Result: West Ham United 1-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 12th Jan 2019
Venue: London Stadium
Starting XI: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Koscielny, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Iwobi, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Cech, Bellerin, Monreal, Lichtsteiner, Ramsey, Torreira, Nkeitah
Declan Rice’s strike three minutes after half time was enough for West Ham to beat a toothless Arsenal 1-0 at the London Stadium.
Despite a bright start to the game, Unai Emery’s men produced a horribly lacklustre performance in attack and fully deserved a fifth Premier League defeat of the season.
Should results go against us this weekend, we could be six points adrift of the top four and down in sixth place.
Despite the club confirming his return to full fitness this week, Mesut Ozil was the surprise omission from the matchday squad. Did the boss deem the game too physical for him? Did he suffer a late setback with his dodgy knee? It wasn’t clear before kick-off. Alex Iwobi was given his slot behind the strikers.
At the back, Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi joined Sokratis, with Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac picked ahead of Bellerin and Monreal. The two Spaniards were joined on the bench by Torreira, again rested, with Guendouzi and Xhaka charged with running the centre of midfield.
Adding spice to the occasion was the presence of Samir Nasri in Manuel Pellegrini’s starting lineup, the Frenchman signing for the Hammers this month following an 18-month ban for a doping offence. He received a typically vocal welcome from the travelling fans, but it was hard to shake the uneasy feeling that he might do us damage.
Alongside the ex-Gunner, Felipe Anderson, Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic proved to be willing runners, eager to take advantage of any space behind our attack-minded wing-backs.
Arsenal’s best work in the first 15 minutes came courtesy of the combination play of Iwobi, who was very bright, Aubameyang and Lacazette. The Frenchman tried his luck from 25-yards with a looping effort that dipped over Fabianski’s bar and, after neat build-up play, had another shot blocked at the near post. A desperate attempt to capitalise on the rebound saw the ball fly over. Laca’s movement was great and his willingness to get stuck in on the physical side also caught the eye. That said, a few of his passes did go astray and he grew ever more frustrated.
Bit by bit, West Ham found their stride. Sokratis had to make a great block to stop an Arnautovic shot testing Leno and Anderson fired just wide from outside the box after a quick break.
Back came Arsenal. Wonderful play worked the ball up the left flank and then inside to Guendouzi, who shifted onto his right foot and rifled an effort that clipped the goal stanchion. The ripple of the net fooled the Arsenal supporters, stationed at the other end of the stadium, into thinking the ball had gone in. Their cries were laughed away by the home fans.
The best chance of opening 45 minutes came just before the break when Rice, beating Mustafi and Xhaka to the ball, headed an Anderson corner just wide. Had there been a claret shirt at the back post the home side would have had the lead.
Mustafi took it upon himself to set the tone for the second half with an early booking. You probably don’t need us to tell you, it was for a late sliding challenge. On this occasion, he took out Anderson. Nothing came of the initial free-kick, whipped into the danger area and cleared for a corner by Koscielny, but we never got out from there and within a minute were behind.
Rice, still up for the corner and left free in the box, curled past Leno with a smart finish having been teed up by Nasri. Like we said earlier, he was always going to do something. (1-0)
A Guendouzi effort aside – caressed wide from outside the box – we mustered little in response before Emery decided to switch things up on the hour mark. Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira replaced Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi and we switched to a back four.
We stepped up the pace and started to look a bit more dangerous. Auba had two chances in quick succession, heading over a Ramsey cross and then firing a Kolasinac cross over on the diagonal.
Lacazette, Maitland-Niles and a clever little flick by Ramsey got the ball to Iwobi who quickly struck a low left-foot shot that went inches wide. Guendouzi tried another curler. It was better, but Fabianski remained mostly untroubled. Emery couldn’t hide his frustration.
More changes by both sides. Bellerin came on for Maitland-Niles and Pellegrini sent on Robert Snodgrass crossing ability and Andy Carroll’s elbows to add a dangerous and more direct combo for the home side. Off went Nasri and Arnautovic.
Arsenal continued to look very disjointed. Faced with a bank of claret shirts, we too often rushed our passing in the final third, allowing the ball to skip out of play or fall into the hands of Fabianski. It was reminiscent of the game at Brighton when we were similarly ineffective in attack.
As the game edged towards its conclusion, more and more players in green shirts flapped their arms about in frustration. However, nobody seemed to want to take responsibility, all we did was amble about, passing the ball across our backline as if we had all the time in the world. We were completely devoid of ideas and creativity.
Despite Koscielny putting the ball in the net in stoppage time – an effort that was correctly ruled out for offside – the defeat was deserved.