Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 31/20
West Ham United will be hosting Arsenal at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon, in a very important game for both sides that will be the 29th in the Premier League season for them. Not many would have expected West Ham to sit far above Arsenal in the league table in mid-March, but that’s how things stand at the moment.
West Ham United
It has truly been a remarkable season for the Hammers. They were lucky, and indeed happy, to avoid relegation the last time around, finishing in 16th place with no more than five points separating them from the red zone. Now they are fifth, well within a shot of a place in the Champions League next term. Manager David Moyes has done a great job.
West Ham are only three points behind Chelsea and with a game in hand on the Blues, which means that they will catch them up if they win this match. On the other hand, they also need to be looking over their shoulders, with Liverpool and Everton just two points behind, and Tottenham Hotspur three.
The Hammers can be pleased overall with their recent form. Of their last six league outings they lost two, both in Manchester, 2-1 away to City and 1-0 away to United. They beat Sheffield United 3-0, Spurs 2-1 and Leeds United 2-0, all at home, and they held out to a 0-0 draw away to Fulham which they finished with 10 men after Tomas Soucek was sent off late in injury time.
Moyes will be happy to have Manchester United loanee Jesse Lingard back available, after the forward couldn’t play against his parent club in the previous round, with Pablo Fornals and Andriy Yarmolenko both injured. Defender Ryan Fredericks is a doubt.
It will be interesting to see if Said Benrahma gets the nod over Manuel Lanzini as the creative spark in attacking midfield.
Arsenal are still working through a transition phase, which has now been going on for at least three years, since the departure of the legendary Arsene Wenger from the club. It hasn’t been easy for Mikel Arteta, who has had to settle quite a few disciplinary issues in his team in the relatively short time he’s been in the Emirates dugout so far.
Be that as it may, Arsenal are currently in 10th place with 41 points, and even though Arteta recently expressed a large dose of optimism by refusing to rule out a top-four finish until it’s mathematically impossible, it seems extremely unlikely to happen. The Gunners are 10 points behind Chelsea in fourth, seven behind West Ham in fifth, five behind Liverpool and Everton in sixth and seventh, respectively, four behind arch-rivals Spurs in eighth, and have the same tally as Aston Villa in ninth. So even if Chelsea do suffer some kind of a meltdown and fall low, one of the teams sitting in between would still have a far better chance of taking advantage. For Arsenal, a place in the Europa League again would be quite enough.
Arsenal’s last six league games saw them lose 1-0 away to Aston Villa, beat Leeds United 4-2 at home, lose to Manchester City 0-1 at home, stun third-place Leicester City 1-3 away, draw 1-1 against Burnley away, and beat Spurs 2-1 at home.
Of course, Arsenal still have a chance of reaching the Champions League next season by winning the Europa League this term. They managed (barely) to get past Olympiacos in the round of 16 and will face Slavia Prague in the quarterfinals.
One of the disciplinary issues mentioned arose very recently, and involved none other than captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese forward showed up late for the North-London Derby last week and was consequently dropped from the starting XI. However, Arteta made it clear the line has been drawn and the matter dealt with, and Aubameyang started the second leg against Olympiacos on Thursday.
Wingers Bukayo Saka and Willian are both doubts for this clash, Saka having limped off in the Derby and Willian having missed the Olympiacos game with a calf issue. If they are unavailable come Sunday, Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe would be likely to start, though Gabriel Martinelli will also be looking to get some action.
Midfielders Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey will probably return after a midweek rest.
Arsenal have already shown they can beat the teams above this term, and the pale showing on Thursday will only serve as added motivation when they head across London on Sunday. The Hammers are a good team and their placement in the Premier League table is no fluke, but it feels that the Gunners will go back to the northern part of the city with the three points in their pockets.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 31/20
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