With just five points from our last five games it is perhaps surprising that West Ham are clinging on to fourth place in the Premier League table. The latest disappointment was the goalless draw at Burnley on Sunday. I write “disappointment” because, although in years gone by we would always have been happy with a point from a trip up north, we now hope (and expect perhaps) for three to maintain a challenge towards the top of the table. It was disappointing too in that we were the much better side creating all the chances, but came across a goalkeeper in Nick Pope determined to impress the watching England manager with some excellent saves from Diop, Benrahma and Bowen. And on a weekend where all the top clubs won games with the help of (in some cases) very soft penalty awards there was also a contentious incident where McNeil appeared to foul Dawson in the Burnley area but referee Scott did not award one and the referee on VAR duty (surprisingly to me, although I am biased) decided not to intervene.
Scoring goals is a bit of an issue away from home at the moment and Michail Antonio hasn’t managed to score in his last eight appearances. But he is not alone, and although he is perhaps expected to be our leading scorer others must chip in too. Although we have only managed one goal in our last three Premier games on our travels it is perhaps just a blip; after all if the league table was produced based on goals scored in this season to date we would be in fourth place by that measure too. I guess the disappointment comes from the cracking start to the season where we picked up 13 points from our first five away games with four wins and a draw, and this has been followed by just one point and one goal from the next three games away from the London Stadium.
Part of the reason for us retaining fourth place is down to the fact that the team who were closest to us just a few games ago (Wednesday’s opponents Arsenal) have had a relatively poor run too with just six points from their last five games (only one better than us) and have dropped a place in the table with Manchester United under new management having a resurgence and now just a point behind us. Manchester City and Liverpool are undoubtedly the form teams with a maximum 15 points from their last five league games, but they are followed (with a bit of a gap) by Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United who all have ten points from their last five, although Tottenham now have two games in hand over us and trail us by only three points.
Wednesday’s game is an important one for both ourselves and the Gunners in the quest to finish fourth – the top three will undoubtedly be the top three at the end of the season, such is their lead over the chasing pack and their consistency. Of course they can be beaten in odd games, as we have showed against both Liverpool and Chelsea, but over the course of a season those three will finish a long way clear I reckon.
Will last Sunday’s starting eleven be the same again against Arsenal? Perhaps yes, although I wonder if Fornals will return in place of Benrahma for this one? I’m not sure if any of the fringe players have done enough to make a compelling case to start. Vlasic is possibly the closest, but is he a better bet than Benrahma or Fornals? I’m not convinced but perhaps if he gets a chance of a run in the team at some stage he can show why we paid such a lot of money for him. I believe that Areola looks a great long-term prospect and once he gets his chance to be a starter in league games it may be difficult for Fabianski to get his place back. He has been an excellent goalkeeper for us but could he have done better with some of the goals we have conceded this season? And as modern keepers go, is his distribution perhaps a little below par at times?
The bookmakers have done their research based on past performances and Arsenal are favourites to win the game at odds of around 11/10. We are about 23/10 with the draw priced at around 5/2. A Bobby Zamora goal at the Emirates was enough for us to seal a 1-0 win in April 2007 which was the third win in a row against Arsenal, and enabled us to complete the double over them that season. But we have faced them on 28 occasions home and away since then and we have beaten them just twice, a 2-0 win on their patch on the opening day of the 2015-16 season (Kouyate and Zarate were the goalscorers that day), and 1-0 at the London Stadium in January 2019 with a goal from Declan Rice, his very first for us. There have been two 3-3 draws in those 28 games. What are the chances of a similar score tomorrow?