Honestly, you wait weeks for a football match and then two show up at once. We’ve barely finished digesting Adrian Clarke’s Breakdown of the draw with Man City and already we need to contemplate the visit of West Ham.
A London derby, but perhaps not the most spicy of them, West Ham has nonetheless provided us with many an entertaining ninety minutes. None of us will want to reminisce for long upon last season’s Emirates encounter, and those of us who have reached a bumbling maturity may struggle to go back that far in any case. Thanks to the vagaries of the fixture list it’s been nearly two years since West Ham came to see us in the Premier League, came and behaved in a thoroughly disagreeable fashion I might add.
As Andy hinted in his most recent match review, much has changed since then. Our line up featured Debuchy, Mertesacker and Cazorla and we had no reason to suppose those three might not still be first choices come this season. It is, however, the visitors whose fortunes have been most altered since their unlikely opening day heroics.
Slaven Bilić had just replaced Fat Sam Allardyce the soon to be disgraced England football manager and it was their last season at the Boleyn Ground.They achieved their highest top flight points total, made the sixth round of the FA Cup, and even had a little dalliance with the Europa League. Their time there lasted until the Third Qualifying Round which might be a major achievement and it might not – this is after all not a competition we Arsenal fans know anything much about. Although it might be time to start brushing up on it if we fail to beat the Hammers this evening.
Well, suffice it to say the fairy tale did not last for Slaven and his boys. In common with many sides the move to a new stadium proved a dislocation, an unsettling settling in period for both players and fans alike. It’s something for which Arsène Wenger is seldom given sufficient credit. The move from Highbury, regardless of all the financial constraints it imposed, ought to have seen the side struggle, at least in the first season, as team and supporters felt themselves adrift in their new and still alien ‘home’. That Arsenal maintained their top four finish – the Mecca of all Premier League teams whatever the ‘fourth is not a trophy’ brigade tell you – speaks volumes for the man at the helm.
This season West Ham continued their brave tradition of reaching some obscurely named round of the Europa League before succumbing to the mighty Astra Giurgiu. They also pulled off memorable victories against Accrington Stanley and Chelsea reserves in the League Cup but otherwise it’s been a season to forget.
We, you may recall, put five past them back in the heady optimistic days of December and they have gone on to ship a total of fifty four goals since the season started. A sorry state of affairs which sees them sitting in the relegation zone and desperate for any succour they can get.
I am always wary of matches at the fag end of the season. The league and form tables can be easily confounded as sides in dire trouble with the trapdoor trembling beneath them can fight with a furious abandon born of reckless necessity. However, with no wins in their last six you have to think West Ham are leaving it mighty late in the day to begin the old backs to the wall routine.
We steadied our ship on Sunday, at last getting reward for a dogged never say die attitude which I believe the players have often showed this season. Hopefully the draw and manner in which it was achieved will get their heads in the right place for the battles to come, a resounding victory tonight would go a long way too.
So an intriguing prospect tonight. One side with a faint possibility of a top four finish, the other with a looming probability of one in the bottom three. Which incentive will be the greatest? It ought to come down to a comparative measurement of the side’s relative strengths but I don’t believe you can slide a rule over team sports with any degree of accuracy. Too much human frailty involved, too much at stake.
As far as the teams go it would be harsh indeed to bench Gabriel after a very creditable second half against City but I am intrigued at the thought that Per might provide the perfect foil for Andy Carroll’s long legs. However, I don’t indulge in meaningless speculation and am content to let those who know most about the players take such decisions.
Right that’s it, the sun is shining, my hash browns are nearly done and I have better things to do than sit here thinking about Arsenal. Come seven forty five this evening I promise to give the club my fullest attention, until then I’m off out on my bike and then working in the garden. Don’t you just love this time of year?