It’s fourth versus sixth as two London rivals face off with the final UEFA Champions League spot in their sights. Coming off a much-needed win over Southampton, the Gunners have the momentum with West Ham walking away from Burley with a nil-nil result.
Just like the Premier League table, West Ham has managed the fourth best away form this season, picking up 14 points from eight road matches. Looking at the Hammers’ form either home or away, they, like Arsenal, are a top-six side with a relatively modest goal differential. Four of their last six league games coming into the weekend have been decided by one goal, with the other two draws. Which unlike the Gunners shows they are managing to land on that right side of tight scorelines.
This week we’ve ventured out of the SB Nation realm and welcome Brawley Darbon from the West Ham Way USA podcast.
TSF: Finishing 6th and getting into the Europa League. Was there a sense of goodwill credit coming into this season that the club probably hasn’t had since moving to the Olympic Stadium?
WHW: Definitely. It feels like we finally had justification to move from Upton Park. Almost as if we didn’t “sell our soul” for nothing!
TSF: Following that move up the table the club brought in Craig Dawson, Kurt Zouma & Nikola Vlašić, with the two senior defenders proving the most valuable thus far. Grade Dawson and Zouma’s impact in these opening months & the expectation on Vlašić long term?
WHW: Dawson and Zouma have been A+ signings for us. Both for very different reasons. Dawson was brought in and heavily criticized last season by WHU fans. Because he’d been relegated in two consecutive season with two different teams, we thought we were too good for him. He proved the majority of fans massively wrong. Probably the best value for money signing in the PL apart from maybe Demari Gray and Andros Townsend. Zouma on the other hand has been a Rolls Royce from day 1. His injury could really have a massive impact on the outcome of our season if he doesn’t play again.
Vlasic is a weird one. I definitely expected way more impact from our 3rd most expensive player ever signed. That being said, he hasn’t even really had a chance to show what he can do. A bit like Benrahma last season. I almost still don’t know what to expect from him going forward!
TSF: After last season’s 6th place finish, the club didn’t have any big departures in the summer. Given that and what they brought in, how did you grade West Ham’s overall summer business when the season started?
WHW: When the transfer window ended I was moderately happy with the business we conducted. Probably a B- would’ve been my grade. The only reason it was that low is because we didn’t buy a back up striker for Antonio. It’s almost like we have no “Plan B.”
TSF: David Moyes seems to have rediscovered the magic from his Everton days and what the club were hoping for the first time around with him in 2017-18. Having helped keep them up in ‘19-20 and getting up to 6th last season, do you believe Moyes & the club will continue this building process over the next few seasons and avoid him being tempted away once again by a club of the Manchester United level?
WHW: I don’t think DM will be tempted away by bigger clubs. I think he’s “learned his lesson” so to speak. I believe he knows how potentially huge this project at WHU is and I don’t think he would down tools to another massive club. That being said though, £££ talks and I’m sure if someone were willing to pay a crazy amount, maybe he could be tempted. I think it’s unlikely though!
TSF: It was a terrific start to the season with eight goals and two wins. And while there have been a few dips, West Ham have been quite consistent and came up with that big late winner against Chelsea last time out. How was the season to date compared with preseason expectations across the fanbase?
WHW: I think if you’d have told West Ham fans we’d be in 4th place in second week of December, while also winning our Europa league group and being in a quarter final of the league cup, our fans wouldn’t have necessarily laughed at you, but I certainly would have thought you were lying. I think everyone expected the usual “European league decline” that most teams experience, and to be honest we would’ve been fine with that as long as we were giving our best effort in every competition! I think thus far they’ve exceeded every expectation and fingers crossed they keep it up.
TSF: West Ham have topped their Europa League group by three points. Beyond the performances in Europe, how enjoyable has it been for you to see the team back in a continental competition?
WHW: I actually had the privilege to travel to Genk away in Belgium in November. The buzz around Europa league games has been better than almost anything else I can describe during my life as a WHU fan. Thousands of WHU fans abroad signing, laughing, and just having an amazing time is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had, even if it was the only game we didn’t win in the group! European football is what we’ve been waiting for in this new stadium and now that we’re there, we’re soaking up every second!
TSF: This is Michail Antonio’s seventh season at the club. He got 10 goals in both of his last two Premier League campaigns and already has six this season. Do you believe he is given enough credit?
WHW: I think this year he is finally starting to get the national and international attention from non West Ham fans that he deserves. Micky is such an interesting player because on the one hand, he’s such a great player and comes up with crucial goals for us. On the other hand, he can be absolutely terrible some games and go missing, with not being the most technically gifted player. I think if he were to stay consistent for a full year and stay fit, he’d get the credit he deserves and definitely would’ve gotten an England call up prior to changing countries to Jamaica.
TSF: Everyone is well aware of Declan Rice’s importance for both club and country. He’ll turn 23 next month and has an estimated transfer value of around $77 million. Do you think if West Ham can finish in the top four there is any chance he stays for next year or is it safe to expect he is off on a massive transfer fee this summer?
WHW: I do think it’s going to be tough for us to keep him this year if we don’t finish 4th or better this season. That being said, it’ll take a lot more than $77 million to pry him from us in my opinion! I do think we’re capable of finishing that high and keeping him around. He loves this club and I don’t think he’ll ever disrespect us in trying to force a move. Best thing we can do is give him a much improved contract asap, build a team around him and finish as high up the table as possible in order to convince him to stay!
TSF: What formation should Arsenal expect West Ham to use in this match and who is in your predicted starting XI?
WHW: I am answering these questions prior to the Burnley game, so if there are any additional injuries to the team (praying that there aren’t) I would expect us to go 4-2-3-1 against Arsenal. Fabianski, Cresswell, Dawson, Diop, Coufal, Soucek, Rice, Bowen, Benrahma, Fornals, Antonio.
I think Benrahma will come in for Lanzini if he has a relatively quiet game against Burnley only because he hasn’t had a huge amount of game time this season and would expect Moyes to rest him instead of two starts in 3 days of each other.
TSF: And finally, give us your prediction for how the match will go.
WHW: As for a prediction, it’s so so tough for me. We haven’t played Arsenal well in a long time. For the first time in my life I think West Ham actually have a better squad than Arsenal, but when it comes down to match day, it seems like we just can’t get 3 points off Arsenal! Im going to go with a 2-2 draw. Antonio and Bowen to score with Odegaard and Lacazette to come off the bench and score. Praying for a win though! COYI!
Thanks to Brawley Dawson and the West Ham Way podcast.