How Arsenal Can Beat West Ham in Saturday's Premier League Clash
Like those who seduced Rita Hayworth, the actress who portrayed the legendary cinematic character Gilda, Arsenal fans went to bed last Friday night with a dream, only to wake up to reality.
It was Premier League high-fliers Chelsea who handed the Gunners their first loss of the season Saturday, sapping some of the optimism that had coursed through the veins of many in North London throughout much of September.
This season's tactical renaissance, sparked in great part by the promotion of Steve Bould, may be resulting in dominant, fluid midfield passing, but in a broader sense, the club's ability to grind out results in tight games still remains an issue.
It was not only a shockingly clinical Fernando Torres giving Laurent Koscielny an absolute nightmare for most of the game, but certain attacking players (not naming any names, but...Gervinho) also letting the side down with poor finishing and elephantine first touches.
The Gunners' ongoing defensive weakness from set pieces was also exploited by a cold, calculated Juan Mata last weekend, whose influence handed Arsene Wenger's side a 2-1 home defeat.
So with Andy Carroll, the footballing version of Bond villain Jaws, coming to town Saturday, one might reasonably expect stopping him to be the key to the Gunners' game plan.
Nope. West Ham's monstrous striker may have been the perfect player for Sam Allardyce teams of the past, but having watched the side in recent games, Big Sam's penchant for route-one football may be becoming a thing of the past.
So is the dainty-in-appearance, tough-in-reality central midfielder Mark Noble then the key to an upset at the Boleyn Ground this weekend?
Nope, wrong again.
Stopping the box-to-box general Kevin Nolan will be the most pertinent issue Wenger must address in the pregame tactical meetings.
As a (mostly) bipartisan football fan, watching Nolan play is the British footballing equivalent to poetry. I could wax lyrical about him for hours—his ability to attack the opposition area at exactly the right moments, whilst sitting in front of the back line when his team is in need of defensive relief.
Despite having turned 30 this year, he remains surprisingly agile as well, turning on the ball with a quickness that rubbishes claims he's the "anti-Xavi."
If Matt Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te are to have any significant part to play in the game, Nolan's distribution to the flanks will be vital, too.
He has been one of the most efficient players of the Premier League season so far, despite fellow upstarts Michu and Marouane Fellaini dominating the ink in newspaper reports.
So how can the Gunners stop him from operating in the middle of the park without their own midfield commander Abou Diaby on hand to do the job?
Zonal marking means Wenger can't deploy a spoiler to stay close to him throughout the game. Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin aren't that type of player anyway.
They must rather squeeze him out of contention, bringing Santi Cazorla further back to provide a third body whilst on the back foot. The midfield is likely to be a dense crowd of players, but preventing quick distribution to Jarvis, Carroll and Vaz Te is a must.
In attack, the wings must be better utilised—Lukas Podolski and most likely Aaron Ramsey are to play as big a part in proceedings as they have this season.
Laurent Koscielny has to add more steel to the defence than he has in the past couple of games, but with full-backs Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs playing such able football, there is little other reason for concern at the back.
If it is Gervinho who retains his place in attack over Olivier Giroud, it goes without saying that the skinny Ivorian needs to be clinical when given the opportunity in front of goal.
All this being said, Arsenal did play a blinder in their 3-1 win over Greek side Olympiacos on Wednesday night, Gervinho especially bouncing back from some horrible games against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
But West Ham are the kind of "grind 'em" team that has always caused Wenger teams problems in the past, and in my opinion, Saturday's match will be as tough a test as City and Chelsea proved in recent weeks.
But if Arsenal are to be the title contenders that many believe them capable of, a win is a must.
Otherwise, Gunners fans can keep dreaming.
Can Arsenal get a much-needed win at West Ham?
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