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West Ham United v Arsenal

Filed: Friday, 2nd December 2016
By: Preview Percy

Preview Percy is grumpy at the best of times. And these are far from being the best of times. Here's his look at this weekend's visit of Arsenal. By way of light relief the good people at www.kickoff.co.uk will be along with some interesting information.....

Next up is Arsenal at home. 5.30pm kick-off for the benefit of those who watch football in a phone box or something. It’s quieter than usual on the engineering works front this weekend, though the Barking-Gospel Oak route is still out until February. Also if C2C is your preferred mode of transport, direct services via Stratford will cease at about 20:30 on Saturday evening, though services will continue to run to/from Fenchurch Street so you’ll have to travel via West Ham if that’s your route.

Arsenal then. 4th in the league with 28 points from 13 games. Through to their usual position as stepping stone for better teams to the quarter finals of the so-called Champions League. They reached the quarter final of the League Cup but went out by virtue of their fielding a few more second string players than Southampton did on Wednesday night. Their last league outing saw them beat Bournemouth 3-1 last weekend. The result flattered them somewhat and, had Bournemouth been slightly more clinical in front of goal at critical moments, the resulting lead would have been well-deserved. Oh and it helped them that Mike Jones deliberately rewrote the law on handball for a few moments.

I often think that Preview Alastair (The Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered’s resident Geordie) would make a good manager of Arsenal. This is based purely on the fact that, like Wenger, he has an inbuilt reluctance to stick his hand in his pocket, unless it’s to go through the theatrical charade of searching himself before announcing “oh damn I’ve just realised I left my wallet at home” (“home” meaning Gosforth and “Just” meaning about 55 years ago). This parsimony is something that divides the Arsenal support with a number of intelligent people having called for Wenger's replacement. And Piers Morgan as well.

For all that they did bring in five players to the first team squad during the summer. The work experience girl wearing a New Seekers t-shirt (no, it was “The Seekers” last time out”) without knowing who they are informs me that the biggest fee shelled out was the £35m paid to Valencia for central defender Shkrodan Mustafi. Despite the distinctly un-teutonic moniker, Mustafi is a full German international, having been born there to Macedonian parents of Albanian extraction.

Although he started off in the Hamburg youth system he was snapped up by Everton as a 17-year-old, spending three seasons in their academy. He made just the one first XI appearance, a late sub cameo in a Thursday Night League match in 2009 but despite a few appearances in the racing car seats that was pretty much it for his Everton career. He then moved to Sampdoria spending a couple of years there until 2014 when Valencia came a knocking. He was part of the side amusingly-managed for a while by Gary Neville and played in the side that hilariously lost 7-0 to Barcelona. For a while anyway – he picked up a straight red card for a foul on Lionel Messi in the first half of that particular match. Which probably didn’t help their cause any.

Despite qualifying for Albania, when international recognition came knocking he made the oh-so-tricky decision to plump for Germany and he has been capped by them throughout the various age groups from U16 to full level. He is the proud possessor of 15 German caps, which are still nowhere near as funny as their Dutch equivalent. He also considers himself a devout Muslim so there won’t be any tales of him getting tanked up and remodelling someone’s garden wall using only his car.

There is an Albanian connection to their other big signing of the summer Granit Xhaka. A £30m capture from Borussia Monchengladbach, the Basle-born Swiss-international is also of Albanian extraction, his parents being emigres from the Albanian bit of Kosovo. (It gets a bit complicated down in that bit of what we used to call Yugoslavia). In fact his brother Taulant, who was also born in Basle does in fact represent Albania at international level and the two brothers were in opposition in Euro 2016 as the Swiss beat Albania 1-0 in their group stage opener.

This resulted in Mummy Xhaka watching the game in a t-shirt that was half Swiss Flag and half Albanian. Possibly a wise move as, with two professional footballer sons you wouldn’t want to upset the one that ends up paying for the home you end up in. I mean annoy the wrong son and you could end up in whatever the Albanian version of the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered is. In the meantime my lack of linguistic ability in Albanian means that I cannot pass judgement on whether the names “Granit” and “Taulent” represent parental pretentiousness or are just coincidental homonyms for something quite ordinary in Albanian.

