28 December 2014

Podolski's Hammer of Mjölnir against some ordinary Hammers

Powerful, yes, but it does make for an awkward evening constitutional...
On Friday, Olivier Giroud was sent off. Along with him, it felt, went our chances against West Ham. Who would drop down to grapple with Carroll in the box when West Ham earns a set-piece? Giroud's absence seems to expose us to all sorts of ills. Still, where he has seen red, a certain Lukas Podolski should see a golden opportunity. In four apperances against West Ham, Poldi has found time to score four goals and notch five assists. In Giroud's absence, then, it seems all too fitting that the Hammer of Mjölnir should find a few opportunities to hammer home a shot or two.

Giroud's loss might just be Poldi's gain. Where once there was a flourishing relationship that saw each feed off of the other, we might see a somewhat more cannibalistic dimension in which Poldi feasts on the spoils of Giroud's sorrows. Against West Ham, after all, it's unlikely that we'll be able to pick apart a defense carefully, and Poldi's willingness and ability to let fly from distance might be a welcome and dangerous change of pace from our seemingly endless tippy-tappy, tiki-taka style, which produces endlessly intricate sequences of passes but is all too often bereft of final product.

Giroud's absence will mean that we'll lack that oh-so-deft flick in and around the box—a touch that Poldi has benefitted from—and, as a result, we'll have to turn to other options. Perhaps alone in the current squad, Poldi has the power and proclivity to unleash devastating, howitzerian shots from distance, shots that may not find the back of the net but that inspire fear and trepidation among keepers who hope to someday walk the streets without terrifying women and children who might gaze upon their faces, flattened and blightened by a blast from Poldi's left foot.

More seriously, this clash offers us at Arsenal a chance to restore order, as a favorable series of results could see us leap-frog both West Ham and Southampton to claim our, er, rightful place in fourth position. Tongue-in-cheek references aside, it’s not as if West Ham have coasted to their current position, abusing relegation-threatened clubs to this point. In fact, they’ve done better than we have against the so-called big clubs, taking seven points from five matches against the likes of Tottenham, Southampton, Liverpool Man City, and Everton. Compare that to our seven points from seven matches against the same. For a more direct comparison, we might point to West Ham’s recent 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge, parallel on the surface to our own 2-0 loss.

For what it’s worth, West Ham held out just a bit longer against Chelsea than we did, conceding in the 31st minute rather than the 26th. Peeking beyond that, we have to admit that Allardyce does have his squad playing some interesting football. Rather than merely hoofing it forward, hoping that the Carrollian forehead will nod it home, there’s actually been a bit of tactics on display. This doesn’t mean that we won’t see a few crosses sent into the box, but it does mean that we’ll have to close down other threats as well, such as those posed by Diafra Sakho, who leads the club with seven goals scored. In other seasons, the absence of Olivier Giroud might handicap us against West Ham, who might have relied almost exclusively on crosses into the box, especially from set-pieces. This time through, however, we’ll have to be alert to that but also to Sakho on the wing, who will test Debuchy, Chambers, or Bellerin.

Given the stakes, though, it’s hard to see West Ham rebounding. They’ve suffered a dispiriting defeat away to Chelsea, lending new urgency to skulking questions about their long-term ability to challenge for a top-four spot. At our end, we know that a win would vault us back into contention for a position that we have plenty of experience contending for and earning.