The post-FA Cup third round action kicks off with West Ham vs Arsenal, a London derby at the Olympic Stadium. One man looks likely to be key for the home side.
Here are the stats Felipe Anderson leads West Ham in: Twelve points, goals, key passes, xG chain, xG assisted, tackles, fouls suffered, passes blocked and successful dribbles.
Basically if there is an important statistic, you would have a good chance of being correct saying that Anderson is leader in that stat for West Ham. One of the more surprising statistics is that the difference between Anderson and the next highest player in the Twelve Rankings, Declan Rice, is larger than the difference between Rice and all other players in West Ham’s top 11 this season.
He was probably the less heralded of the Hammers’ summer transfers, but that is mostly down to coming from Serie A. He has easily been the most important addition and has been integral in helping new manager Manuel Pellegrini improve the team by seven points compared to last year at this stage.
Even better for West Ham is that the right side of Arsenal’s defense is currently a mess of injuries which could make it a very good day at the office for Anderson.
Arsenal’s defensive injury crisis puts top four hopes on life support
Arsenal wouldn’t be mistaken for a great defensive team even at the best of times this season. This has been the case for several years, but in 2018/19 things were actually respectable for a good stretch of the campaign. Then the dreaded injury crisis struck and Arsenal lost three key men, leaving themselves reliant upon players on the wrong side of 30 and players shifting into unfamiliar positions.
In the above graph you can see the way the season has unfolded for Arsenal and tell a pretty convincing story.
The first 4-5 games, new manager Unai Emery is evaluating the players he has, and the players are adjusting to his style. The defense isn’t great but after about 10 matches it settles into allowing between 1 and 1.5 xG per match, a respectable number considering the offense that Arsenal can create.
On the 13th match Emery makes a switch from a back four to a back three with wing backs to give the mediocre center backs some more cover, and the defense improves to allowing just under one xG per match. By the 17th game, heading into the busy festive schedule, the Gunners are down three starters in defence and things really start to implode with the xG allowed approaching two per match.
Fortunately for Arsenal their injury crisis is starting to improve. Hector Bellerin, who has been out since the 16th of December, should likely be ready to make the bench for the West Ham match. Often maligned, Shkodran Mustafi came back from injury at the end of last year and should be fit to start.
Finally, Konstantinos Mavropanos, who has been out all season injured, returned to training earlier this week and adds depth at center back. With more regular starters back, Arsenal should have better odds at trying to cope with West Ham’s Anderson but it will still be a big ask. Arsenal may end up needing to depend on their attacking talent to bail them out again.
Even with the injury crisis, Arsenal are favorites in this match according to my simulation model. I really don’t feel nearly as confident as my model says, I think that this West Ham team are strong and one which will pose a number of issues for the Gunners.
There is also the cliche that derbies are always tight affairs and I think this will be the case here. My prediction is that this will be a close game (maybe even a bit on the boring side for the neutral like so many of these early kickoffs are) and end in a 1-1 draw.