There was some talk that the Xhaka brothers might also condescend to play for the newly-formed (in football political terms) Kosovo, who have just been allowed into FIFA. However Granit came out and stated that as far as he knew his participation in Euro 2016 precluded his changing nationality in football terms, something that came as a relief to Mummy who had been desperately working out how to incorporate the map-festooned Kosovan flag into an already dodgy t-shirt. So far claims that Xhaka (G) is the “young Schweinsteiger” have not really been fulfilled, mainly because, unlike the “old Schweinsteiger” Xhaka’s manager has actually been picking him from time to time.

Something like £17m was shelled out on Spanish striker Lucas Perez (aka “Lucas”) who arrived from Deportivo in the summer. Now I think over the years you all know me to be a pretty old-fashioned traditional sort. Yes I understand squad numbers but, if we must have them, certain numbers should still have a certain mystique about them. The no.10 worn by Brooking for example. For another example Preview Alastair tells me that his fellow Geordies get quite fussy about who should wear their no 9. So you’d think Lucas would be quite important to the cause given that he has Arsenal’s no 9 shirt, wouldn’t you.

Er, no. So far he’s been more of a “League Cup” player. He’s started twice in that competition but has only the one start in the league and half of his six appearances in total have come from the racing car seats. Now I have no problem with them spending £17m on what appears to be a squad player – at 28 without international recognition that boat seems to have departed. However, there ought to be a law against giving a player the no.9 shirt if he’s not going to be a major first XI contender. Like kicking the ball backwards at the restart, football boots that aren’t black and Piers Morgan’s opinion on anything whatsoever it’s just not right.

The other (nominal) additions to the first XI squad were Japanese striker Takuno Asano and English defender Rob Holding. Asano was described by Wenger as “talented”, “one for the future” and “exciting and in no way signed with one eye on those lucrative Asian markets”. The chappies at the Immigration Service weren’t overly impressed however and refused the player a work permit. So they sent him off to Stuttgart on loan, German immigration rules for this sort of thing apparently being more accommodating.

I guess it’s very much a sign of the times that Holding’s signing was seen as unusual in that it saw the ascent of an English player from the lower divisions into the top flight. You youngsters may find this hard to believe but when I was a lad this was standard practice. As a defender, Holding will of course suffer from having that name on the back of his shirt, though the rumour that Steve Gerrard’s recent retirement was due to his belief that he would have to have “Diving” on the back of his shirt can be discounted – he’d have been 3rd or 4th choice for that shirt in the current Liverpool team.

Top scorer at the moment is Chilean Alexis Sanchez. He has chipped in with 8 goals in the league to date and is a nippy mobile little bugger. He was on target twice in their win last weekend, his first capitalising on some sloppy defensive play. Just saying.

They have a few on the treatment table over there. It was revealed that Cazorla will now be out until the March after it was agreed that his plantaris injury wasn’t going to get better any time soon on its own. Olivier Giroud has had a groin strain and faces a fitness test for the weekend. Another long term absentee will be Debuchy (who I would refer to as “Claude” if I thought any of you were cultured enough to get the joke). He made his first appearance for over a year against the Cherries last weekend but that appearance lasted for about 15 minutes as his hamstring went ping. Debuchy was in for the usual right back Bellerin whose ankle will keep him out for a couple more weeks. Ideal time for our wing-backs to be playing them then. Oh…..damn.

Us then. Wednesday? Disappointing and annoying in equal amounts. I had hoped for a stronger team to be fielded though I quite appreciate the thinking behind the five changes made. So much for the disappointing stuff. I was annoyed at the efforts – and I use that word quite wrongly – of some of the players that were on display the other night. Take Payet. Now I love the little guy as much as anyone (in a manly football way and in no way girly manner of course). He has provided me with some of my best footballing moments of the last couple of years. However, if he was actually interested on Wednesday night he did a damned fine job of hiding it.

I was reminded of a certain P. Ince during that period when he was employed by West Ham United FC but was acting under instructions from tax dodger Ferguson. When he had finally stopped lying to John Lyall about non-existent injuries he stood on the half-way line avoiding getting involved in the game to ensure that he didn’t pick up a real injury. Payet’s lack of interest for the second goal where he stood and watched after giving the ball away was astonishingly bad. He didn’t even get within the two yards that was normally enough to produce a dive on the night.
I would like to think that, talisman or no, he was told in no uncertain terms that that sort of performance was not acceptable.

