The performance I envisaged with my 3-1 prediction was very different to Saturday’s reality. I expected a demolition job, but the Hammers showed they have more quality than their poor start implies. This was a close match, but most importantly we secured the three points that gave Unai Emery his much needed first win as Arsenal manager.
I thought we would start with the same team that lost 3-2 to Chelsea, however Mesut Ozil made way for Aaron Ramsey. The official reason given by the club was that the German was “ill”, but journalist Joao Castelo-Branco, working for ESPN reported that Ozil had been dropped after having an argument with the manager (I’ll share my thoughts on this in a separate piece). A rumor of unrest is the last thing you need before a must win game.
We started well and should have taken the lead on 12’ when Hector Bellerin picked out Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the area. His instant shot was saved by the impressive Lukasz Fabianski with Ramsey’s rebound ruled out for offside. This was an excellent chance, especially for the Armenian sharp shooter and testament to the blossoming attacking prowess of our right flank.
Despite the impressive attacking display down the right, the defensive side left a lot to be desired. West Ham were having plenty of joy with Michail Antonio and Felipe Anderson exposing our fragility.
On 25’ our vulnerability was punished when the vociferous Marko Arnautovic was picked out by Anderson and hit a first-time snap shot from the edge of the area past Petr Cech. Emery spoke before the game about getting the right balance between attack and defence. It’s clear we have a lot to do before this balance is evident on the pitch.
Arsenal 0 – 1 West Ham
Luckily it did not take long for us to equalize. The Bellerin/Mkhitaryan attacking combination was at it again when the Armenian slipped in Bellerin down the right. The Spaniard’s cut back bundled across the goal and found its way to our new poacher Nacho Monreal, who slotted home.
Arsenal 1-1 West Ham
Despite equalizing, we were lucky to enter half time with the score level. West ham continued to threaten and missed an absolute sitter on 47’ when Robert Snodgrass somehow managed to pass the ball to Cech from six yards out. We will struggle to beat half of the teams in the league if we continue to defend like this. We need to be better in one on one situations and we need to narrow the gaps between players when we get into our defensive shape. It’s far too easy for opposition to advance into dangerous spaces unchallenged.
Half time: Arsenal 1-1 West Ham
Emery continued to demonstrate he is not afraid of adjusting the team when he brought on Alexandre Lacazette for Alex Iwobi. The Nigerian was ok in the first half. I hoped he would have built on his encouraging performance at Chelsea with a more dynamic display.
We continued to look vulnerable defensively with Anderson threatening. On 55’ he glided with the ball from deep into our half before cutting back to Arnautovic who should have scored.
The dynamic of the game shifted with two key moments. First, the substitution of Matteo Guendouzi for Lucas Torreira on 56’ made us more solid and allowed Granit Xhaka to better control our tempo from midfield. The second moment came on 59’ when Arnautovic had to go off with a muscular injury. He was arguably the best player on the pitch and West Ham sorely missed his presence.
The breakthrough came on 70’ after terrible defending from the Hammers. They fouled to clear the ball from their box and it found its way to Ramsey who’s knock across goal was bumped in by Issa Diop. The £22million pound centreback was lucky to be on the pitch after a rake on Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in the first half.
We managed to kill off the game in extra time when Bellerin squared for Danny Welbeck to make it 3-1. Bellerin was fantastic going forward. Not only is he linking well with Mkhitaryan, but he appears to have much more composure with his final ball. I am always going to be harsh with Hector, as I feel he has genuine world class potential and I want him to fulfill it. Despite his attacking exploits he was found wanting again in the opposite direction. If Emery can fix that then we have a serious player on our books.
Full time: Arsenal 3 – 1 West Ham
Man of the match: Aaron Ramsey
The Welshman’s energy was fantastic. He was a constant threat to West Ham and exhibited how to put aside off the field issues to do what matters the most and help the team win.