Look. Like the rest of you, I want us to waltz our way to the title, swatting aside each and every opponent who dares to stand in our way. Leeds? Crystal Palace? Fulham? We should and did trample them. We had our chance against Liverpool but let that slip. As we look ahead to West Ham, then, it almost feels silly for us to be assessing their fitness and priorities, given that they’re facing relegation. Ahead of our Sunday clash, though, there’s nothing wrong with sussing out the situation.
For as much as it seems like David Moyes has set his sights on winning a Europa League Conference trophy, which would be West Ham’s first significant silverware in forty three years, we’d do well to be wary of a side that is just three points from the drop-zone. The good news is that Moyes seems to have gone all-in in West Ham’s first leg against Belgian side Gent only to see Danny Ings’ goal just before halftime canceled out just shy of the hour mark. This meant that key players like Rice, Obgonna, Aguerd, Coufal, and Bowen logging some heavy minutes to keep the draw.
There may be some tired legs and distracted minds then as we go into London Stadium on Sunday. Will Moyes and his squad chalk this one off as they look ahead to their second leg at home against Gent. After that, they go to Bournemouth, a match they must feel confident about taking points from. Again, I don’t like having to perform triage like this against an opponent we really should waltz past, but our chance at winning our first Prem title in almost a generation now hangs on such calculations.
Of course, this fixture offers us a chance a look through the looking glass. Yes, a win helps us get closer to that precious Prem title. However, there’s another prize on offer, and that’s the services of one Declan Rice. Yes, winning the Europa League Conference might be…interesting, but it’s hardly the kind of career-defining moment that a player of Rice’s calibre craves. Should we win on Sunday, there are four clubs that could overtake or match West Ham, who are on thirty points. Given the right results, Bournemouth and Leeds could climb above the Irons; Everton and Nottingham Forest could draw level. Worst-case scenario: West Ham find themselves in the drop-zone by Monday.
If West Ham fail to win that Europa Conference League, if West Ham do get relegated, all bets will be off on Declan Rice’s future. There’s no chance he’d spend a year or more playing in the Championship. What’s more, he’s seen how compatriots like Saka, White, Ramsdale, Nketiah, and Smith-Rowe have flourished under Arteta. He might also eye up the fact that Xhaka and Partey will each start to age out of starting roles (Xhaka is 30; Partey will turn 30 in June).
Besting the Irons on Sunday is about more than pursuing that Prem title, then. It may be about strengthening our pursuit of the same—and more in seasons to come. Even if we don’t win the Prem, we can show Rice what it’s like to play for the greatest team the world has ever seen as soon as Sunday.
One last note before you go: you can enter a raffle for a £25 Arsenal Direct gift card by commenting on this and other posts in April. Yes, it’s a direct attempt at bribing you to join the conversation. The more often you comment, the better your chances at winning. Have at it!