On average, you may not empty the entire WH, but if you do, the expansion can be more than a few cups. An ET is sized so that it does not stretch the bladder all that much, which also means the pressure doesn't rise much in the process.
A hammer arrester is designed for a high pressure spikes, and does not actually hold any water, for the most part. They perform very different jobs, and are sized accordingly. No, you can't use an arrester for what you want.
If the ET was not sized properly, OR if it was not precharged properly to your static water pressure, the bladder will be stressed, and it won't last as long. Or, you could have just had the luck of the draw, but they often last longer than 3-years.