Back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Manchester United has put Arsenal in pole position with regard to this season’s Premier League top-four race, but a difficult test against West Ham United awaits on Sunday afternoon.
There’s even a small chance of finishing third thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s exploits for Manchester United on Thursday night, but Mikel Arteta will be taking it one game at a time knowing a win over the Hammers is vital to maintaining a two-point cushion over Tottenham Hotspur.
In terms of team news, it’s the same as it was ahead of the Man United game with Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney the only first-team players definitely unavailable for selection as Bukayo Saka is expected to be fine after limping off last weekend. So with a near full-strength squad at his disposal, Arteta is facing somewhat of a selection headache when it comes to naming his line-up to face the Hammers.
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Luckily for the Spaniard, football.london‘s Arsenal writers Kaya Kaynak, Tashan Deniran-Alleyne, Tom Canton and Chris Davison are on hand to provide their say on who should start at the London Stadium.
Chris Davison – The Arsenal Way Writer
I’m a firm believer in not changing much when things are working well, so I would only make one tweak from the Manchester United game last week.
With Takehiro Tomiyasu fit and available, I’d like to see him start at left-back…hear me out. While Nuno Tavares got himself on the scoresheet against United, he still produced moments of chaos and looked vulnerable defensively. Tomi instantly came across as sharp and composed in the closing minutes of the match, highlighting the clear difference in quality.
Speaking to the press on Friday, Mikel Arteta touched on the full-backs versatility and ability with both feet. “Not only because he can use both feet, but he can play right centre-back, left centre-back, he can play left-back so that gives you enormous variability and it’s the way they’ve been raised and coached since a really young age, that’s what he says so for him, left and right is the same.”
West Ham may have one eye on their Europa League second-leg clash next week but I still expect them to cause problems, so it’s imperative we remain as solid as possible at the back.
Davison’s Arsenal XI vs West Ham: Ramsdale; Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tomiyasu; Elneny, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; Nketiah
Kaya Kaynak – Arsenal Writer
While the wins over Manchester United and Chelsea were amazing, I think West Ham will pose a completely different test, meaning that I think a few changes will be needed to secure the win.
My big change is at the back where I would look to bring Tomiyasu straight into the starting XI. I think the Japanese international can provide a bit of balance to that back four, allowing Nuno Tavares to get forward, while also providing cover against West Ham’s considerable aerial threat.
Midfield I would look to make a slightly controversial decision by dropping Mohamed Elneny and bringing Albert Sambi Lokonga into the team. Elneny has been fantastic recently, and will be needed between now and the end of the season, but I feel Lokonga’s more progressive passing could be needed against the Hammers’ low block.
Finally, I’d look to keep things relatively similar up top with Eddie Nketiah continuing through the middle, Emile Smith Rowe starting again on the left and Bukayo Saka an obvious pick on the right.
Kaynak’s Arsenal XI vs West Ham: Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares; Sambi Lokonga, Odegaard, Xhaka; Saka, Nketiah, Smith Rowe
Tom Canton – The Arsenal Way Writer
It is difficult to put into words how excited I am to see the full return of Takehiro Tomiyasu to the starting line-up. Whilst Mikel Arteta remained coy about how likely it would be that he would return to the team, his small cameo against Manchester United was hopefully enough to convince the Spaniard he’s ready.
Nuno Tavares will be the biggest beneficiary, closely followed by Ben White. Both can focus more on their individual games knowing a more disciplined defensive presence is back in the side. It is no surprise that Tavares and White were so good in the first half of the season when Tomi was available.
The rest of the side picks itself as the consistency with the games remaining will be paramount to continuing the momentum of the side into the North London Derby. West Ham will hopefully be leggy from their Europa League commitments and the Gunners can punish any tired errors.
How David Moyes will set up without so many orthodox defensive options will be the challenge Arsenal must overcome. Against back threes, the Gunners have had mixed results but getting the balls into Eddie Nketiah will be the best chance for the Gunners with the unfamiliarity in the Hammers’ home box.
Canton’s Arsenal XI vs West Ham: Ramsdale; Tomiyasu; White; Gabriel; Tavares; Elneny; Xhaka; Odegaard; Saka; Nketiah; Smith-Rowe
Tashan Deniran-Alleyne – Arsenal Writer
The pressure is on and it’s getting to some of the Arsenal players. For that reason, I think Mikel Arteta needs to turn to some of the experienced heads in his squad to get the side over the line in the top-four race.
Aaron Ramsdale, in particular, has looked shaky of late. It’s almost as if he hasn’t fully recovered from the injury that kept him out of the Aston Villa win and it could be the reason why the defence has not looked strong since returning from the international break. Therefore, I would opt for Bernd Leno to get a recall.
I’d also resist the temptation to hand Takehiro Tomiysau an immediate return to the starting lineup as it would be a good idea to continue easing him back in with another substitute appearance to build his fitness ahead of the North London Derby against Tottenham.
Mohamed Elneny took me by surprise against Chelsea and Man United, but with the Hammers likely to sit deep and try to frustrate Arsenal, I’d give Sambi Lokonga a start as his incisive passing could be key against a low block.
Bukayo Saka limped off against United last week but looked fine at the full-time whistle, so hopefully, that is a sign that he will be OK to take his place on the right-hand side of an unchanged front three alongside Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe.
Deniran-Alleyne’s Arsenal XI vs West Ham: Leno; Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tavares; Lokonga, Odegaard, Xhaka; Saka, Nketiah, Smith Rowe
Source by Football London