West Ham v Arsenal | Boleyn Ground | Saturday 9 April | 13:45
The so called ‘best league in the world’ has served up a season that nobody would have foreseen, not even the great Michel de Nostredame. Leicester remain in pole position to claim their first ever Premier League title, while Tottenham and Arsenal await a downfall in the surprise runaway leaders that is looking unlikely as each game passes us by. Arsenal will travel cross-town to West Ham this weekend, who are hopeful of a fourth place finish, but will have to beat the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United to the last UEFA Champions League play-off position. Both teams have all to play for, and a draw just won’t do, but just which London club will walk away with the bragging rights and the all-important three points?
To Win Match
West Ham 3/1| Draw 27/10 | Arsenal 17/20
West ham are having one of their best season’s to date. They remain contenders for a place among Europe’s elite – the UEFA Champions League – while a FA Cup semi-final awaits them should the Hammers see off Man United in a quarter-final replay next week Wednesday. Manager Slaven Bilic is one of the main reasons for this turn in fortune. The Croatian has changed West Ham’s style of play and the way the team approach a game. A winning mentality has been instilled and this talented group of players are showing incredible determination and hard-work for their manager.
However, last weekend, West Ham’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League were dented as they could only draw 2-2 at home against Crystal Palace. The Hammers have never played in the Champions League and are now three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City. But Slaven Bilic and his side will be furious with the decision from referee Mark Clattenburg in the 67th minute. The Hammers were 2-1 ahead when Clattenburg dismissed Cheikou Kouyate after he clumsily lunged at Dwight Gayle. Contact was made, but a straight red card seemed an extremely harsh decision.
Nonetheless, the stalemate with Palace extends their unbeaten run in the league to six matches, which includes three wins and three draws. West Ham’s inability to maintain winning form has cost them this season, and that lack of consistency might just come back to haunt them come the end of the campaign. But for now, we can only admire all that West Ham have accomplished, and Bilic will be hoping his Hammers can maintain their fighting spirit till the end.
West Ham’s Player of the Season has been without a doubt Dimitri Payet. The Frenchman was on the scoresheet against Crystal Palace with yet another brilliant free-kick. It was his 12th goal of the season (ninth in the league) and he has also been directly involved in 23 goals in all competitions, 13 more than any other West Ham player. Payet is a magician with the ball at his feet. He pulls the strings with his creative ability; eye for goal, trickery and change of pace. If the Hammers do miss out on Champions League qualification then they will face a battle to keep hold of the French midfielder, who is surely going to be among the contenders for the Premier League's Player of the Year award.
Arsenal have been disappointing for the majority of the season. Out of the FA Cup, UEFA Champions League and now the league is quickly getting away from them. There is a small glimmer of hope, but that is about it. However, the Gunners proved that they will fight to the very end after dismantling Watford with a 4-0 victory at the Emirates stadium last time out.
Arsenal had lost three straight home games in all competitions going into the match, and it was the perfect response from the Gunners. Arsene Wenger's side still need an unlikely collapse from both Leicester and second-placed Tottenham to have any hope of securing the league title, but for now, they are just focusing on their own results. The Gunners have now won back-to-back games, scoring six goals without conceding. And while it has been impressive team performances; there have been some sparkling individual performances of late.
Nigerian youngster Alex Iwobi received a consecutive Man of the Match award last weekend – his first against Everton prior to the international break. Always alert, quick, and progressive in his approach; he drives Arsenal through the game from the first minute. More to the point, he appears to have few nerves about his new surroundings, showing confidence and an impressive attitude. Arsenal look a much more coherent side with Mohamed Elneny in midfield. Alongside Francis Coquelin, the Egyptian provides a proper protective shield for the back four. Sharp in his tackle, shrewd in his positioning, he lets little past.
It is this security that allows Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to attack without fear of the consequence. But what marks him out as the ideal foil for Coquelin is that he is not merely a defensive player. When the opportunity is there, he will attack with real verve. His passing too is accurate, economical, and intelligent. Wenger may have arrived at it too late in the season to affect real change, but this is a partnership that could have a real future. Elneny controlled the game from the middle of the park against Watford with 122 passes (the highest in a league game this season), 96% of which found a team-mate.
Wenger’s new boys are turning it up; giving the team confidence and belief. The defence is looking solid, the midfield is organised and the attacking line is proving deadly – but this new found form might be a tad late for Arsenal.
Verdict: Arsenal (17/20)
The reverse fixture may have ended 2-0 in favour of West Ham, but Arsenal had won the previous 10 meetings prior to that defeat. The Gunners are glowing in confidence and are back to their best. West Ham have been impressive, but have lacked a certain cutting edge in recent weeks. Arsenal are firing on all cylinders and are tipped to come away with maximum points.
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