West Ham 1 – 0 Arsenal: Fourth is starting to look like mission impossible

Our 3-1 victory against the Hammers in August flattered us so I knew this was going to be a tough game. However, I didn’t think we would lose. West Ham were by far the better team and fully deserved the three points. Felipe Anderson was a menace, Samir Nasri rolled back the clock and man of the match Declan Rice won the battle of the teenagers against Guendouzi in centre midfield. Anything can happen in football, but fourth place is starting to look like mission impossible. 

With tough fixtures against Chelsea and Man City on the horizon, we needed the three points. On reflection, my pre-match optimism was misplaced as we have been dreadful away from home. In fact, we have been awful since the North London derby and our four biggest problems are:

1 Injuries 

The injuries to Bellerin, Monreal, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck and Holding have cost us dearly. I sympathise with the manager as no top team can deal with that many injuries to their first team squad. Even Man City with their embarrassment of riches struggled when David Silva and Aguero picked up injuries at the tail end of 2018. When will our rotten luck with injuries improve!

2 Lack of match winners around the pitch

If Lacazette or Aubameyang have a bad game we are in trouble, as we simply don’t have enough match winners. This is where I have to criticise the manger as his reluctance to include Aaron Ramsey or Mesut Ozil has robbed us of would be match winners. Iwobi has been great, but unlike Ozil or Ramsey, he is not a threat in front of goal. I understand that Emery is looking to the future where he sees an Arsenal side without the duo, but with our current injury list, I think a bit more pragmatism is needed. Sometimes you have to play the cards you are dealt.

3 Individual errors and inability to keep clean sheets

The defending against West Ham, for the most part was much better, but again a lapse in concentration cost us the game. The Declan Rice goal was avoidable. Xhaka was the main culprit with a poor clearance, but the all-round lackadaisical response to the second ball was worrying.   At the moment we go into every game knowing we need to score at least two to win and that is particularly difficult away from home.

4 Away form

We are starting to look like the Arsenal of last year away from home. We have only taken two points from the last five away games and are yet to have a half time lead away from home. I feel we need to be more direct as teams are finding it too comfortable to defend against us.

A few January signings won’t solve these problems

Like most fans I firmly believe we need to recruit better talent, but I’m not convinced a few January signings is the solution. Yes Stan Kroenke’s reluctance to bankroll big transfers is a concern, but we have far more issues to address. We have a bloated squad that lacks quality and balance, no captain and are unable to defend like a top four team. With a wage bill similar to Liverpool, it’s clear that before any further transfers are sanctioned, a few players need to be shipped out. As I have said before, I would rather wait until the summer and get a Harry Maguire than a Mehdi Benatia now. We need to start recruiting players we can build the club around and not stop gaps.

Next five games

With the resurgence of Manchester United, we are going to need 12 points from the next five games to keep pace with the race for fourth. However, with our current form and inability to keep clean sheets, it’s hard to see how that can be achieved.

1 Chelsea: Home

2 Cardiff: Home

3 Man City: Away

4 Huddersfield: Away

5 Southampton: Home