Arsenal’s show of resilience and character may have secured all three points against a QPR side that came to life after Olivier Giroud was sent off for a silly head butt at the Emirates, but the gunners will know that the real hard work will begin when they face West Ham in another London derby on Sunday afternoon.
Olivier Giroud’s uncharacteristic but nonetheless senseless moment of madness has made an already difficult task all the more perilous as Wenger’s rotation options ahead of a tricky run of fixtures have gone from being limited to being virtually nonexistent.
With that in mind, the possible return of Laurent Koscielny becomes even more pressing as he may be needed to assist Per Mertesacker in handling the twin aerial threats of Diafra Sakho and Andy Carroll as well as provide some pace to nullify the threat of West Ham’s pace on the break.
The major dilemma the gunners’ will face tactically will be whether to persist with the 4-3-3 that has served them so well in recent games, or switch to a more cautious 4-2-3-1 to compensate for the loss of Giroud in attack.
The temptation may be to favour the latter course of action especially considering that this is an away game against a tough opponent, who despite losing their last game against Chelsea will consider themselves favourites to claim a major scalp against an Arsenal side that is severely depleted by injury. If this is the case, expect the same starting eleven that started out against QPR to start at the Boleyn ground with the possible exceptions of Koscielny (if he is fit) coming in for Monreal, and Coquelin pairing Flamini as one of the two deeper lying midfielders. Sánchez, Cazorla and Rosicky will in this instance occupy the three advanced midfield slots leaving Welbeck to plough a lone furrow upfront.
The other option may involve sticking with a 4-3-3 and bringing in Yaya Sanogo to operate alongside Sánchez and Welbeck in a front three. This scenario will in all likelihood mean that the midfield trio of Rosický, Cazorla and Flamini may very well be maintained with the aim of deploying the nimble footed Spaniard and the 34 year old Czech midfielder to assist the front three in pressing against Alex Song and the West Ham back four. The major drawback with this approach is that it will require prodigious levels of energy to execute which considering the gunners’ exertions in having to play almost the entire second half of the encounter against QPR with ten men, may simply be asking too much.
The key to coming away with a credible result against the Hammers, however, may depend more on how Wenger’s charges are able to cope with the aerial threat of Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho, than on what they can do in attack. The most effective way of nullifying this twin threat is by cutting off the supply from the West Ham wing backs, likely to be Cresswell and Joey O’Brien. The good news here for Arsenal fans is that in Alexis Sánchez and Danny Welbeck, they have two hard workers who are more than willing to track back and do their bit for the team.
For Sánchez, his absolutely astounding work ethic has been a recurring feature of Arsenal’s season so far, with Thursday’s man of the match performance being just the latest example of an occasion where the Gunners have been beholden to the extraordinary Chilean for the three points. The dilemma for Wenger has to be when to take him out of the firing line, but considering the importance of the next two games for Arsenal’s season, he may just have to soldier on, for the moment.
Sunday’s game presents an extremely tough test of mettle for the Gunners and the consequences of a defeat at the hands of West Ham simply do not bear contemplating. For all the talk of a lack of mental strength, Wenger’s charges have come through similar tests at crucial periods in recent seasons. Surviving the West Ham challenge this time around will no doubt require all the reserves of willpower and resilience that the Gunners no doubt possess. Their difficult start to the season notwithstanding, the quality this Arsenal team no doubt still has, particularly in forward areas, means that it is a test they are still expected to pass.