August 8, 2022

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It may be too early to start calling it a ‘top four six-pointer’ but Arsenal’s...

It may be too early to start calling it a ‘top four six-pointer’ but Arsenal’s clash with West Ham does look like it could set the tone for the race for Champions League football in the second half of the season.
Both teams have put in timid efforts for the top four in recent years, but have fallen short to be left with either Europa League football or no European contest at all. 
But with Tottenham and Manchester United suffering from cancellations due coronavirus outbreaks, Wednesday night’s clash at the Emirates Stadium hands both sides the chance to steal a march in the top four race.

All the pressure is on Arsenal as they host West Ham in a crucial top-four battle on Wednesday

David Moyes’ Hammers currently lie in fourth ahead of their trip to the Emirates Stadium

The winner will sit in fourth spot going into the next round of games, while the other will be sat scratching their heads and thinking about other ways of getting Europe next season.
While West Ham are the frontrunners, the pressure does lie at the feet of Arsenal and especially their manager Mikel Arteta. 
This is a pivotal moment in the Spaniard’s reign in north London as he looks to drive the Gunners away from inconsistent results and into a solid top-four challenge. 
The north Londoners have recovered from their pointless and tricky start to the campaign to sit in the top six, but their main Achilles heel this season has been their results against top-quality opposition. 

Under-fire Gunners boss Mikel Arteta cannot afford another big-game slip-up this season

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Recent big-game losses to Liverpool and Manchester United have highlighted a trend of the Gunners failing to turn up in matches they need to win – and Wednesday’s clash with West Ham is nothing short of a big game. 
The Hammers, meanwhile, have an excellent record of turning up when it matters. Recent home victories over Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have shown David Moyes’ side can turn up for the big occasion – but it’s their away form which particularly impresses. 
Moyes’ men have lost just twice on the road in all competitions this season – with one of those defeats coming against Premier League champions City. Their stellar away record in their Europa League group stage shows that nothing fazes them.

West Ham have history of turning up for big games including wins over Chelsea and Liverpool

Arsenal, meanwhile, have won six out of their eight home matches in the Premier League

But perhaps Arsenal’s excellent home form will? The Gunners have the second-best record on their own patch in the Premier League this season with six victories in their eight games at the Emirates, with Arsenal scoring in all but one of those matches.   
Little can separate either sides’ form but the two teams are also united in their inconsistent results in recent weeks. 
Arsenal failed to back up a ten-match unbeaten run with back-to-back losses to United and Everton which raised even more concerns about Arteta’s status as manager.
Meanwhile, the last four weeks have been even more inconsistent for West Ham, with just one win in their last five league games. The Hammers were expected to push on after beating Liverpool 3-2 in early November, but back-to-back losses, including one at Wolves, stalled their progress. 

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But the Gunners have lost all of their games against quality opposition so far this season

Recent draws to Brighton and Burnley shows that the east Londoners’ schedule, which has included a first ever Europa League group stage campaign, is finally catching up with them.
Yet last week’s goalless draw to Burnley highlighted an over-reliance there is on striker Michail Antonio, whose brilliant start to the season has ground to a halt with just one goal in his last 12 matches. 
Instead, much of the attacking creativity has fallen at the feet of midfield maestro Declan Rice, who was the Hammers’ best attacking threat against Burnley at the weekend. 
The England midfielder came closest to scoring in the second-half when his long-range effort found the top of the net, but there was an acceptance that more needs to be done at West Ham in the final third. 

Declan Rice (right) has stepped up with Michail Antonio’s (second right) recent shyness up top

‘I don’t think we can just rely on him to score all our goals,’ said Rice when asked about Antonio’s goal drought. ‘He scored so many at the start of the season. Yeah, it’s dried, but every striker goes through that patch. 
‘He’s still key for our team and the way that we play, but the goals need to start coming from other players, including myself.’ 
But while Rice will be a key player for the Hammers once again, his defensive duties will be needed at the Emirates, especially when having to deal with in-form Arsenal midfielder Martin Odegaard.

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Rice will have to watch Martin Odegaard (second right) who has scored in his last three

The £30million signing from Real Madrid looks to have finally settled in north London with goals in each of his last three Premier League games. All of the Norwegian’s goals in recent weeks have come from clever and late runs into the box and Rice will need to be wary of this on Wednesday night.
Odegaard also has a particular good relationship with Kieran Tierney in front of goal, with three out of his four Premier League goals being assisted by crosses from the Arsenal left-back. 
The Norwegian midfielder’s recent purple patch is useful for Arsenal given their lack of potency from their strikers. 

Arsenal strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (right) and Alex Lacazette (left) have lacked goals

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will not be involved on Wednesday after being stripped of the Gunners captaincy for disciplinary breaches, and while Alexandre Lacazette scored against Southampton at the weekend – he went seven league matches before that without a goal. 
Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun are still deemed as young strikers by Arteta while Gabriel Martinelli is not quite ready for the striker’s role after some promising displays out wide.
But West Ham have the striker problems too, and there is nothing really separating them and Arsenal ahead of Wednesday night’s crucial tie.


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