08 April 2016

Payet? It's Kouyaté who stands in the way of Arsenal's chances...

We're up against now. With only seven matches to play, we somehow have to close an eleven-point gap between us and Leicester. Failing that, we simply must overtake Tottenham, who are four points clear having played one more match than we have. After obliterating Watford last weekend, we have to go into Boleyn Ground to face a stubborn opponent that's added a bit of verve going forward, enough to be harbouring dreams the gap between a team or two above them on the table.

In almost any other season, the job that Slaven Bilić has done in bringing West Ham to the brink of of European qualification might earn the Croatian manager of the year honours. However, as it currently stands, Bilić might barely merit a mention what with what's happened at Leicester and [choke] Tottenham. Harsh judgments from the referees in recent weeks have dulled the Irons' lustre of late—they conceded a late penalty against Chelsea two weeks ago and saw Cheikhou Kouyaté wrongly sent off against Crystal Palace, each time settling for draws despite leading 2-1. Kouyaté has been reinstated, but the Irons will rue those lost points all the same. If anything, those setbacks might have lent some added motivation to a squad that has been fairly impressive all season, having lost just twice in their last 18 Prem matches.

Of course, a fair amount of talk will be devoted to Dimitri Payet, who has proven himself quite productive from free kicks in recent weeks. However, with no disrespect to Payet, it's Kouyaté who concerns me. He's physical enough to disrupt and discombobulate us, and he has managed to score three goals in his last two Prem appearances against us. He embodies in many ways the kind of player who frustrates us. Even if we come in hot on the heels of having destroyed Watford, we have to know that Kouyaté and the rest will put up more than a fight on their home ground. A win for them wouldn't just kill of our aspirations; it might allow them to overtake Man U (who visit White Hart Lane on Sunday).

Against Watford, as against Everton before them, Arsène may have found a formula for scoring that's eluded us for weeks. The introduction of Iwobi on the left sent Alexis to the right. With Welbeck through the middle, our attack has looked more fluid and more potent than at any other time in this campaign. Yes, it was Watford. And Everton. Still, one can find one's flow against weak resistance. Pray that it may be so against West Ham—heck, they've conceded more goals than Watford have...

LAST 3
Arsenal 0-2 West Ham (09.08.2015)
Arsenal 3-0 West Ham (14.03.2015)
West Ham 1-2 Arsenal (28.12.2014)

FACTFILE
The two clubs first clashed on 1 August 1923, a 4-1 win to Arsenal.
In August, Arsenal failed to score against West Ham for the first time since 2009.
Arsenal have scored at least two goals in their last seven away matches against West Ham.

INJURIES
Cazorla, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta and Rosický have all been ruled out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech, Monreal, Gabriel, Koscielny, Bellerín; Coquelin, Elneny; Iwobi, Özil, Alexis; Welbeck.

We've faced a few must-win situations in recent seasons and have a knack for finding our way through. I'll leave it at that.

PREDICTION

West Ham 1-2 Arsenal