Sunday 21st March 2021; 3.00pm (Sky Sports)
Traditionally, Arsenal have thrived when visiting the East End of the Capital but David Moyes has steadily moulded the Hammers into a more efficient and resilient outfit since emerging from lockdown.
The Gunners took all three points at the London Stadium last season courtesy of a devastating ten-minute second half spell which heaped the pressure upon a beleaguered Manuel Pellegrini.
Furthermore, Arsenal fans will fondly recall the Alexis Sanchez hat-trick during a 5-1 away win a few years earlier; which matched a feat by Andy Carroll in an entertaining 3-3 draw at Upton Park during the 2015-16 season.
Arsenal are riding the crest of a wave
Despite a midweek reverse in the Europa League, Arsenal seek the double over the Hammers riding on the crest of a wave in the Premier League after the euphoria of last week’s North London Derby, and another victory would place their fifth-placed opponents (seven points ahead) firmly within reach.
Sceptics will no doubt highlight the Gunners sporadic away form (W6, D2, L6) as an area of concern, yet confidence should be drawn from a recent 3-1 win at the King Power Stadium (Leicester), with Mikel Arteta’s men taking full advantage of the absence of the Foxes influential playmaker James Maddison.
Interestingly the Gunners have kept a relatively tight ship on their travels in the Premier League this season, conceding 14 goals in 14 games - a record which compares favourably with Leicester City (13) who top the away ‘performance table’.
On Sunday, Bernd Leno, David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhaes et al will need to stand very firm indeed to repel the combined set-piece threat of Tomas Soucek, Craig Dawson and Declan Rice, with Soucek himself notching an impressive tally of eight goals (five headers) so far this season.
Skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned from the ‘naughty step’ against Olympiakos but to all intents and purposes that was merely a token gesture of support from Mikel Arteta, and after scoring from the spot in the North London Derby Alex Lacazette is expected to start. Both Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe possess the ability to cause significant problems for West Ham, and if attacking with real vigour, can curtail any positive attacking ambitions harboured by opposing full-backs Aaron Cresswell and Vladimir Coufal.
West Ham are flying high
On rejoining the Hammers, and replacing the ageing Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, David Moyes very boldly stated “winning is what I do.”
It is fair to acknowledge that West Ham haven’t been the most regular of winners for a prolonged period of time, and were actually registering their first home win over the Gunners since 2006 when Declan Rice scored his first Hammers goal during the 2018-19 season. Nevertheless, despite the scoffs and sneers from most onlookers true to his word the much-travelled wily Scot has transformed his relegation-threatened, short on confidence side into realistic European hopefuls.
After a tame display at Old Trafford last week, the Hammers hopes of an unexpected top-four finish have been dashed, and a tricky run of fixtures lie ahead. Adopting negative tactics in the high-profile games (also shown in defeat at Old Trafford in the FA Cup) hasn’t exactly endeared Moyes to a small element of the West Ham faithful, although there were mitigating circumstances - Jesse Lingard was ineligible - last week.
West Ham have also ridden their luck defensively on occasions, with home wins against Leeds (2-0), Tottenham (2-1) and Aston Villa (2-1) clear and obvious examples of the case in point. However, it is points which ultimately win prizes, and West Ham (8 home wins; 1.93 points per game) are second only to Manchester City (12) in terms of home wins this season.
The return of Jesse Lingard will provide the Hammers with more of a cutting edge in attack, lessening the burden on an often isolated Michail Antonio. Former Gunner Lukasz Fabianski is fit and back in-form between the sticks, while Said Benrahma continues to seek to earn the trust of his manager despite a once more impactful Jarrod Bowen struggling for peak form. It should also be noted that the Hammers are relatively light in terms of reinforcements from the bench with both Arthur Masuaku and Ryan Fredericks continuing to work back to fitness from injury.
Arsenal were defeated in the Europa League on Thursday, and while theoretically that could benefit West Ham, the lack of a travel for the Gunners should serve to negate any significant advantage. Furthermore, it is noted that Mikel Arteta took the opportunity to rest Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard, Alex Lacazette (all substitutes) and Bukayo Saka (not in the squad) with all four serious contenders for recall at the London Stadium.
West Ham will be eager to impress and resume winning ways but will also be wary of Arsenal. Therefore, it’s feasible that a tight, cagey affair could ensue with scoring chances limited. It goes without saying that the first goal is of vital importance in any game, but the sneaking suspicion is that Arsenal could find it easier to recover from an early reverse than an under pressure West Ham. With no strong firm view as to the likeliest outcome, we’ll elect to take the ultra cautious approach for small stakes.
Tomas Soucek 7-2 (Betfair)