I’m not so sure if all Gooners agree with Arsene Wenger’s outrage at the early start to the season. We’ve been anxious to see our beloved team in games that count and the excitement is even greater after our Community Shield victory over the reigning champions. Based on what Manchester United and Chelsea have shown so far, we have every right to be excited and optimistic about our title chances.
However, we’ll have to win our own games in order to return the Premier League trophy where it belongs. Even if we can easily prove the importance of a good start to the Premier League campaign is somewhat over-rated (take a look at our double-winning campaigns in 1997-98 and 2001-02 and compare it with sour examples of 2002-03, 2004-05, 2007-08 and 2013-14). Winning games regardless of who our opponents are should always be our goal. Avoiding complacency and unnecessary draws and losses will be a big step in the right direction.
We are going to start our campaign against West Ham United – a team that should be scared of us. We have won nine in a row against The Hammers with Olivier Giroud being especially inspired against them. The French striker has scored five goals against today’s opponents including four at the Emirates. Theo Walcott has also found the net five times against The Hammers with four of those being scored away from home. Santi Cazorla has had some inspiring moments against the East Londoners as well with three goals and four assists to his name. A bit of consolation for the visitors is the fact Lukas Podolski, who had been involved in nine goals in just four appearances against West Ham, has now left for Galatasaray.
Our team for today’s game pretty much picks itself.
Petr Čech is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. It will be the first game in an Arsenal shirt for the Czech without the promise of a trophy (unless he earns the Man of the Match accolade).
Hector Bellerin has retained his place in the starting eleven even after Mathieu Debuchy’s return. Bellerin’s attacking game might be the key today as we all expect the visitors to be on the back foot which means width in attack will be required. Same goes for Nacho Monreal. The Spaniard has made the left full-back position his own and Kieran Gibbs’ stakes have never looked lower. While Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have been indispensable members of our defence for three-and-a-half years now.
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Francis Coquelin literally doesn’t have a replacement in our squad. OK, there is Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta but neither of them come close to Le Coq. The Frenchman’s performances in 2015 have been nothing short of brilliant and he looks like the world-class defensive midfielder we’ve craved.
His regular partner in the middle of the pitch has been Santi Cazorla. The deep-lying playmaker is likely to start today. Hopefully we’ll see something of his magic from previous encounters against West Ham. Whether it’s going to be a left-footed long-range shot in the top corner of the net, a clever back-heel finish or a penalty earned with precise dribbling, I’m going to be happy with it.
Mesut Özil’s place in the No.10 role is well cemented. It’s up to him to provide chances for our attacking force and – judging by preseason – the German looks sharp and ready to rub dozens of assists in doubters’ faces.
Now, right-wing is a tricky one. Aaron Ramsey is not a winger and putting him on either wing doesn’t suit either him or Arsenal. That’s why our Community Shield hero Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should get the nod. The Ox looks like he’s going to burn the league down with his pace, strength, goals and assists. If he managed to rip Cesar Azpilicueta a new one, he can do it to any full-back in the world.
Wenger might be tempted to start with Theo Walcott on the left in the absence of Alexis Sánchez and Danny Welbeck. There is also a possibility that Ramsey would take Cazorla’s place in the middle in which case the Spanaird would move either on the left wing or to No. 10 role with Özil being moved to the left wing.
Finally, it’s still remains a mystery who’s going to lead our attack today. Both Giroud and Walcott have their qualities and flaws. Giroud’s cameo against Chelsea was more impressive than Walcott’s hour of football even if the Englishman provided the assist. If Walcott starts on either wing, Giroud is a safe bet for the centre forward role.
West Ham have started the season as early as it can get. They’ve already gone through a very poor European campaign during which their new manager Slaven Bilić has tried to use as many players as he can. Their early start can be a bit of advantage for them at the early stage of the season – their engines have already been on for some time.
Injuries have been plaguing them since the very beginning though – Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia are both out which makes their bare-bones attack relying on Diafra Sakho.
Among the signings West Ham have made so far, Dimitri Payet stands out. The French attacking midfielder picked incredible 21 assists at Olympique Marseille last term. Now, before we all agree that Ligue 1 cannot be compared with the Premier League, let’s not forget that both Arsenal and Chelsea were knocked out in the Champions League First Knockout Round by French clubs last season. Angelo Ogbonna has arrived from Juventus and will represent a reinforcement in the centre of defence. Our Carl Jenkinson is ineligible for today’s match.
Slaven Bilić might turn out to be either West Ham’s smartest reinforcement or the worst mistake their owners have made. Bilić’s performance with Bešiktaš at the Emirates last season should serve as a warning to us. The former West Ham and Everton defender has had a fair share of big victories during his managerial career – mostly with the Croatian national team though – and he might give Wenger an early headache.
All in all, we should have enough to beat West Ham comfortably. It’s true that we haven’t had a comfortable first league match since that 6:1 rout of Everton at Goodison Park at the beginning 2009-10 but things have changed for the better and this team should comfortably nail down The Hammers.
I’d go with a 3:0 victory with goals from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Cazorla (penalty). That would probably be enough for us to take the lead from Week One!