Arsenal welcomed West Ham to the Emirates Stadium in the 29th round of the 2019/20 Premier League season.
It has been a campaign of mixed feelings for both these teams; neither are anywhere near where they wanted to be, with Arsenal far from a top-four spot (10th, 37 points, 27 games played) and West Ham who currently face a very real danger of relegation. The Hammers entered this game from position 16, with 27 points from 28 games, level with Watford in 17th and Bournemouth in 18th. Both clubs went through an in-campaign managerial change as West Ham parted ways with Manuel Pellegrini and reappointed David Moyes, while Arsenal sacked Unai Emery and brought in Mikel Arteta, once the captain of Everton under Moyes.
Arteta was still without his two recognized left-backs – both Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney were unavailable. Striker Alexandre Lacazette and right-back Hector Bellerin were left on the bench. Right-back Cedric Soares was out too. Defender Calum Chambers won’t play again this season, while the jury is currently out on the absence of midfielder Lucas Torreira who picked up an ankle injury.
Bernd Leno was in goal. David Luiz and Pablo Mari paired up in the heart of defence, while Sokratis Papastathopoulos, a centre-back by default, started on the right flank this time. Bukayo Saka deputized on the left once more. Granit Xhaka was joined by Dani Ceballos in deeper midfield positions. Nicolas Pepe took his usual place on the right wing, captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was on the left, and Mesut Ozil played in his preferred ‘number 10’ role behind striker Eddie Nketiah.
Former Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere missed a chance to play at the Emirates again. Moyes also couldn’t call upon right-back Ryan Fredericks and winger Andriy Yarmolenko.
Lukasz Fabianski stood between the posts. Angelo Ogbonna and Issa Diop held the back line together, flanked by Aaron Cresswell on the left and Jeremy Ngakia on the right. Declan Rice and captain Mark Noble were tasked with doing the hard work in the middle of the park, with Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen in wide midfield roles. Upfront, Michail Antonio and Sebastian Haller formed a two-man attack.
The First Half
The Hammers could have taken the lead after 90 seconds. Xhaka’s horrible mistake placed the ball straight into the feet of Bowen and the West Ham midfielder had a go from just outside the box. Leno stretched and finger-tipped it onto the post, sparing the Swiss international some blushes. An early wake-up call for the home team, but from that point on they looked relatively composed.
The game flowed slowly in these early stages, and in a direction that was to be expected. It was Arsenal who had more of the ball and looked to move forward in a gradual and organized fashion, while the visitors didn’t mind dropping deep and defending, showing a good level of discipline in the process.
The Hammers also looked for any opportunity to hit on the counter, and in the 11th minute they threatened again. Fornals whipped a good pass for Antonio who broke into the box and forced Luiz to come across, opening space for Haller to run into at the far posts. But the two attackers misunderstood each other and the chance went begging. Arsenal then hit back after a set-piece, which ended with Ozil hitting a volley on target which was blocked by Ogbonna.
The game picked up on pace after that, and surprisingly enough, it was the visitors who looked the more dangerous. Fornals and Haller both wasted decent chances to give their team the lead, but Arsenal had an excellent one of their own as a cross from Aubameyang found Sokratis in the air and the defender’s header hit the bar. West Ham had a good free-kick opportunity in the 24th minute from around 20 yards, but Cresswell whipped it over the bar.
As has already been said, the Hammers were tactically very disciplined. They were all where they were told to be and their lines not only worked extremely well, but they were also very smart in reading the passing game of the opposition. Xhaka in particular has plenty of issues there, and just like in the second minute of the game, Bowen made several more interceptions on his account.
As for Arsenal, Ceballos looked keen to get involved but he was too often indecisive on the ball and slowed his team’s attacks down. Pepe and Aubameyang looked lively on the flanks and Nketiah worked hard in and around the Hammers’ box, but it wasn’t easy.
In the 38th minute, Nketiah ruined some very good work by Pepe. The winger dribbled past several opponents and entered the box, when the young striker stepped into his path and took a shot. Not only was the shot aimed straight at Fabianski, but Nketiah was also offside.
At the other end, Antonio often drifted to the left looking to exploit his pace against Sokratis. In the 40th minute, he won a corner that way and after Haller won the header and directed the ball into the six-yard box, Antonio tried to fool Leno but he ended up diverting it wide of the post. It was a glorious chance.
The rest of the half passed in the two teams alternating in moving forward, but the only excitement came at the stroke of the one minute of injury time when Nketiah was lucky to escape getting booked for a dive inside the box.
