Hammers to Remain Unbeaten at Boleyn Ground
The first Premier League game of the weekend is an absolute cracker with Arsenal making the short trip across London to take on West Ham at the Boleyn Ground. With the Gunners in third place and still holding faint hopes of overturning Leicester at the top of the table and West Ham still in the hunt for a Champions League place, it’s a vital game for both clubs and one that traditionally is fiercely contested.
Arsenal have an excellent record in East London and after back-to-back wins against Everton and Watford they will arrive with plenty of confidence, but West Ham have an equally strong record against the top sides this season, including an opening day 2-0 Premier League win at the Emirates back in August.
The Gunners are 11 points adrift of Leicester in the race for Premier League glory, and five points clear of Manchester United in 5th. Realistically to close the gap on the Foxes they will need to win every game and it still may not even be enough, but at worst they need to secure the points to carry them into the Champions League for another season. West Ham are in 6th place and three points behind Manchester City in fourth. To overhaul both Manchester clubs and steal into the Champions League places, the Hammers probably need to win most, if not all, of their last seven league fixtures.
Hammers Strong at Home
It’s been a revelation of a first season for Slaven Bilic at West Ham, with man-of-the-moment Dimitri Payet continuing to produce the goods week in week out. They’ve not been beaten in the Premier League at home since back-to-back defeats to Bournemouth and Leicester back in August, and with so few games left at their long-standing home ground, they will be desperate to see the season out with a bang.
The next three matches see them take on Arsenal and Manchester United (FA Cup) at home, before a trip to Leicester next weekend, and it could be a season-defining week. They can rightly be confident of a good result here though after going 15 games unbeaten on home ground – winning eight and drawing seven. Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Spurs have all failed to win here in that sequence, and the 2.05 about Arsenal taking three points here looks a little short.
Arsenal Back on Track?
Arsene Wenger appears to have his team back on track after a typically poor spring where title and Champions League aspirations fell by the wayside, but wins against average Everton and Watford sides may have put a gloss on the revival. Along with a 4-0 win at Hull in the FA Cup, those are the only victories the Gunners have in the last ten games, and they’ve been beaten by Barcelona (twice), Manchester United, Swansea, and Watford during that sequence, as well as being held to draws by Spurs and Hull.
The introduction of Alex Iwobi and the return of Danny Welbeck has brought a zest back to the Arsenal attack, while Alexi Sanchez has also started to look back to his best. Wenger has also dispensed with the services of Per Mertesacker at centre back, replacing him with Gabriel, and it’s been two clean sheets in a row. However, Everton have been lacklustre at home of late and Arsenal didn’t have to work hard to secure that 2-0 victory, while Watford have one eye on their upcoming FA Cup semi-final, and league form has not surprisingly taken a dive with four straight defeats. Arsenal come up against a strong and in-form team here in West Ham, and it will be a stern test of their current revival.
The Race for a Top Four Finish
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The Hammers have been pegged back from 2-1 leads to draw 2-2 the last twice, against Chelsea and Crystal Palace, but they’ve only been beaten twice in the last 23 games – both away from home at Southampton and Newcastle. They are a team that tends to raise their game against the ‘big’ sides, and there will be an intense atmosphere in the ground. It’s hard to be confident about an Arsenal team whose only four wins in the last ten on the road have come at Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Hull and Everton.
The majority of punters will be looking at the likes of Payet and Iwobi in this market, while Welbeck and Lanzini might also have their backers, but Antonio has a habit of popping up with important goals and he may be assigned a more attacking role this weekend. Due to injuries the winger has been filling in at right-back for Slaven Bilic, but both James Tomkins and Sam Byram could be available for selection this week, which means Antonio could be pushed back into his natural position wide right.
Incredibly, Antonio has been first on the scoresheet in three of West Ham’s last four games – the FA Cup win over Liverpool, and the 1-0 league wins over Spurs and Sunderland. He filled the right-back berth against Palace last weekend, but still has licence to get forward, and if he plays further up the pitch against Arsenal he can be expected to make his presence felt in the Gunners box.
West Ham or Draw Double Chance
Saturday 9th April, 12:45 GMT
Michail Antonio to Score First
Saturday 9th April, 12:45 GMT
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