15 mins: Odegaard dances across the edge of the West Ham penalty area, but his attempted pass to Martinelli is cut out.
13 mins: This time Odegaard, who’s pulling all the strings here, does find Xhaka, but his right-footed 20-yarder is feeble.
10 mins: Odegaard plays a nearly-great pass through to Xhaka, which runs through to the keeper.
8 mins: A lovely run down the right from Martinelli ends with Bowen bringing him down. I thought he got the ball and kicked it into Martinelli, but that only made it look like Martinelli had kicked it. He gets a yellow card for his troubles.
7 mins: “Was that 1987 loss to Nottingham Forest?” asks Jonathan Wood of Arsenal’s last home defeat on Boxing Day. It was indeed. “I was at that game – first trip to see Forest at Highbury. We were 1-0 up with less than five minutes to go, having not won at Highbury for years, when Arsenal won a penalty. Kenny Samson – who was disputing the left back position for England with Stuart Pearce – missed. A minute later, Forest went down the other end and won a penalty themselves. Up stepped Pearce in front of the North Bank and showed Samson how to do it. 2-0. Bedlam in the Forest end.”
5 mins: Arsenal have a goal disallowed! The ball is played through to Nketiah, who backheels it to Saka, who smashes in at the near post. When the pass is played both Nketiah and Saka are onside but as it skidded through it clipped Saka’s heel, and at that point Nketiah was offside.
3 mins: Apparently Arsene Wenger is in the crowd today, visiting the Emirates for the first time since he left the club in 2018, having more recently dedicated himself to saying ridiculous things that are convenient for Fifa.
1 min: Peeeeep! West Ham get the game started.
Before kick-off, a minute’s applause for George Cohen.
Out come the players! It’s been a long and hectic day of top-flight football, now it’s time to see if the league leaders are feeling festive.
Prime’s big pre-match interview was with Oleksandr Zinchenko, and their panel in the stadium now feel obliged to have a long chat about him. Which is have been fine, had he only been in the starting XI.
On Twitter, noted rumourmonger Fabrizio Romano reports that Arsenal have submitted a bid of an initial €40m, rising to €60m, for Shakhtar Donetsk’s 21-year-old Ukrainian winger Mykhaylo Mudryk. Apparently the player is keen, but his club want lots more cash.
Some pre-match reading, in the shape of Ben Fisher’s report on Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool:
Aaron Cresswell has a chat. “I think the break’s come at a good time for us. The lads have been working hard, so it’s up to us now to put things right. We haven’t had a great start to the season. We’re not scoring enough goals and we could do better at conceding them. But today’s a big opportunity to get back to it. Arsenal have been fantastic all season, we know it’s going to be a tough game but it’s up to us to get three points today.”
What an awfully-timed World Cup that was for Arsenal. Top of the table, with points dropped in only one of their last nine league games, they were absolutely flying when the pause button was pressed in early November. Now we wait to discover whether that momentum has survived the last six weeks. For all their quality (and the fact that the last time they lost at home on Boxing Day was so long ago that one of their centre-backs that day is now 64 (1987 and David O’Leary, since you ask), a run the Hammers have twice tried and failed to end) this might not be a bad time to play them. There has only been one goalless draw between these teams since then, promisingly. West Ham started the season against Manchester City, and now have to restart it against Arsenal, which is a bit rum. I have a feeling in my bones that this game might be a good ’un, but then I am an incorrigible optimist. Welcome!
Team news is in, and the starting line-ups are as follows:
Arsenal: Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard; Saka, Nketiah, Martinelli.
West Ham: Fabianski; Coufal, Dawson, Kehrer, Cresswell; Soucek, Rice; Bowen, Paqueta, Benrahma; Antonio.
Referee: Michael Oliver.