Arsenal are entering one of the biggest periods of their recent history. On Boxing Day, they resume their Premier League campaign against West Ham United. Although the Hammers have struggled for consistency this season, they are a dangerous outfit. It is important for the Gunners to pick up where they left off if they are to seriously challenge Manchester City for the league title. During the week, City looked very good against Liverpool and we know they are able to reel off long winning streaks. The five point lead at the top isn’t big enough for Mikel Arteta to rest easily.
At the beginning of the season, a top four finish would have been viewed as a big success for Arsenal. They haven’t been in the Champions League since Arsene Wenger’s time in charge and a return to Europe’s top table is necessary for their continued growth. However, expectations will be resetting now as they have a good chance to compete for the league title. Gabriel Jesus’ injury has been a blow and they will need to deal with his absence. If they maintain their high level of performance, they should feel confident they can at the very least push City all the way.
West Ham will be hoping for considerable improvement following the World Cup break. They are in 16th position, just one point clear of the bottom three. This is a disappointment, as they would have expected to be competing for European qualification again. Although they remain in the Europa Conference League, they will know how important it is to improve in the league. David Moyes has overseen some impressive victories over top six teams since returning to the club.
Before the World Cup break, Arsenal had won three successive Premier League matches without conceding a goal.
West Ham were on a very different run of form, losing four of their last five Premier League matches.
The absence of Jesus will put pressure on the rest of the attack to step up. Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli will need to take on more creative roles, due to the presence of Eddie Nketiah. Unlike Jesus, Nketiah won’t drop deep to link the play. Instead, he needs service to score goals. He is excellent in the final third when he gets opportunities. Arteta will need to make sure the attack is tuned to do that. Saka had a better World Cup than Martinelli, as he played more frequently and scored three goals. It was a positive showing and he underlined why he is a huge talent for club and country. At the age of 21, he is ready to test himself in the Champions League and it looks very likely he will do that with Arsenal. With four goals and six assists, it has been a positive start to the league season for Saka. There is a very good chance that he will beat his return from last season of 11 goals and 7 assists. 2023 could be another year of progression for the Hale End graduate.
It has been a good 12 months for Jarrod Bowen. However, he will have been disappointed to have missed the World Cup. If it had been held in the summer as usual, he would have been a certainty to be in the squad. The challenge for him is to pick himself up and return to his best for West Ham. He is still young enough to play at the next World Cup and he will be a player that Gareth Southgate is keeping a close eye on ahead of Euro 2024 qualification. This season has been underwhelming for Bowen, as he has scored two and failed to register a single assist. This is a long way off his 2021/22 numbers of 12 goals and 10 assists. It was during this part of the season that he caught fire towards the end of 2021. Moyes will be hoping for a similar impact over the coming weeks and months. The break may turn out to be beneficial for Bowen.
William Saliba is a major doubt after returning from the French squad. Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu are both doubts for the Boxing Day game. Oleksandr Zinchenko, Reiss Nelson and Jesus will all be unavailable for the league leaders.
West Ham have their own share of injury concerns. Michail Antonio and Maxwel Cornet are both doubts for the trip to the Emirates Stadium. Gianluca Scamacca rolled his ankle last week and his involvement is unknown at this time. Aaron Cresswell, Nayef Aguerd and Kurt Zouma are all unlikely to feature.
This is going to be a difficult return to action for Arsenal. With Brighton, Newcastle and Tottenham to follow, this feels like a big period of Arsenal’s season. There is a lot of jeopardy in these fixtures with all four teams capable of taking points from the league leaders. On paper, this looks like the easiest game of the four. With that in mind, the Gunners should be able to restart their campaign with a win. The injuries to West Ham will hamper them, especially in attack.
Arsenal 2-0 West Ham United