15:00 BST, Saturday 25th August, Emirates Stadium (London, England)
Unai Emery has already found himself on the receiving end of criticism despite only facing two competitive matches with the Gunners.
Looking to make it third time lucky, the home advantage which proved so strong for the Gunners last season will be hoped to help inspire the side into the season and up the premature league table.
Having won eight of their last nine competitive matches against the Hammers in North London, the history books suggest Emery’s luck could be in.
With over £100 million spent and nine new faces in his dressing room, Manuel Pellegrini will have high hopes of extending Arsenal’s misery. To do this, he must find a way of lifting his players out of their current malaise and tapping into the potential which is hidden in his squad.
A London derby and the chance to upset a rival who is also stumbling could be the motivation his players need to find their footing this season.
Last Time Out
Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal (Premier League)
Both sides of Emery’s new team were on full display in a game packed with excitement and goals but not the result Arsenal wanted.
There was an ominous start to the match as Arsenal’s defensive problems were laid bare. Chelsea continuously skipped through the Gunners limited resistance and found themselves two goals ahead in the 20th minute, both strikes capitalising on defensive mistakes.
Less than a minute before Chelsea’s second, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a glorious chance to equalise but blazed high with the goal at his mercy. Henrikh Mkhitaryan then repeated this trick soon after Alvaro Morata’s goal before the Armenian partially rectified his actions by converting a more difficult opportunity.
With Arsenal on the front foot the game’s momentum completely switched. Alex Iwobi converted a passage of 19 passes to pull the Gunners level before the half time whistle saved the Blues from further damage.
A more passive second half gave way with the arrival of Eden Hazard as the Gunners defence visibly retreated to his threat. Despite this, a late strike from Marcos Alonso came as a bitter blow to leave Emery with his second successive defeat in the league.
West Ham United 1-2 Bournemouth (Premier League)
The Cherries came from behind to deliver another damaging blow to Pellegrini’s new-look Hammers. A slow start to this match did see the home side slightly on top with both Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez playing well together in a dual-pronged attack.
The wide-men in Pellegrini’s 4-4-2 formation also showed great promise, especially new signing Felipe Anderson who also impressed in their defeat to Liverpool.
It was Łukasz Fabianski who delivered the best performance for his team, forced to make several key stops as his central defenders continually failed in their duties ahead of him.
While Arnautovic’s penalty just before half time had provided a deserved lead going into the break, there was a feeling of inevitability afterwards which lead to two goals in six minutes. With heads dropped and Bournemouth in the ascendency, West Ham failed to find the spark needed to swing the game back into their direction.
Emery has no new injury concerns but will still be without Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) Ainsley Maitland-Niles (leg) and Sead Kolasinac (knee).
After coming off the bench on both previous games, Lucas Torreira could get his first competitive start alongside Matteo Guendouzi at the base of midfield while Mesut Ozil’s poor performance that saw him complete only 15 passes could see Aaron Ramsey replace him although Alexandre Lacazette may have to wait another week before he pushes his way into the starting XI.
West Ham Lineup
Pellegrini also has a trio of missing players with Manuel Lanzini (knee) Andy Carroll (ankle) and Winston Reid (knee) all out of action but he still has plenty of options to choose between in naming his team.
Ryan Fredericks could find himself restored as right back ahead of Pablo Zabaleta while Javier Hernández could also find himself replaced for a more robust midfield option if the manager decides to make a move to compact his midfield and offer extra bite to his team.
Key Battle: Lucas Torreira (Arsenal) vs Jack Wilshere (West Ham)
In search of more stability with his team, Emery could turn to new signing, Lucas Torreira, to add some steel to midfield. Having entered from the bench in both previous league matches, this game could see his first competitive start for the club.
Despite being at fault for losing possession in the run-up to Chelsea’s winning goal, the Uruguayan showed composure in completing 23 of his 25 attempted passes (92%) while being harried by Chelsea’s pressing. It’s arguably his tough-tackling attributes which Arsenal need most to protect their back-four though.
Looking to find space and play around him will be a face easily recognised by the home fans. Wilshere is set to play his first game against his former club and will be keen to impress, most probably in his favoured position as a number ten.
As a free signing amongst new recruits totalling over £100 million, Wilshere can prove himself the most valuable addition to the Hammers squad this season.
To do that this weekend, he will need to remain composed, refrain from trying too much and, of course, best the midfielder who has taken his place in his old team.
Looking to the future
It may not have been the most auspicious start for Emery but it is still far too quick to draw any firm conclusions from his time as manager just yet.
For a manager looking to change the long-held mentality and style of play embedded at his new club, Emery can’t be expected to apply an instant fix to the Gunners troubles.
The opening two fixtures may appear a tough learning curve, however, posing more questions of his team should yield more answers. The real questions in need of answers are the ones that lie ahead, though, especially during the next six games which all offer achievable wins.
Signs of evolution and change are what is now required and he can be sure that critics will already be lining up ready should his team fail their next challenges.
Trust in the squad
A similar message of patience was sent out by Pellegrini after last weekend’s defeat left the Hammers emptied-handed two games into the new season.
The quick turnaround in fortunes coupled with their dissipating belief throughout the second half saw West Ham eventually limp to defeat in their first home match. This was enough to send thousands of home supporters to the exits early as they too lost belief in the team.
Pellegrini added that his players looked nervous during the game and with six new players on the pitch at the end of the game, they should be afforded time to grow into their new environment rather than being painted with a historic brush.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 West Ham United
Both teams come into this match with a similar record and similar problems. The fact both teams have strong attacks and deficiencies at the back suggest this should be an open and entertaining clash but both managers will be keen to improve their side’s solidity going forwards.
With the stronger midfield and a game at home, Arsenal should be the side to come out on top from this meeting and they could do so with a clean sheet. 2-0
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