla will be sidelined for three months due to an ankle injury, but it could be a chance for Granit Xhaka to shine for his new club.
Super-sub Olivier Giroud could be fit once more from a groin injury. The Frenchman has been involved in four goals off the bench (three goals, one assist), the most by a Premier League player this season.
Andy Carroll could be returning to the squad after a knee injury. While the striker might not yet be ready to start, he could prove a presence as an impact sub. Last season, Carroll scored a hat-trick against Arsenal in April’s 3-3 draw.
André Ayew is a doubt after missing Wednesday’s match. There is no official word on his status, but it could be fitness related as the Ghanaian international recovers from injury.
Diafra Sakho is out for at least four weeks after suffering a hamstring injury against Manchester United last Sunday.
That leaves Ashley Fletcher likely to start up top if he’s fully fit from Wednesday. The 21-year-old scored against his former team in the 4-1 shellacking, so he should be raring to go in front of the London Stadium faithful, ready to influence a more positive result.
Bilic will stick with with three attackers, and on either side of Fletcher will be Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini.
Lanzini is at his best when he is given the freedom to roam the center of the park, but with Ayew likely out and Sofiane Feghouli less than impressive on Wednesday, Lanzini has to play the wing role.
Payet looked as if he could care less on Wednesday, encapsulated perfectly when his pass in West Ham’s defensive third was intercepted by Ander Herrera. Payet stood still, watching as Anthony Martial broke through West Ham for Manchester United’s third goal.
It would take a manager with much better standing than Bilic — perhaps a Sir Alex Ferguson type — to sit Payet for a game to send a message about attitude. Despite his nonchalant appearance on the field, the French international has created 46 chances in the Premier League this season, 11 more than any other player. Taking him out would severely decrease the already limited service to strikers.
It’s unclear the extent of Aaron Cresswell’s and Michail Antonio’s groin injuries. Both players were forced out of the match on Wednesday, but it could have been as a precaution.
Assuming the worst, Arthur Masuaku and Edimilson Fernandes will fill into their roles. Both players have experience in the wing back roles before, so it seems a straight-forward decision.
Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang will maintain their spots in the central midfield.
So much was wrong on Wednesday. The line was too high, and there was little organization between the back three, evidenced on the Red Devils’ second minute goal. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s diagonal run split the defense, and his layoff pass to Zlatan Ibrahimovic left the Swedish striker straight in on goal.
It was enough to wonder about a switch back to four defenders, with Masuaku at left back and Cheikhou Kouyate or Håvard Nordtveit (Yes, Nordveit, against his former team) at right back. The lack of a natural right back makes this option less attractive, and Bilic will likely see it this way as well.
Angelo Ogbonna, Winston Reid and Kouyate have to play more conservatively and communicate better. With three in the back, a counter attack will leave them isolated and they cannot let themselves be pulled apart as Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic succeeded in doing.
Darren Randolph earns his place in goal against Arsenal. Adrián did not perform poorly on Wednesday (He conceded four goals, but needed a miracle to pull off the saves required). He did have a rough challenge on Ibrahimovic on the first goal that should have been at least a card. Randolph is one of the few players who can bring in loads of confidence into this match after his performance against Manchester United on Sunday.
Prediction: West Ham 0-2 Arsenal
I think it will be fairly straight-forward for the Gunners on Saturday. Arsenal may take some time to get into the game, and if the Hammers do not get an early lead, Arsenal will make them pay once their rhythm is down in the second half. If Giroud is fit, he will be the perfect spark to put the match out of reach in the second half.
It would be great for Fletcher to score again for the Hammers, but I do not see the Hammers having much success unless West Ham takes advantage of a free kick or a counter attack.