Mikel Arteta has warned West Ham will know "how to hurt" his Arsenal team when the London rivals clash in the Premier League on Sunday. (More Football News)
The fifth-placed Hammers sit seven points ahead of Arteta's toiling mid-table Arsenal with 10 games of the season remaining for both teams, as David Moyes continues to work wonders.
Arsenal's best hope of qualifying for next season appears to be through the Europa League, which offers a place in the elite competition to the winners, and Slavia Prague await them in the quarter-finals.
West Ham, however, can get there on merit through the domestic league, and three points at the London Stadium this weekend would bolster their top-four chances.
Arteta and Moyes were appointed by their respective clubs in December 2019, and few would have foreseen West Ham being a step ahead of the Gunners 15 months down the line.
Looking ahead to their tussle, Arteta said: "We know we will have a really tough game, they've been in great form. They've been really consistent, they know really well what to do and how to hurt opponents. I know David really well and I am sure he will prepare the match so it is a really difficult game for us."
All eyes on Sunday…March 19, 2021
Arteta was asked whether West Ham's form has come as a surprise, to which he replied: "Not really. I think they have a really strong squad and they have a great manager and coaching staff.
"They started the season with some doubts, but I know what David is capable of doing.
"He gets the group together, they're working really hard for each other, they've recruited really well and you can start to see the things that David has done. Obviously they have a little bit more time during the week to prepare football matches and training, and I think they've been in great form and they're a really dangerous team."
Arsenal muddled their way past Olympiacos in the Europa League last-16 on Thursday, with a 1-0 home defeat meaning the Gunners scraped through 3-2 on aggregate. As Arteta pointed out, West Ham have no European commitments this season, but it could be a different story next term.
Why are Arsenal still trailing in West Ham's wake?
West Ham were already ahead of Arsenal at the turn of the year and it will worry Arteta that the gap has grown since, yet in many aspects the teams have performed on a similar level in the Premier League.
Since January 1, the Hammers have a goals for-and-against of 19-11 in the competition, while Arsenal's shows as 21-10, and the 13.38 per cent shot conversion rate for West Ham is more or less identical to Arsenal's own (13.04).
West Ham have created 20 'big chances', to 16 by Arsenal, and both sides have 50 per cent conversion rates when it comes to those opportunities, which are defined by Opta as being "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".
Arsenal are on a par with their xG (expected goals rate) of 18.2 from 158 shots in 2021, scoring 18 non-penalty goals, while West Ham have taken 18 fewer shots and are similarly closely tracking their xG of 17.5, also scoring 18 times excluding spot-kicks.
Perhaps telling when it comes to judging the difference between the teams is the toll that errors are taking on Arsenal.
In 12 Premier League games this year, West Ham players have collectively made three errors leading to shots, none of which resulted in a goal, but Arsenal have made seven such errors and have conceded three goals as a direct consequence.
The Gunners' 2021 haul of 21 points from 12 games (W6 D3 L3) is bettered by West Ham, who have 25 points (W8 D1 L3) over the same period.
Indeed, only Manchester City (45 points from 16 games), Manchester United (27 points/14 games) and Leicester City (27 points/13 games) have taken more points than West Ham since the turn of the year.