A late goal from substitute Eddie Nketiah gave Arsenal a scarcely deserved three points for the Gunners against a well organised and dangerous West Ham side at Emirates Stadium. Alex Lacazette’s header gave the home side a 24th minute lead before Michail Antonio equalised on the stroke of half-time. West Ham made several good opportunities in the second half while Arsenal toiled, but a late goal from substitute Eddie Nketiah saw Arteta’s side gain a hard fought three points.
Arsenal lined up in their now customary 343 formation but Mikel Arteta was forced into a late line-up change when Kieran Tierney felt his hip in the warm-up, so he was replaced by Sead Kolasinac in that hybrid left-sided centre-half / left-back role.
The Gunners had an early sight of goal inside the first two minutes when Willian and Lacazette exchanged passes inside the West Ham area, but the Frenchman’s control let him down in front of goal. West Ham threatened from a set piece soon after when Soucek’s back post header found Ogbonna in the area but he headed tamely at Leno.
West Ham matched up Arsenal’s 343 formation with the Irons’ three forwards playing in transition, space was at a premium as Arteta’s side struggled to establish their rhythm in the opening exchanges with West Ham collapsing back into a 541 when Arsenal probed.
Arsenal had to be patient but did take the lead on 24 minutes when Saka’s through ball found Aubameyang in the left half space, the Gabonese bounded to the by-line and stood an inviting ball up in the area for Alex Lacazette who headed high into the net. The goal was subject to a VAR check but Stockley Park ruled that Auba’s toenail was marginally onside from Saka’s pass.
There was another tense VAR moment a few moments later when Gabriel slightly mistimed an attempted headed clearance and the ball struck his arm in the area. Given the harshness of the new handball laws for defenders it would not have been a surprise to see a penalty given, but thankfully it wasn’t.
However, West Ham drew level right on the stroke of half time. The away side had looked threatening on the counter for the entire half and it was a swift counter attack that led to the equaliser. Jarrod Bowen picked up a turnover inside the Arsenal half and moved forwards, he found Fornals on the overlap to his right and his cross was prodded home from close range by Michail Antonio.
It was a frustrating concession but probably a fair reflection of the opening 45 minutes. It was a poor goal to concede with Kolasinac slow to notice Fornals’ run on the outside of him and Rob Holding brushed aside by Antonio as the two competed for the low cross.
In the second half, Arsenal looked to overload on the left side a lot more, with Kolasinac pushing on from left-back and Bukayo Saka playing more like a left sided central midfielder in support of Aubameyang on the left wing. Willian drifted over to the left on occasion too. But West Ham had the first big chance of the half when Fredericks cross found Antonio in the six yard area again but Gabriel’s presence was just enough to make him scuff his finish into the grateful arms of Bernd Leno.
The Gunners still struggled to assert themselves on West Ham though and on 64 minutes, Mikel Arteta made a switch, with Nicolas Pepe replacing Willian. West Ham were still the team who carried the most threat and another left wing delivery from Fredericks was headed onto the bar by Antonio on 66 minutes.
By the 73rd minute, West Ham had registered eight second half attempts on goal to Arsenal’s one, with the home side forced into some last ditch defending at times. Arteta threw the dice again when he replaced a tired looking Lacazette with Eddie Nketiah on 76 minutes. Once again it was a game where the team’s lack of creativity and presence between the lines was laid bare.
However, the Nketiah switch paid dividends on 85 minutes. A move very similar to Arsenal’s opener carved West Ham open again as Saka poked the ball to Ceballos in the left half space, the Spaniard squared the ball for Nketiah to roll into an open net. It was a goal very much against the run of play.
Ultimately Arteta’s decision to select Saka ahead of Maitland-Niles was justified with Saka’s eye of the needle passing making a difference with both Arsenal goals. It was far from a convincing performance and West Ham could have justifiably felt aggrieved with a point, let alone zero. Arteta’s grin and clenched fist at the final whistle told the story as his side were made to sweat for their victory.