The Second Half
After the break, Arsenal quickly got a firmer grip on the game. They pushed forward and attacked, and after Xhaka wasted a a few potentially promising moments with some more wasteful passing, Saka did extremely well in the 52nd minute. He broke into the box from the left showing his opponents how quick his feet are, before slipping the ball through for Nketiah to put in the net, but Fabianski came off his line and made great save.
The Gunners were almost punished four minutes later when a cross from the left from Cresswell was flicked on by Haller and found Antonio completely unmarked on the edge of six yards, but it was now Leno’s turn to make a fine save.
With just under an hour gone, Arteta felt he had given enough of a chance to Nketiah and the youngster made way for Lacazette.
West Ham broke through the bonds of Arsenal’s pressure for a while at this point and gave as good as they got, causing a few desperate scrambles in the home team’s box. In the 65th minute, Bowen once more intercepted a pass from Xhaka and burst forward. After a one-two with one of his teammates, he reached the edge of the box and let one fly – straight at Leno.
The game became a two-way street once more, which means Arsenal were still set on attacking. Less than a minute after Bowen’s chance, Lacazette went down in the Hammers’ box and appealed for a penalty. VAR was consulted, but the decision of referee Martin Atkinson not to award a spot-kick still stood.
Arteta’s next move was to withdraw Pepe and give the rest of the match to Reiss Nelson.
Arsenal had a great chance in the 75th minute after a bad mistake from Noble in his own half enabled Lacazette to take the ball forward and find Ozil inside the box, but the German took too much time and eventually tried to return the ball to Lacazette. It was enough for the West Ham defence to react and clear their lines.
Three minutes later, the same pair combined again. Aubameyang’s shot was deflected onto Ozil’s head and the German brought it down for Lacazette on the edge of six yards. The French striker slammed into the net, and the flag was raised, signaling that Ozil was offside. But VAR took matters into their hands again and changed the decision this time.
Moyes’ reaction to his team going down was to introduce Tomas Soucek in the place of Noble.
West Ham came very close to a quick equalizer as Bowen whipped in a cross towards the near post and Haller diverted it on target, but Leno was at the right place again. The striker had another chance soon after with Ngakia being the one to find him in the box this time, but Luiz was there to thwart him.
Moyes then withdrew Fornals, and Felipe Anderson came on.
With nothing to lose, the visitors now charged forward. It was Arteta now who chose to react, and Ozil made way for Bellerin in what was an extremely defensive substitution. Sokratis now moved inwards, and Arsenal were playing with a back five. Robert Snodgrass also came on for West Ham, replacing Bowen in the 90th minute.
As the five minutes of stoppage time started flowing, Nelson tried to kill the game off with a thunderbolt from just outside the box, but it went much too high. The Hammers tried a few more times to make something happen with hopeful crosses into the box, but nothing worked.
It was a hard-fought and a well-deserved victory for Arsenal. They were clearly the better team overall, but especially in the second half. Arteta’s decision to send Lacazette into the fray obviously paid off, and the Frenchman will be delighted with the impact he made. After the game, Arsenal climbed to ninth place, only five points behind Chelsea in fourth. They will be looking upwards now and planning their next step with much more hope.
On the other hand, it’s not like the Hammers couldn’t get anything from this game. They had quite a few chances of their own, and even though they couldn’t control the game against a technically superior opponent, at least one of their efforts could have easily ended up in the net and then we’d have had a different contest. As it is, West Ham will have to look elsewhere for precious points to help them stay in the league.
ARSENAL: Leno 7.5, D. Luiz 7.5 , Mari 7.5 , Sokratis 7, Saka 7, Xhaka 5, Ceballos 7, Ozil 7 (88′ Bellerin N/A), Pepe 6.5 (69′ Nelson 6.5), Aubameyang 7, Nketiah 5 (59′ Lacazette 7.5).
WEST HAM: Fabianski 7.5, Ogbonna 7, Diop 7, Cresswell 6.5, Ngakia 7, Noble 6 ( 82′ Soucek N/A), Rice 6, Fornals 6.5 (87’Anderson N/A), Bowen 7.5 (90′ Snodgrass N/A), Antonio 7, Haller 7.
GOAL: Lacazette 78′.
YELLOW CARDS: Fornals 9, Sokratis 63′, Antonio 90′.
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson.
DATE & VENUE: March 7, 2020, Emirates Stadium, London.
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