The race for the top 4 continues. Arsenal have been in fierce competition with both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur for a space in next season’s UEFA Champions League. Following Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat of the former last weekend, their attention now turned to the penultimate London derby on their list, West Ham away.
There were a few changes to the squad following the win over Manchester United. Bukayo Saka was deemed fit to play, Takehiro Tomiyasu made his first start in the league since the 1-2 defeat to Manchester City on new year’s day, Benjamin White missed out with a hamstring problem, meaning that Rob Holding partnered Gabriel Magalhães in the centre of defence, and Gabriel Martinelli was given the nod ahead of Emile Smith Rowe.
Arsenal didn’t start especially well. West Ham dominated much of the play in the opening exchanges and had several good chances, mainly falling to the feet of Declan Rice and Saïd Benrahma, which Rob Holding managed to get a body in front of.
Despite the rather tepid opening from the Gunners, it was Arsenal who, rather unexpectedly, broke the deadlock. Despite their proficiency from corners, West Ham were caught slacking as 5’6 Manuel Lanzini was tasked with marking the towering 6’2 figure of Rob Holding. Unsurprisingly, the mismatch favoured Arsenal and Holding rose highest from a Bukayo Saka corner to head in the opener. Nicolas Jover once again looking to be one of the best tactical appointments the club have made in a while.
The jubilation was short-lived, however. West Ham soon found themselves right back in it after a lovely half-volley finish from Jarrod Bowen. An inch-perfect ball from Declan Rice over to Vladimír Coufal, allowed him to play a cross into the England forward who made no mistake.
The second-half seemed to be a more unified performance from the team. Arsenal looked a bit more comfortable in midfield, with Mohamed Elneny in particular starting to stand out alongside Granit Xhaka.
A flash-point occurred later on when Aaron Ramsdale cam sprinting out of his penalty area to smother a run from the onrushing Jarrod Bowen, who went to ground. A red card was surely imminent for the Arsenal goalkeeper, but Bowen, graciously held his hand up to say that there was no foul, sparing the Arsenal goalkeeper and earning himself a booking in the process.
While Bowen was in a charitable mood, Arsenal were not. Another corner was crossed in by Bukayo Saka, which was cleared by Vladimír Coufal, but only as far as Gabriel Martinelli, who’s inch-perfect cross met Gabriel Magalhães at the back-post. The Brazilian defender headed the ball goalwards and, despite former-Gunner Łukasz Fabiański’s efforts, it nestled in the back of the net for the winning goal.
It wasn’t what you’d call deserved, but Arsenal had worked hard and they would need to now too. Jarrod Bowen, Saïd Benrahma and Michail Antonio began to really rain the chances down on Arsenal, but Mikel Arteta’s side stood firm and managed to just cling on until the final whistle, with Eddie Nketiah riling up Declan Rice enough to waste a bit more time at the end.
While it was;t the greatest of performances from the team, a few players did stand out, mainly Rob Holding, Mohamed Elneny and Eddie Nketiah.
For Holding, it was a consummate performance. While much has been said about the England defender’s penchant for being brought in to see out a tough victory, he was commanding in his box from minute one and seemed to send a message to Benjamin White and on-loan defender William Saliba that he will be fighting for his place next season too.
Mohamed Elneny was inspirational in midfield. The Egyptian is perhaps unflatteringly known for his sideways and backwards passing, but Elneny was pinging passes all over the pitch with the temerity of Andrea Pirlo at his pomp.
Meanwhile, Eddie Nketiah seemed to stake his claim on the starting number 9 position ahead of Alexandre Lacazette. The youngster linked up well with Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard and with Gabriel Martinelli and was unlucky not to find himself on the scoresheet himself. His cultured and experienced performance was the deciding factor for sure and, had Rob Holding not been virtually unplayable at the back, would surely have resulted in a Man of the Match award.
The other news was that Arsenal had, with this win, guaranteed at least some form of European qualification. The team has a spot in the UEFA Europa League guaranteed, but it won’t be enough for Mikel Arteta, who will continue to push for that coveted 4th spot and, if Chelsea’s poor form continues, maybe even further than that…
It wasn’t exactly vintage Arsenal, but Arsenal won’t care. A win is a win and they find themselves back in fourth place with a 2 point lead over Tottenham, who now have to travel to Anfield, while Arsenal entertain Leeds United at home – the first of five cup finals are down, only four more to go.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu (Cédric Soares 77’)
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
20.) Nuno Tavares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka (Smith Rowe 87’)
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c) (Lokonga 92’)
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
1.) Bernd Leno
69.) Zak Swanson
54.) Alex Kirk
17.) Cédric Soares
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
65.) Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
West Ham United team:
1.) Łukasz Fabiański
5.) Vladimír Coufal
4.) Kurt Zouma
3.) Aaron Cresswell
24.) Ryan Fredricks
16.) Mark Noble (c) (Souček 77’)
41.) Declan Rice
8.) Pablo Fornals
10.) Manuel Lanzini (Antonio 71’)
22.) Saïd Benrahma (Yarmolenko 81’)
20.) Jarrod Bowen
West Ham subs:
13.) Alphonse Areola
23.) Issa Diop
42.) Aji Alese
26.) Arthur Masuaku
28.) Tomáš Souček
33.) Alex Král
11.) Nikola Vlašić
7.) Andriy Yarmolenko
9.) Michail Antonio