Last updated & checked: 10/08/2021
As Arsenal look around for that “new manager bounce” that’s supposed to happen when you get rid of an unpopular boss, the fixture calendar takes them across London to face West Ham – another of Fredrik Ljungberg’s old clubs, though one he served with a tad less distinction than the club he manages here. The Swedish star’s record as caretaker reads: two games played, one draw and one defeat.
Of the two sides facing off here, it’s the Hammers who more recently have a win in their history. A visit to Chelsea last week saw them sneak a 1-0 triumph over Frank Lampard’s side, although some of the good work was swiftly undone on Wednesday as they were comfortably beaten by Wolves, leaving them just two places outside the relegation zone and at some risk of following Arsenal into the “Sacked Our Manager” club.
West Ham United vs Arsenal Prediction: West Ham United 2-1 Arsenal
Famously, Ljungberg had an instant impact on his debut as an Arsenal player, scoring six minutes after coming on as sub against Manchester United. As a boss, he’s taking a little longer to find that X factor. It’s not like he’s had a real baptism of fire, either; away to Norwich and home to Brighton is a pretty soft landing, but the way the Gunners let the game slip on Thursday night must be a major cause for concern. West Ham, meanwhile, showed a toughness in holding off a Chelsea side that’s been fizzing recently, and they may be underdogs here, but Arsenal haven’t won in nine – that’s a full-on decline.
Our recommended tip: West Ham win
This meeting does not carry the hallmarks of a clash between two Premier League competitors. By default, Manuel Pelligrini’s men are probably the “form team” – but those inverted commas are doing a lot of work. In truth, this will be a match between 22 talented players, some of whom will more than likely play well enough for a sustained period to ensure that one team wins. Being in better form, and playing at home, the Hammers seem better-placed to be the team in luck.
These sides last faced off back in January of this year, also on this ground. On that occasion, Arsenal were fighting for a Champions League spot and the sides both gave as good as they got. It was West Ham who would make off with the points, though, thanks to a 48th-minute finish from Declan Rice. While Arsenal have generally had the upper hand in these fixtures recently, winning 3-1 at the Emirates in August of 2018, both sides have been so up-and-down in recent seasons that it’s hard to get a real read on how they match up.
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Players to watch: Michail Antonio & Mesut Ozil
It’s weird to think that Antonio was, less than four years ago, in and around the England squad and then, just as swiftly as it began, his charge to the forefront of English football has been halted. West Ham’s uninspiring state over the past few years hasn’t helped him stay either in form or in the public eye – but he’s an attacking player with a directness many of his teammates seem to lack, and most of what has been good about them has happened around this locally-born winger.
Ozil’s part in the Arsenal story could go either way from this point. Not seen as integral to the squad by Unai Emery, the midfielder is taking in a colossal amount of money to mostly sit on the bench. When he plays, he usually makes a difference – and a run of form could attract the buyers the club seems desperate to alert to the German’s availability. While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is much more of a talisman to the side, a fully-firing Ozil could be the difference between this shiftless Arsenal and one capable of winning things.