Michail Antonio ‘ready’ for West Ham striker battle after timely Larnaca brace, says Alphonse Areola

Timely brace: Michail Antonio netted twice in West Ham’s win over AEK Larnaca in Cyprus (AP)
Timely brace: Michail Antonio netted twice in West Ham’s win over AEK Larnaca in Cyprus (AP)

Alphonse Areola believes Michail Antonio’s vital double in Thursday night’s win over AEK Larnaca is proof that the forward is “ready for the battle” in the race to be West Ham’s no9 during the run-in.

Antonio’s first-half strikes earned a 2-0 victory that has David Moyes’ side firmly in control of their Europa Conference League last-16 tie ahead of next week’s second leg at the London Stadium.

At times in his West Ham career, Antonio has been the club’s only recognised centre-forward, but the additions of Gianluca Scamacca and Danny Ings this season have increased competition and the Jamaican international has often had to rely on injuries for Premier League starts.

“I am very happy for everyone, him especially because he had less minutes in the last few games,” goalkeeper Areola said. “[He] just showed that he’s ready for the battle, ready to help the team, so that’s good for everyone to show that we just want to lift the positivity for the team.”

Areola has found himself in a similar position over the past 18 months, featuring almost exclusively in the cup competitions since arriving in east London. But with first-choice goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski sidelined through injury, the Frenchman has finally been afforded an extended run.

The former Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain ‘keeper is expected to start in back-to-back League games for the first time in his Irons career when Aston Villa visit on Sunday and believes his patience and dedication are paying off.

“I’m quite experienced now, 30 years, I had this situation earlier in my career and I’m just more mature now,” he said. “The most important thing for me is the team right now. We want to play, we are competitors, but everyone wants to play in the Premier League and on the big stage.

“I’ve just kept my focus on my training and that’s the main thing that helped me to be focussed when the manager gave me the opportunity. For me, I’ve always worked hard, it’s something that’s not easy to do but it’s natural to go on to the pitch and be ready when they come.”

Areola has also spent much of his international career as a back-up to Hugo Lloris, winning just five France caps in seven-and-a-half years since his first call-up.

The 30-year-old was part of Didier Deschamps’ squad that won the World Cup in 2018 and again reached the final of last year’s edition in Qatar, but did not feature in either tournament. However, with French captain Lloris recently retiring from Les Bleus duty, Areola’s run in the West Ham side looks to have fallen perfectly ahead of the upcoming international break.

“Obviously, I don’t want anyone having bad luck or a bad injury, I’m not like that,” he added. “[But] for me personally, it’s quite good timing to have more minutes and to try to get to the national team.”