After an untimely crash out of the Europa League, Arsenal are thin on lifelines remaining to slavage the season leaving them in dire need of getting max points out of their upcoming games including today’s game against West Ham and future games against Brighton and Norwich. After a late addition of their Manchester City makeup game slated for next week and their FA Cup draw against Sheffield United has caused the postponement of their match against Southampton, Arsenal won’t have as many games to regain their footing before playing Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham, and Liverpool in a run of games that will no doubt define their season result.
First up – West Ham. In a game that both teams will have reasons to be frustrated and worried, Arsenal will leave happier having scraped out a win in a game that could have easily seen West Ham score early and often. West Ham will leave the Emirates kicking themselves for not having put the game away early by letting Arsenal off the hook on three or four occasions. Definitely a defining moment late in this season for them to look back at as they struggle in a relegation race.
Leno, Sokratis, Luiz, Mari, Saka, Xhaka, Ceballos, Ozil, Pepe, Nketiah, Aubameyang
Martinez, Bellerin, Guendouzi, Willock, Nelson, Martinelli, Lacazette
In a repeat of the backline we saw at Portsmouth in the FA Cup, we saw Pablo Mari given his first Premier League start with Luiz to the right of him and Sokratis in the right back role. Ceballos and Xhaka would make up the midfield pairing, something that has seemingly become Arteta’s go to selection, while Ozil backs up Aubameyang, Nketiah, and Pepe up front.
In a game where Arsenal would look to have the passing abilities of Ceballos and Ozil, complimented by the range of Xhaka, be the reason they could unlock a struggling West Ham defense, it was a worrying start for the fans. Two minutes in, Xhaka would be a bit lackadaisical with his pass out of the back and have it intercepted. Immediately West Ham countered working themselves an easy shot that Leno managed to get fingertips to and put the ball off the post. A great save but the first let off from West Ham who will have wanted to do better with it.
While Arsenal would dominate the possession, chances would continue to come for the Hammers. West Ham were able to play Antonio into space behind the Arsenal backline after a Mari mistimed tackle and with his pace he was in on goal for a 2 vs 1 with Luiz struggling to get back. Arsenal would thank their lucky stars as they watched Antonio’s cut back, square ball go behind Haller and away from danger. Likely the largest let off of the game. Should have easily seen West Ham up.
Feeling a little pressure to get things going, Arsenal managed to respond when Xhaka played a cross in from wide left resulting in a poor West Ham clearance and a rare Ozil shot. This moment of positivity would be short lived as Arsenal were under pressure at the back looking to play out minutes later resulting in Nketiah being unable to hold up the ball to relieve pressure. The West Ham defender shouldered his way through Eddie and quickly made West Ham dangerous. One pass unlocked Haller and fortunately Leno is quick off his line to stop a shot from coming in. A great play but West Ham have had to great chances squandered.
The final West Ham chance would come in the 40th minute on a corner kick when Antonio missed from 3 yards away. He made a bad connection on the turnaround and put it wide. 3rd let off for Arsenal and 3rd time West Ham should have put themselves into the lead.
0 – 0 at the end of the half.
Arsenal came out in the second half making little to no changes from the first half where they struggled to get things going. A little surprising, but something we have seen under Arteta’s management. However, Arsenal were able to get things going on the back of Saka’s raw energy in the 52nd minute as he made a mazy run to cut in and walk through defenders along the top of the box. He slipped in Nketiah but Fabianski came out and made himself big to get the save.
Three minutes later, in the 55th minute, Leno would be called into action again as a cross was tipped by West Ham up and over Mari and Saka right to Antonio on the back post. Fortunately, Leno was up the challenge to get across the face of goal and make a strong stop on a 4th golden opportunity for West Ham to take the lead. Even with a mass majority of possession, Arsenal were struggling to keep the game level.
In the 59th minute Arteta would make his first change by bringing on Lacazette in a like for like switch with Nketiah down the middle. Slowly Arsenal began to push more numbers into the attack offering less protection for the backline. This would give West Ham an opportunity in the 66th minute to break down the middle of the field with acres of space. West Ham rifled a shot low but Leno was able to palm it away and squash the danger.
In the 69th minute, Reiss Nelson would come on for Pepe in an attempt to add a little something different to the mix. While it wouldn’t come from Nelson, Arsenal would catch their break in the 77th minute when Aubameyang fired a shot that was deflected. The deflection would cause the ball to loop up into the air and drop right to Ozil in behind at the penalty spot, who cushioned a header square to Lacazette to buried he tap in goal only to have the flag go up for offsides.
In another display of how poor VAR can be for a game, it took ages for them to review the play and correct the decision. Fans and viewers were left struggling to understand how it could take so long with such clear and obvious evidence that the offside flag had been incorrect. Finally, it was corrected, and the goal was given. 1-0 Arsenal
West Ham wouldn’t go down without a fight as the continued to pressure Arsenal who were left scrapping away attacks in an attempt to keep their clean sheet. Looking like they could concede at any moment, Arsenal fans’ hearts would be pounding.
In the 89th minute, Bellerin came on for Ozil to sure up the defense and Arsenal would see out the game.
1-0 Arsenal and 3 points on the weekend. Next up, a big game against Manchester City on Wednesday.