Arsenal moved back ahead of Tottenham in the race for Champions League qualification with a hard-fought 2-1 win at West Ham.
Mikel Arteta’s Gunners were kicking off less than an hour after Spurs had climbed a point above them into fourth place in the Premier League with a 3-1 defeat of Leicester City.
West Ham, like Leicester, made changes ahead of the second leg of a European semi-final, but they gave Arsenal a stern examination in a match that took a little time to get going.
After a 38-minute wait for the first effort of note, Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes were the unlikely Arsenal scorers either side of a Jarrod Bowen equaliser.
Eddie Nketiah’s low effort from the edge of the box was turned behind by Lukasz Fabianski seven minutes before the break, and the game burst into life from that moment. Arsenal were in front from the resulting corner as Holding got up ahead of Kurt Zouma to nod into the bottom-left corner for his first Premier League goal.
Back came West Ham, though, and after Aaron Ramsdale expertly kept out a header from Declan Rice, he was beaten by a deflected Bowen strike, with the winger given time and space to control and shoot inside the area.
But Arsenal were back in front nine minutes after half-time through Gabriel, their other centre-back, who was picked out by a fine Gabriel Martinelli cross and headed beyond Fabianski.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 1, 2022
Nketiah should have taken the game away from West Ham but fired wide after cutting in from the left on the break, before the striker drew a sharp low stop from Fabianski.
However, the visitors were not made to pay for those squandered chances, holding on for a third straight victory that again puts them two points clear of Tottenham.
What does it mean? Advantage Arsenal once again
Arsenal looked to have blown their top-four chances when they lost three games in a row to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Hove Albion and Southampton last month, but their response has been sublime. Victories against three sides in European places – Chelsea, Manchester United and now West Ham – have them back in the driving seat, helped by Tottenham’s own consistently inconsistent form.
The Champions League chase could yet come down to that huge north London derby in 11 days’ time, but Arsenal have negotiated their trickiest additional tasks on paper while Spurs must still visit Liverpool.
Nketiah’s nuisance factor
Only one player attempted more than two shots in this match, and that was Nketiah, who had six efforts. Although none of them found the net, that figure illustrates the constant menace he was to the West Ham defence. Four of those shots worked Fabianski, including a pair of excellent saves – one of which led to the opening goal.
Nketiah’s pace on the break was also a vital outlet as West Ham bossed 63 per cent of the possession in the second half.
Another defensive issue?
Holding only started due to a hamstring issue for Ben White, while Kieran Tierney will miss the rest of the season following knee surgery, so the return of Takehiro Tomiyasu to a Premier League starting line-up for the first time since New Year’s Day was welcomed by Arsenal.
However, the right-back did not last the 90 minutes, kicking the ball out of play and asking to be substituted 12 minutes from time. Given Tomiyasu stayed on the bench, rather than heading down the tunnel for treatment, Gunners fans will hope there is positive news on his fitness.
Arsenal have a full week before their next game at home to Leeds United, but West Ham are back in action on Thursday, looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Eintracht Frankfurt in their Europa League semi-final second leg.
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