Although it doesn't quite feel like it, it’s been nearly two weeks since Arsenal played a Premier League match. Sure, some non-league games were played since then, but the less we say about those, the better.
The Gunners’ last PL match saw the Gunners hold on for a crucial 3-2 win over Everton, which put Arsenal within touching distance of the top four. Despite not playing last weekend due to a postponed match against Manchester City, the Gunners’ fortunes could not have been better. Chelsea drew Bournemouth, Spurs lost to Wolverhampton, and Manchester United and Everton played to a draw. And for good measure, Watford kept Arsenal’s Invincible status intact.
Now that qualifying for Champions league via winning the Europa League is off the table, all efforts can be focused on a top four (or five, pending City’s appeal) finish. It’s not an ideal circumstance, but there is a sliver of hope, but the margin for error is razor-thin. With 11 matches left to play and 8 points between 10th and 4th, every match is now a must-win.
Saturday’s match against West Ham is a prime opportunity to take a step toward a coveted CL qualifying spot. Arsenal’s cross-London opponents are having an awful season, having lost 15 of their 28 matches. Currently, the Hammers are 16th in the table, but even on points with the two teams below them with 27 points accumulated.
If there’s one thing that we have learned this season, though, it’s that positions on the table have little to no bearing on actual match outcomes (see: Watford beating Liverpool). Despite being 16th, West Ham are capable of surprising results. Two weeks ago, they pushed Liverpool to the brink, eventually losing 3-2. The fact that Arsenal have struggled all season with teams across the table is reason enough for the Gunners to not overlook this match.
Last time the two teams faced off came in December during Freddie Ljungberg’s temporary reign as caretaker manager. The Gunners started the match off slowly and fell behind 1-0 in the first half but erupted over a ten minute span in the second half with goals from Gabriel Martinelli, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to leave London Stadium with three points and a 3-1 victory.
Arsenal enter Saturday’s match as the only unbeaten team in the Premier League in the 2020 calendar year. Despite the run of form, there are still plenty of issues that could keep Arsenal from running away with this match. Arsenal’s attack has been better since Arteta took over, but during last Thursday’s horror show loss to Olympiakos in the Europa League, the fatigue from adapting to Arteta’s new system was palpable as players looked sluggish and disjointed.
While the defense has also enjoyed a rejuvenation, the same EL match showed that the ugly lapses that plagued them for so long are still there. With only an FA Cup tie between last Thursday’s loss, the Gunners should be rested and over the hangover of a dreadful tie.
It will be interesting to see how Arteta approaches the lineup now that Arsenal are only in two competitions. I expect Arteta to name a fairly consistent line-up from the Everton match. The main question will be whether or not he sticks with Eddie Nketiah over Alexandre Lacazette after an impressive display against the Toffees. Reiss Nelson’s excellent showing in the FA Cup could also present Arteta with a selection headache. To have so many young and exciting options is never a bad thing.
Lucas Torreira joined Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, and Kieran Tierney on the long-term injury list after fracturing his ankle during Monday’s FA Cup win at Portsmouth, which will probably mean we see one of Dani Ceballos or Matteo Guendouzi start in the pivot alongside Granit Xhaka behind Mesut Ozil.
So now we will see what Arsenal are made of. With no Europa League to play for, they have no excuses to not put their best efforts into each upcoming match. West Ham is a team who are in a bad way and will be looking to stave off relegation. A victory for the Gunners will go a long way to closing the gap and making a late run at the top four. So, will they rise to the challenge knowing that the league is their only shot at Champions League? Here’s hoping.
WHAT: Arsenal vs West Ham
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium
WHEN: Saturday, March 8th 10:00am EST/7:00am PST/3:00pm BT
HOW TO WATCH: NBCSN. Stream here.
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