Gun­ners, West Ham need to start fir­ing

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT -

LON­DON: When Manuel Pel­le­grini and Unai Emery were ap­pointed within a day of each other in May, nei­ther could have en­vis­aged that when their Premier League teams met for the first time three months later, West Ham United and Arse­nal would be joint bot­tom and point­less.

Two games is no mea­sure of a sea­son, and both were handed the hard­est pos­si­ble open­ing fix­ture, but their poor starts have given to­day’s derby at the Emi­rates an un­ex­pected edge as each scram­bles to kick­start a re­sponse.

Both man­agers have ar­rived with a bag­ful of ex­pe­ri­ence and tro­phies with Arse­nal boss Emery a mul­ti­ple Europa League win­ner with Sevilla and West Ham’s Pel­le­grini a Premier League cham­pion with Manch­ester City.

Each can ex­pect the time to en­sure they ad­just af­ter se­cur­ing the all-im­por­tant first win.

Of the two, Emery has taken on ar­guably the greater chal­lenge, suc­ceed­ing Arsene Wenger at a club need­ing to re­assert its top-four po­ten­tial.

Former Arse­nal play­ers have a vo­cal place in the Bri­tish me­dia and are di­vided about what they have seen so far from the Spa­niard.

Ray Par­lour and Alan Smith both praised the way he was quick to make changes in the two de­feats, sub­sti­tut­ing Aaron Ram­sey af­ter 53 min­utes against Manch­ester City and Me­sut Ozil in the 68th minute at Chelsea.

“That’s a strong state­ment to make in th­ese early weeks, when ev­ery­one is try­ing to come to terms with the man­ager’s meth­ods. A lack of ac­count­abil­ity, af­ter all, had marred Arsene Wenger’s last few years,” wrote Smith in the Evening Stan­dard.

“Ir­re­spec­tive of per­for­mance, you never got the feel­ing Ozil would be dropped un­der Wenger. If fit, the in­con­sis­tent play­maker seemed guar­an­teed a place.”

Un­der Wenger, Ram­sey and Ozil started a com­bined to­tal of 45 games last sea­son but the ar­rival of Lu­cas Tor­reira from Sam­p­do­ria and Mat­teo Guen­douzi, ar­guably Arse­nal’s best player in their first two games, from Lori­ent has added com­pe­ti­tion.

The fact that Tor­reira has not started yet has sur­prised an­other former player, Tony Adams, who felt that Emery has presided over two Wenger-like per­for­mances, with Arse­nal lack­ing the sort of de­fen­sive steel the Uruguay World Cup mid­fielder was pre­sum­ably bought to pro­vide.

“I felt so sad about that. Ev­ery­one knows what Arse­nal have been miss­ing – it’s that steel, that re­silience,” wrote Adams in The Sun. “Whether Emery can coach it or not I don’t know yet, it is early days.”

Such ar­gu­ments over Arse­nal’s mid­field will not be lost on former Gun­ner Jack Wil­shere, who will play for West Ham to­day af­ter be­ing told in a 15-minute con­ver­sa­tion with Emery that he did not fea­ture in his plans af­ter 197 ap­pear­ances for the club.

Wil­shere’s qual­ity has never been in doubt but his poor in­jury record made a part­ing likely and he has faced a tough open­ing to his West Ham ca­reer with a 4-0 thump­ing at Liver­pool fol­lowed by an em­bar­rass­ing 2-1 cave-in at home to Bournemouth.

The lack of pace at the heart of West Ham’s mid­field, where Wil­shere has part­nered Mark No­ble, has been ques­tioned by pun­dits and fans. Pel­le­grini is likely to be forced into a change to­day with cap­tain No­ble un­likely to be fit, with Pe­dro Obiang set to come in.

West Ham spent the equiv­a­lent of around R1,8-bil­lion on new play­ers in the close sea­son and Pel­le­grini said he is un­con­cerned about the poor start.

“If you re­view my ca­reer, at Vil­lar­real, at Malaga, at Manch­ester City, the first games that I man­aged were never good games,” he said, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that some of West Ham’s de­fen­sive work against Bournemouth had been unim­pres­sive.

Any re­peat to­day will sharply crank up the pres­sure.

Mean­while, Bournemouth have of­fered a glimpse of their po­ten­tial with two vic­to­ries in as many Premier League games but can­not let their strong start lead to com­pla­cency, man­ager Ed­die Howe said yes­ter­day.

Bournemouth beat pro­moted Cardiff City 2-0 in their sea­son opener and fol­lowed it up with a 2-1 win at West Ham last week­end to main­tain their 100 per­cent record ahead of to­day’s league clash with Ever­ton.

“I think we’ve shown in the two games some good signs of what the team could be, glimpses of what the fu­ture may hold, but we’ve still got to de­liver that and we know in the Premier League how dif­fi­cult that can be,” Howe told re­porters.

The south coast club signed mid­fielder Jef­fer­son Lerma in the close sea­son but the Colom­bia in­ter­na­tional has yet to ap­pear for the club af­ter play­ing at the World Cup in Rus­sia.

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