After they cruised to a win over Southampton at the weekend, Arsenal were back in the headlines once more.
Following his disciplinary breach, it was announced that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had been stripped of the captaincy, a move that has since dominated the headlines. Arsenal needed to steal them back and a win over high-flyers West Ham, would do just that and would also see the team move, albeit likely temporarily, into fourth spot.
Mikel Arteta decided to go with the same team that beat Southampton, with Alexandre Lacazette retaining the armband.
Arsenal started well. The team seemed to realise that they can’t just press for 20 minutes and then hope that the game is out of sight by then, they seemed to realise that they need to remain concentrated for as long as possible.
West Ham came the closest early on when Pablo Fornals’ superb effort whisked past the post, but Arsenal dominated the ball and barely allowed West Ham more than a few snatched seconds on the ball here and there.
Arsenal created a myriad of chances, Granit Xhaka’s certain goal was denied by the excellent Craig Dawson and Kieran Tierney’s superb rebound was acrobatically stopped by former-Gunner Łukasz Fabiański.
Half-time came and went and it was more of the same from Arsenal. Neat passing combinations and smothering the opposition with possession, it was like watching Arsenal at their pomp under Arsène Wenger.
Soon, Arsenal broke the deadlock, a beautifully weighted, Mesut Özil-esque pass from Alexandre Lacazette released the explosive Gabriel Martinelli, who tore into the penalty area like a hungry lion and bent his effort into the far corner, reminiscent of Thierry Henry at his best.
Arsenal deserved their goal and they deserved the lead and they continued to press their advantage on West Ham, suffocating all routes past the halfway line.
Controversy ensued when referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the penalty spot for Vladimír Coufal’s tackle on Alexandre Lacazette and then sent the player off for a second yellow card.
It was neither a penalty or a bookable offence and West Ham will take some minimal comfort in the fact that the unjust penalty was saved, Alexandre Lacazette missing his first-ever penalty for the club.
The penalty incident seemed to take the sting out of the game, but Arsenal continued to push for another, the goal that would surely kill the game off and eventually, their hard work paid off.
A lovely combination between Bukayo Saka and substitute Emile Smith Rowe allowed the young midfielder to drive forward and rifle a left-footed shot into the bottom corner to double Arsenal’s lead and put Smith Rowe onto 7 goals in all competitions this season.
The final whistle rang out as Arsenal leapfrogged West Ham into 4th.
It was a fantastic performance, bettered only by their win over Aston Villa in October. Arsenal were exceptional all night and the performance of the youngsters, coupled with Mikel Arteta’s fantastic game management meant that Arsenal walked out deserved winners on the day.
West Ham fought bravely, but Arsenal were far too good on thr night, none more so than Bukayo Saka.
The youngster hasn’t been quite as prolific in front of goal as Emile Smith Rowe, but his performances have always been exceptional. His performance against West Ham was nothing short of stunning and will likely be haunting the dreams of Arthur Masuaku for some time and he rightly walked out with an assist for his troubles.
Gabriel Martinelli was not as involved as he should have been in the first-half, but the Brazilian exploded into action in the second-half, hustling for the ball and even picking up a yellow card for his repeated attempts to win it back. His goal was the mark of an expert marksman and he’s showing that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is going to need to be at the very top of his game if he’s to break back into the team.
It was another very good game for Arsenal’s new Mr. Reliable, Takehiro Tomiyasu. The Japanese full-back has been a relation since arriving from Bologna in the summer and his performance last night was enough to show why Arsenal were so keen to bring him to the club. Arsenal have not had such a dependable full-back at the club (Kieran Tierney aside) since Nacho Monreal.
Lastly, credit must be given to Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard has endured a litany of criticism all season as Arsenal fail to capitalise when needed and for rudimentary mistakes, but he proved his critics wrong, as he barked instructions from the touchline. He was vocal (perhaps even to a fault) and he was dictating every play, fully aware of the dangers the team may face and pushing hard to ensure that they all understood their roles.
Arsenal now face a tough away trip to Leeds United, where they will need to keep their good form going, especially if they are to try and cement their place in the top 4.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
4.) Ben White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
5.) Thomas Partey
7.) Bukayo Saka
8.) Martin Ødegaard (Smith Rowe 66’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Nketiah 82’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Tavares 89’)
33.) Arthur Okonkwo
16.) Rob Holding
20.) Nuno Tavares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
25.) Mohamed Elneny
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah
West Ham United team:
1.) Łukasz Fabiański
5.) Vladimír Coufal 🔴
15.) Craig Dawson
23.) Issa Diop
26.) Arthur Masuaku
28.) Tomáš Souček
41.) Declan Rice (c)
20.) Jarrod Bowen
8.) Pablo Fornals (Ashby 84’)
10.) Manuel Lanzini (Benrahma 76’)
9.) Michail Antonio
West Ham United subs:
13.) Alphonse Areola
42.) Aji Alese
50.) Harrison Ashby
33.) Alex Král
16.) Mark Noble
40.) Armstrong Oko-Flex
11.) Nikola Vlašić
22.) Saïd Benrahma
7.) Andry Yarmolenko