David Moyes’s side lost 2-1 to Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final in midweek, while the Gunners saw off Manchester United in an impressive 3-1 victory last time out.
It was certainly a game of fine margins in East London on Thursday as but the biggest European night in West Ham’s recent history started in the worst possible fashion as Ansgar Knauff finished a delicious cross at the back post with less than a minute on the clock.
While the Hammers did manage to find a response soon after before the half-time whistle via Michail Antonio’s outstretched leg, Frankfurt ensured they would take a one-goal advantage back on home soil through Daichi Kamada before Jarrod Bowen’s outstanding bicycle kick cannoned back off the crossbar and away from danger.
Amid their quest for Europa League glory, West Ham’s domestic fortunes have suffered a setback in recent weeks with two defeats and a draw from their last three outings in the Premier League, with last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea leaving them seventh in the table and three points adrift of Manchester United.
Wolverhampton Wanderers are also breathing down their necks in the table, and their best shot of securing a Champions League berth for 2022-23 undoubtedly lies in the Europa League, but Moyes will not want to relinquish the backup of a top-seven finish in the top flight in order to return to any form of continental competition.
Furthermore, West Ham welcome Arsenal to the London Stadium having scored in every one of their Premier League home matches this season, and they have taken 14 points from the last 18 on offer on home soil, but the in-form Gunners certainly know a thing or two about grabbing three points on the capital.
The past ten days could hardly have been more enjoyable for Mikel Arteta, who have seemingly recovered from their minor blip at the beginning of the month while Tottenham Hotspur have ceded control of their Champions League destiny to their North London rivals due to recent blips.
After their goal-laden showing at Stamford Bridge, Nuno Tavares, Bukayo Saka and Granit Xhaka all netted in a 3-1 success to virtually kill off Man United’s top-four hopes, although the Gunners certainly rode their luck as Bruno Fernandes’s penalty struck the post and United missing glaring chances to draw themselves back in the contest.
Nonetheless, Arsenal are surely in the driving seat for the coveted top-four berth as they sit two points clear of Tottenham Hotspur in the fourth spot.
Spurs could temporarily rise back into the top four should they get the better of Leicester City before Arsenal take to the field against the Hammers, but the Gunners have now won six of their last eight away games in the top flight and will also be aware that West Ham have a keen eye on their crucial second-leg European battle in Germany next Thursday.
Arteta’s side came back from 3-0 down to rescue a 3-3 draw versus West Ham in this fixture last season, but their meeting at the Emirates back in December ended in a straightforward 2-0 success, and Arsenal’s 13 away victories against the Hammers represents their most against a single side in the Premier League.
A foregone conclusion?
WHERE AND WHEN?
Venue: London Stadium.
Date: Sunday, 1st May 2022.
Time: 16:30 (BST).
Referee: Mike Dean.
Assistant referee: Ian Hussin, Darren Cann.
Fourth official: Simon Hooper.
VAR: Darren England.
Assistant VAR: Matthew Wilkes.
LEAGUE FORM (LAST SIX):
West Ham United: W-L-W-L-D-L
Craig Dawson’s suspension, Angelo Ogbonna’s lengthy recovery and Issa Diop’s ankle issue have severely depleted Moyes’ options in the heart of their defence, but Kurt Zouma made a quicker-than-expected recovery to play a full 90 minutes against Frankfurt in midweek.
The Frenchman needed treatment towards the end of the contest but is unlikely to be rested given Moyes’s lack of options in that area, and Dawson’s suspension could see Ben Johnson move next to Zouma as Vladimir Coufal returns at right-back.
As for the Gunners, Arteta is reportedly expecting Bukayo Saka to be fit and well for the London derby, with the 20-year-old back in training alongside his teammates after being taken off against Man United.
Saka’s return would leave Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey as the Gunners’ only two absentees, with Takehiro Tomiyasu coming back as a late substitute against the Red Devils, but Arteta may be reluctant to throw the Japanese international back into the first-team fold from the start just yet.
Nikola Vlasic and Andriy Yarmolenko could be considered for starting roles in the XI on Sunday as Moyes prioritises the second leg in Frankfurt, it will be a big chance for both players to impress the former Everton boss, while ex-Gunner Lukasz Fabianski will replace Alphonse Areola in goal.
