If there was one overriding lesson to be learned from Arsenal’s comfortable 3-0 win over West Ham in midweek, it’s that the Hammers are an awful football team.
But that aside, there were elements about the way we played that may actually be of use as we prepare for the trip to Selhurst Park on Monday night, to take on Sam Allardyce’s Eagles.
I think in particular of the pretty cohesive display from midfield pairing Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny.
Arsene Wenger has struggled all season to find a midfield combination that has shown any signs of consistency, with almost every conceivable pairing taking to the field at some point.
The manager’s preferred combination, and arguably the most effective in recent seasons, has been Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, but with the little Spaniard again missing a large part of this season, the Frenchman has been forced to shuffle his pack time and again, with little success.
Injury has played a part in that conundrum, but there were signs on Wednesday that the Egyptian and the Swiss had a half-way functioning partnership that made us look, dare I say it, organised.
It’s important to note that one game does not a partnership make but it was encouraging to see the side show signs of organisation and solidity, something the team has been without for months, at the very least since we last played Crystal Palace back in December.
Against the Hammers, Xhaka had 133 touches – leading the side – while Elneny made 80 – which ranked third. The Swiss attempted 120 passes – again leading the team – while the Eyptian made 71 – which ranked him third again. Between them, they also notched up seven tackles and two blocks.
In short, these guys were the engine room and they were ticking over throughout, and not only in defence – they also accrued five shots between them as they supported the attack.
According to the club’s official figures, they covered 22.5km between them during the course of the game, and also won 13 duels.
You could argue that is just the sort of industry we have been missing in recent months as we have been outworked and outsmarted in defeats against Liverpool, Chelsea, and in a slightly fortuitous draw with Manchester City.
It’s worth bearing in mind that West Ham are not of the same calibre of the aforementioned teams but they were still fairly well organised and worked hard, particularly in the first half. That Emi Martinez was largely untroubled in the Arsenal goal had a good deal to do with the hard work in midfield, as well as the defence.
It seems logical therefore, that Elneny and Xhaka should be given another chance to test and develop their partnership against Palace. Shoehorning Alex Oxlade Chamberlain or Francis Coquelin back into the side now would seem counter-productive, at least until we have allowed the former pairing to really put their relationship to the test.
The Eagles were provide a sterner test that West Ham but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fallible, after all they have conceded 50 goals and lie in 16th place – two points behind the Hammers.
But they remain very capable at home despite that. You only have to look at the surprise victory over Chelsea to know that they have a performance up their sleeve should they click, and they still need points on the board to secure their Premier League safety this season.
In order to get the win, then, we are going to need to see the same sort of focus and discipline we saw at the Emirates this week, and what better way to achieve that than by fielding the same starting XI that produced the original result?
It is, of course, a no brainer and I’m even a little excited to see whether Elneny and Xhaka can reproduce their performance, allowing the likes of Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil the security and freedom to cause the sort of havoc of which they are well capable going forward.
Adding his two pennies’ worth when questioned after the game, Arsene said:
“The fact that the speed of our passing [was there]. In the heart of the game, it is not only the quality of the passing but the speed of our passing that is needed for the way we want to play, because we have quick strikers so it’s important that we feed them quickly.
“On that front, the quality, the speed of the decision making becomes very important.”
“I must say that our passing was quite good, our combinations were good and the continuity of our concentration defensively during the 90 minutes was very positive.”
So there you have it, the Egyptian/Swiss combination has every impressed for the moment. Let us hope they are given the chance to do so again on Monday, because we need to give ourselves the best chance of bagging the three points in another must-win match.