Arsenal vs West Ham is a massive game for both sides. The start to the season has not gone to plan for either of the new managers at these clubs. Both teams lost their two opening fixtures and come into this match looking to get their season back on track.
The most potent attacker for West Ham has been new signing Felipe Anderson. The 25 year old leads the Hammers in Attack rating and has been the main creative force for a team that has struggled to create offense.
The key to freeing Anderson to be able to attack will fall on the midfield pair of Mark Noble and former Arsenal academy product Jack Wilshere.
Noble has been the main link between the defense and the attack thus far for West Ham. With Arsenal’s pressing, Noble and Wilshere will have the challenge of beating the first lines of defense to attempt to expose the Gunners’ mediocre back line.
Jack Wilshere was supposed to be the superstar of Arsenal. Injuries (and a lack of development on his immense skills) cut this dream short. Last season for Arsenal he was in the team that played Europa League group stages before coming into the team in the late fall. He played pretty well at the beginning of his run of starts, with the most notable change being that he seemed to cut out some of his biggest flaws.
Wilshere looked to move the ball much faster and made fewer runs at the multiple defenders where he would give the ball away. From the start of the season through the end of December he was sixth for Arsenal in points per minute:
As he played more matches, these negative traits steadily came back into his game and it became increasingly clear that he didn’t fit in with the way Arsenal played any longer. From the beginning of January through to the end of the season he fell to 12th in the points per minute ranking.
Dropping down a level from a top six team to a club in the mid-table (but with dreams of joining the elite) makes sense. Wilshere’s skills are undoubted but he needs to be a true focal point of a team to be able to get the most out of them, and with West Ham that can be the case.
Making sweeping conclusions about Arsenal after their first two matches of the season is unwise. They played the best team in the league (maybe the world) and had to play another top four contender away from home. What is clear is that Unai Emery is working to make changes in this team.
The most obvious change is the way that Arsenal build their attacks. Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal put a lot of the build up on the center backs and full backs. He would instruct his midfielders to push further up the field instead of dropping deep to receive passes, and ask the defenders to play vertical passes to more advanced areas to quickly move the ball into the attacking phase of the buildup.
Emery by contrast looks to build more methodically from the back with the midfielders taking the larger role. He asks them to drop deep between center backs that are split out wide, with the full backs moving further up the pitch. Against Manchester City, you could see the growing pains of this change with the buildup looking ugly at times. At Chelsea (who didn’t press nearly as effectively while learning their own new style) Arsenal had much more success, especially in the first half.
The 2nd goal in full. Really enjoyed Mhkitaryan’s movement in this, moving from left to right of Jorginho to completely overwhelm him. pic.twitter.com/y2XBMCp0fb
— Arsenal Column (@ArsenalColumn) August 19, 2018
With Arsenal’s plethora of passing and attacking talent these changes should result in a fun attacking team.
This does come with a trade off however. The Gunners still suffer from defensive lapses far too often to match the elite teams. Arsenal are working to implement a new pressing style and pairing it with a high defensive line to maintain compactness. Against the 4-3-3 of Maurizio Sarri, they were often leaving one of Chelsea’s midfielders open deeper as they built into midfield and the forwards were slow to close down the open man.
This issue presented Chelsea with numerous options to play killer balls through the Gunners’ defense into space. In the second half Emery made a tactical switch to bring on Lucas Torreira for Granit Xhaka, which made Arsenal harder to pass through but also stifled their attack. Finding the right balance will be a major question for Emery.
For the first time this season Arsenal will go into a match as favorites. With a big deficit to make up to get back into the top four race this is as close as a must win as you can have in your third match of the season.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 West Ham United