West Ham United’s hectic festive fixture list continues later this evening as they make the short trip across London to face Arsenal in the Premier League.
Only a few days ago, the Irons were held by Burnley up at Turf Moor, making it just one win in their last four matches across all competitions. And heading into kick-off, their place inside the top four is at risk as the Gunners could leapfrog them with a victory at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
This encounter will be their fifth game since the turn of the month, so manager David Moyes has plenty to ponder in terms of team selection, not least because he is dealing with substantial injury problems in defence.
Both Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma seem likely to be out for the majority – if not all of – the remainder of the season, whilst academy gem Ben Johnson has only just returned to training this week and doubts still linger over Aaron Cresswell, who has not been seen since the Manchester City defeat.
However, having kept a clean sheet with the four players to replace the aforementioned quartet, it is in attack where the worry may lie as the Hammers registered only three shots on target from 16 attempts against the Clarets. It was also another blank for Michail Antonio, who has scored only once in ten games now.
Is it a case of him not being provided with adequate service? Or him being completely knackered from the sheer volume of minutes as Moyes’ only senior striker? Perhaps a combination of both.
It’s a catch 22 for the Scot as he cannot really turn to any other options in the role, having not signed a backup forward in nearly two years now, so it would be wise for him to help support him in the best way he can and that may be through the introduction of Pablo Fornals, who has been snubbed in successive league games for the first time this season.
The £18m-rated dynamo would be a far better option than Said Benrahma, whose struggles continue just like with Antonio. The Irons’ squad cannot afford to carry the pair of them against a side like Arsenal.
Benrahma has provided just one goal and one assist in his last 14 league appearances and six games without either, per Transfermarkt.
By contrast, the Spain international has doubled that tally (two goals, two assists) in the same timeframe and on his day, he could hold the keys to unlocking the Gunners’ defence this evening.
In terms of average WhoScored rating, Fornals edges Benrahma too, whilst he is also clear for creating chances, averaging 1.4 key passes per outing, 0.3 more than the Algerian.
According to club legend Trevor Sinclair, the attacking maestro has been a bargain at £25m for the club.
“Fornals’ rise has been incredible. [Spurs midfielder Giovani] Lo Celso has stood still, gone backwards,” he claimed to talkSPORT last month. “Two players who were on level pegging – one of them is absolutely flying and the other one’s gone backwards. Look at what Pablo Fornals is doing now at West Ham – he’s done unbelievable.”
Mikel Arteta’s Gunners side have been a little suspect against the teams inside the top six this season and Moyes can continue that trend by unleashing Fornals back into his starting XI here in north London this evening.
AND in other news, Moyes handed big West Ham injury boost this week…