Distracted Arsenal could be frustrated by West Ham
Wenger exit and Europa League semi-final leave Gunners lacking focus
Sky Sports Premier League, 1.30pm Sunday
Between paying tribute to the departing Arsene Wenger, speculating on the wide-open race to succeed the Frenchman, and looking forward to Thursday’s Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, Arsenal fans may well regard the Premier League clash with West Ham as something of an afterthought.
That attitude could also be reflected in Wenger’s selection with players such as Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette likely to be rested with the first leg of the Atletico tie in mind.
Arsenal youngsters Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah have been given Premier League opportunities in recent weeks now that the Gunners’ only domestic ambition is pipping Burnley for sixth place.
Arsenal’s home record this term is worthy of Wenger’s great teams of the past but no club in the top four divisions of English football have relied so heavily on results on their own patch.
Five straight away defeats in 2018, against Bournemouth, Swansea, Tottenham, Brighton and Newcastle, mean the Gunners have earned 76 per cent of their points at the Emirates this season.
They have won all 12 of their home games against teams below them in the table while West Ham have won just twice on the road all season.
Those trends might suggest a hefty bet on Arsenal at 8-15 but the Atletico tie is looming large for the hosts as they aim to give Wenger a triumphant send-off in the Europa League.
And West Ham will be keen to extend a mini-revival which began with a crucial 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Southampton, followed by 1-1 draws away to Chelsea and at home to Stoke.
They needed a 90th-minute equaliser from Andy Carroll to deny the Potters a valuable victory but the Hammers were good value for their point, dominating possession and winning ten corners to Stoke’s one.
With Carroll, Javier Hernandez and top scorer Marko Arnautovic all available, West Ham have the personnel to unsettle an Arsenal defence who have been exposed time and again this season.
Most of their problems have come away from home but they also conceded twice to lowly Southampton in their last game in north London and West Ham could gain their reward if they put the error-prone Gunners under pressure.
The Hammers have drawn exactly a third of their league matches this season, including the goalless reverse fixture in December and a pair of 1-1s at Tottenham and Chelsea, and they can take another important point against their distracted hosts.
1pt 15-4 Betway
Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and David Ospina are doubts. The Gunners hope Henrikh Mkhitaryan could return for Thursday’s clash with Atletico Madrid.
Joe Hart’s place in goal is under threat from Adrian. James Collins, Winston Reid, Michail Antonio, Sam Byram and Pedro Obiang remain sidelined.
Arsenal average 2.41 points per game at home this season and just 0.81 points per game on the road.
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