Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side face West Ham United at Upton Park on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Sam Allardyce has often caused Arsenal problems with his brand of long-ball football, but West Ham United’s fine performances this season have featured more free-flowing, attractive football than we’ve come to expect.
That said, West Ham still play directly, and Arsenal will be in for a big aerial test at Upton Park.
The return to fitness and form of Andy Carroll provides a towering presence up front, and he’s excellent at getting on the end of long balls and set-pieces. Arsenal have looked particularly nervous when defending dead-ball situations in recent weeks, and Carroll will be a huge threat.
West Ham’s system is unusual. They play a diamond midfield with two strikers - Enner Valencia or Diafra Sakho should partner Carroll - but still play with great width, and cross the ball frequently.
The forwards are capable of peeling wide, the full backs bomb forward aggressively, but there are also plenty of direct passes from central positions too.
There are two reasons for this. First, Stewart Downing is fielded at the top of the midfield, essentially as a No 10. He drifts across the pitch into pockets of space before playing good balls into the box, and has been in excellent form this season.
Secondly, ex-Arsenal star Alex Song plays at the base of the midfield. Gunners fans will remember the way he developed into a deep-lying playmaker, hitting a succession of great balls towards Robin van Persie in his final campaign, and he supplies West Ham’s forwards similarly.
Two of Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan and Cheickou Kayoute should complete the diamond. Noble is a reliable battler who keeps his passing simple, Nolan is a hard worker who loves getting on the end of Carroll’s knock-downs, and Kayoute is a good all-rounder who can drive forward into attack.
"This is a big test for Arsenal, and the aerial power of Carroll might dominate the game"
At the back, West Ham have also improved significantly since last season - the increased availability of Winston Reid has been particularly crucial here - although right back Carl Jenkinson will be unable to play against his parent club, so Joey O’Brien is likely to deputise.
Upton Park is always a difficult away trip, but it’s been a long time since West Ham have boasted such a good side. This is a big test for Arsenal, and the aerial power of Carroll might dominate the game.
The graphic below, depicting goalkeeper Adrian’s balls to Carroll during last season’s fixture at the Emirates, shows West Ham are keen to get the ball forward quickly.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.