Over the years we’ve been spoilt by some of the most outrageous talent to grace a football pitch but one of the things that we’ve always appreciated as supporters is the honest efforts of a grafter. The sort of player that might not have the natural skills of a Brooking but made the most of what they did have. I guess the ultimate in that respect must have been Billy Bonds. I’m not saying Bonzo wasn’t talented – far from it – but I would say that his determination, guts and willingness to put his body on the line for the team made him ten times the player than some more technically gifted players that came and went over the many years he was involved in the club. I would sit Payet – and others – down and spend an hour in front of the box playing a DVD of Bonzo’s finest moments to them pointing out that Bonzo knew what the shirt meant and that it’s now time for them to prove that they do. I can take defeat – after all these years one gets used to it. I can’t take players not giving it a go.

Rant over. We did of course pick up a few injuries. It’s the law. Cresswell spent the first half being kicked by Valencia, who eventually picked up a yellow for his fourth niggly challenge. Antonio also went lame. Worryingly, both injuries are listed as being muscular in nature, the best prescription for which usually involves a lot of rest. With Cresswell out, Masuaku will probably deputise on the left.

On the right, well Byram is out for God knows how long. We do have a right back on the books of course in the shape of Arbeola. However, the Spaniard is believed to have blotted his copybook with the manager who is not one to take prisoners, as players from Amalfitano to Zarate will attest. He’s not had much in the way of football for some time now so it would be a surprise to see him for this one, even assuming that he is still in the country. On the bright side, Reece Oxford is listed as being ready for a return though whether he will have had the chance to build up enough strength to run around with Ozil in his pocket again is a good question.

Carroll? They tell us he's in the squad. He may be back, possibly not. I’ve given up trying to work out how many months we are into the four to six weeks he I going to be out. I’d love to see him back for this one – he scared the bejasus out of them last season and must be chomping at the bit to get back.

Prediction? Well after the way we played on Wednesday it’s difficult to see us getting anything out of the game, especially if injuries mean we have to field another weakened team. Which is a shame because Bournemouth proved last weekend that this is not a particularly good Arsenal side and you can cause problems if you get at them. We don’t seem capable of getting at teams in that manner at the moment so I must therefore predict that we will be defeated this weekend. I will therefore hasten to Winstones The Turf Accountants to place a wager using the £2.50 I was going to spend on new glasses for Wenger on a 3-1 win for the visitors.

Enjoy the game!

When last we met at the Boleyn: Drew 3-3 (League April 2016) The visitors raced into a 2-0 lead through Iwobi and Ozil, largely due to ref Pawson’s unilateral repeal of the offside law. Enter Andy Carroll. A hat-trick within 8 minutes of playing time either side of the interval gave us a deserved 3-2 lead only for Koscielny to nick them a point. A result that finally holed their title bid, such as it was, below the waterline.

Referee: Craig Pawson. I suspect that they keep giving the same referees the same fixture each year because they can’t be trusted to find their way anywhere else. So expect a late kick-off as a confused official stands scratching his head at a pile of rubble in Green Street.

Danger Man: Alexis Sanchez. In a wee bit of form at the moment

Percy’s Poser: In midweek we asked you why all the blood drains from Alex Ferguson’s face every time he hears the word “Eclipse”? Well Eclipse is the name of the tax-avoidance scheme that has been ruled out of bounds by the good people at HMRC. This means that anyone who invested in the scheme will have to shell out something like twenty times their original investment in tax interest and penalties. Well done Mrs Davinia Hartnett of Herongate for being the first name drawn out of the digital hat, winning Paul Pogba’s unread copy of the Steven Gerrard book “How to Dive Convincingly”. Well done Davinia!

For this week’s poser we ask “Why were a number of Arsenal players transferred or loaned out to European clubs in something of a hurry back in 2001?” The first correct answer out of the digital hat will win a copy of Arsen Wenger’s difficult to obtain book “Improve Your Eyesight The Natural Way” – the gripping tale of how the Arsenal boss learned to see things without incurring expensive opticians’ bills. Well some things anyway.

Good luck!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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