SOCCER

Premier League Carries On With Midweek Fixtures Despite Rising COVID Cases

Dec 14, 2021, 3:24 PM | Updated: 3:25 pm
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal during the Premier League match between...
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on December 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)
(Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – At the close of the weekend, the top three teams won again. Tottenham Hotspur had their game against Brighton called off because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 also impacted Manchester United. Reports of Man U virus cases were confirmed on Monday, and their match with Brentford was called off. What is slightly disturbing is that this round of 3805 tests (December 6th – 12th) for players and staff returned 42 positive tests, which is the highest number since the EPL started releasing the weekly figures.

On loan to Crystal Palace from Chelsea, player Conor Gallagher showed his class as he stole the show against Everton, scoring two in an all-action display on the way to a 3-1 victory.

Arsenal v. West Ham United

This is the tie of the midweek for me. A London derby with plenty on the line, as Wednesday’s encounter between sixth place Gunners host fourth-placed Hammers. Kick-off at 1:00 p.m. will be shown on NBCSN.

One question on everyone’s lips has been “will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang be involved?” as the Arsenal captain was dropped for disciplinary reasons, and this is not the first time it’s happened. The answer is confirmed as no, he will not be available. In a statement from the club we now know he has also been stripped of the captaincy. With four goals and an assist to his name this season, he’s not in top form, but has contributed.

As for Arsenal, overall, they’re still very much Jekyll & Hyde. A few young and extremely talented youngsters have massive futures as they are becoming game changers, but also some inconsistencies that come along with being inexperienced. Saka and Smith Rowe are Arsenal’s future, but is there anyone else who can step up? There are a handful of players that could be game-changers. But I’ll still reserve judgment a little longer, as I’m not sure some of the recent arrivals are the right caliber of player. But really, I question the manager’s ability more than the ability of the players.

You see flashes of great attacking play from the Gunners, and then some glueless defending scenarios. A good result against Southampton at the weekend helped them recover from the last gasp, 2-1 loss against Everton. I’m hoping to see a return of the team identity and the philosophy that Arsène Wenger provided to the Gunners. Some of the best soccer you could ever watch, and whilst the team is a long way from this, it still feels like there is an influence that runs through the club, and it just needs someone to ignite the giant again.

West Ham come into the Emirates Stadium as strong contenders for a top-four finish. Their strength is the settled core players who David Moyes continues to rely on and their well-drilled defensive shape. The ability to soak up pressure and then bomb forward is something the Hammers have been able to hone into a fine art this season.

Declan Rice is turning heads left, right and center as he is not only the captain (with Mark Noble mostly on the bench) but his performances in the heart of midfield for the Irons and for England, make him a huge target for big teams around Europe next summer. His energy is infectious, but it is his performance levels that have gone up a notch, with him performing at an extremely high standard late on in matches when most other players are tiring. He’s fitter, his match IQ is also much more predominant, hence his name being touted for a big move, eventually. His partnership with Czech international Tomáš Souček is also a massive reason why Rice and West Ham are where they are. The physical and energetic partnership between Rice and Souček provides the platform to protect the defenders but to quickly win the ball and move it to the likes of Bowen, Antonio, Benrahma, Lanzini and Fornals. This rotation, and whoever starts are extremely hard working and fluid. It’s also a testament to Moyes’ ability to coach players and get them to understand their roles on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: This one should entertain; this should also be a fiery encounter. What’s on the line? Arsenal with a win go fourth, West Ham with a win tighten their grip on fourth. West Ham are certainly a better all-round team. But Arsenal still can compete. I just see an excellent match happening with plenty of attacking on show, and I give the edge to West Ham, just.

We’ll be back before the weekend, as the congested fixture list ensures plenty of rotation before the year is out.

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