It is uncertain how David Moyes could line up his defence in the game against the Gunners. Does he revert to a three at the back system with Ben Johnson and Aaron Cresswell on either side of the only-available centre-back Kurt Zouma? Or does he even throw Declan Rice back into a centre-back role alongside the Frenchman?
The latter could be a plausible option but it may stifle the Hammers’ ability to progress the ball into more attacking areas if Rice is not deployed in his usual deep-lying and destructive midfield role alongside Tomas Soucek.
Or could we see Mark Noble given a run-out seeing as these are his last few weeks in a West Ham shirt as the former England international hangs up his boots at the end of the season. Deploying Noble or even summer signing Alex Kral who’s barely featured for the club this season could allow Moyes to rest either Rice or Soucek ahead of their second-leg clash with Frankfurt next Thursday.
For Arteta, Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny has filled in admirably in the absence of Thomas Partey putting in unstoppable performances against both Chelsea and Manchester United leading to crucial wins in their top four surge. Because of form, there are talks that the former Basel man could extend his stay at the Emirates beyond the summer as his contract runs out at the end of June.
The Egyptian has quickly formed a reliable partnership with the rejuvenated Granit Xhaka at the base of Arsenal’s midfield and it could be Arteta’s go-to partnership in the closing weeks of the season as Partey may or may not feature at all.
The former Manchester City coach could opt to deploy Gabriel Martinelli on Sunday instead of Emile Smith Rowe as the Brazilian’s pace, directness and unpredictability in the final third could effectively disrupt a weakened Hammers back-line.
Secondly, Eddie Nketiah has certainly impressed the Gunners faithful and Arteta since his re-introduction into the starting line-up and could well have grabbed two more goals against Manchester United had he found the clinical edge he expertly showcased in the win at Stamford Bridge. The former Leeds United loanee should feature from the start again ahead of Lacazette whose poor form and unnecessary comments regarding his future will have certainly annoyed his manager.
PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
If a possibly weakened West Ham will have any chance of overcoming the Gunners on Sunday, then the player could well look to Said Benrahma. The Algerian forward made a huge difference when he came on in the second-half. His well-struck effort from about 25-yards nearly pulled the Hammers’ level on the night, and his tireless energy, enthusiasm and off-the-ball runs certainly caused Oliver Glasner’s side problems in the closing stages of the tie.
It’s safe to say the former Brentford winger hasn’t enjoyed the best of campaigns in his first season in East London, but the 26-year-old has certainly shown glimpses of what he’s about, but its time he performs consistently if he is to go on and become a key figure in future for David Moyes.
Nine goals and six assists in 43 games for the club in all competitions really isn’t a bad return for the forward, considering he’s most been deployed from the bench all season. However, if he is to claim a starting berth in the starting XI in the near future, then a good impactful and influential showing against Arsenal on Sunday could take him a long way to finally showing David Moyes that he can be relied upon to be a key and pivotal figure for the club next season.
It is certainly a surprise to count Granit Xhaka as a key man to watch ahead of this fixture, especially considering the star and youthful quality ahead of him in the Arsenal team. But their two big wins over Chelsea and Manchester United may not have been so comfortable had it not been for the Switzerland international.
The former Borussia Monchengladbach man, who’s been a much-maligned figure throughout his Emirates career showcased his undeniable qualities against the Red Devils last weekend, killing off the tie with a superb long-range effort but also proving a dominant and reliable figure in the middle of the park alongside Mohamed Elneny.
According to SofaScore, he successfully completed 94% of his passes, had 82 touches, won two of his three aerial duels and registered two interceptions, and picked up an impressive average rating of 7.6, the joint-highest out of both teams alongside Bukayo Saka and Cristiano Ronaldo. If Arsenal are to indeed finish in a top-four spot come the end of the campaign, they would need Xhaka in top fettle, especially in the absence of Thomas Partey. Long may these huge performances continue.
West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Fabianski (GK); Coufal, Johnson, Zouma, Cresswell; Rice, Soucek; Yarmolenko, Vlasic, Benrahma; Antonio.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale (GK); Cedric, White, Gabriel, Tavares; Xhaka, Elneny; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli; Nketiah.
West Ham vs Arsenal: 1-3