Arsenal 4-1 West Ham: Late Alexandre Lacazette brace seals win on day of mixed Emirates emotions
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Arsenal reporter Layth Yousif reports from a remarkable day at the Emirates.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal beat West Ham 4-1 on a day of mixed emotions at the Emirates.
Two late goals from Alexandre Lacazette sealed the victory. Aaron Ramsey had put the Gunners 2-1 ahead following a curling cross into the box which callow centre-half Declan Rice ducked out of the way from.
Marko Arnautovic had put the Irons on level terms after a clinical finish on 64 minutes cancelling out Nacho Monreal’s opener six minutes after the break.
It has been a long, dark and cold winter but the glorious North London sunshine brought a sense that spring is in the air. And with it a sense of renewal.
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On and off the pitch.
With the news that Wenger is to leave the club at the end of the season still sinking in after an emotional weekend for many fans after the news broke on Friday morning, there was a tangible sense of anticipation before kick off at the Emirates.
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For many younger supporters the Frenchman has been the only leader they have known. While for others of a certain vintage, the long-serving manager brought some of their happiest memories of watching their heroes in the first ten years of his reign.
Yes, he has gone on far too long and left a team in need of rejuvenation, if not defensive stability and on-field leadership.
And yes, too many players have been allowed too much leeway and loyalty for too long – something which the new boss will hopefully address, not least in restoring the requirement to wear a suit at all times on matchday, home and away – but Sunday was all about Wenger.
Everything else could wait. Nothing else mattered.
The matchday programme featured a picture of him smiling one of his enigmatic smiles, with the caption simply reading: ‘Merci Arsene.’
Inside, his pre-match notes issued a subtle rallying cry: ‘For now there are still seven matches to play this season - eight if we can triumph over Atletico Madrid’.
The subtext being: Let’s lift the Europa League trophy in my final game. We will know more on Thursday after the crucial first leg at the Emirates, but if that were to happen, the buzz of anticipation witnessed pre-match at the ground would pale into insignificance if Wenger’s side were to lift the trophy in Lyon in the middle of May.
But first West Ham.
Wenger made changes, bringing in David Opsina to replace the ageing Petr Cech who had a hip injury. Of Cech, you do wonder whether the new boss will continue to have him as number one choice between the sticks.
Mesut Ozil also missed proceedings with one of his intermittent – and presumably debilitating - issues labelled ‘illness’.
Jack Wilshere was also missing with an ankle complaint, with his future surely now dependant on whether a new man comes in before the World Cup to either confirm his departure on a free transfer, or to offer him a contract commensurate with what his agent believes he is worth.
Captain, Laurent Koscienly nearly put the home side ahead on nine minutes with a header which flew narrowly past Joe Hart’s right hand post.
The visitors were not going to let Arsenal – and Arsene – have it all his own way as Arnautovic latched on to a long ball over the top before he unleashed a fierce shot towards goal which was well saved by Ospina.
Moments later, Cheik Kouyate nearly got on the end of a corner, but his header flew narrowly over the bar.
Hector Bellerin then fired the ball high over the bar when well placed after Danny Welbeck dug the ball out from under his feet before teeing up the vegan defender.
Ten minutes before the break Bellerin spend down the right flank before lifting a cross onto Welbeck’s head, dangerously situated in the box. However, the contact was not as powerful as he would have liked and the chance was spurned.
Mohamed Elneny was carried off with a serious-looking injury moments before half-time, with fears he could miss the forthcoming World Cup. There was only time for Aaron Ramsey to fire wide before referee Lee Mason blew for the interval.
Six minutes after the interval, Arsenal went ahead.
It was fitting to goal to break the deadlock was from Nacho Monreal – for this correspondent, the club’s Player of the Season, for his consistency in a disappointing season. And for his new-found attacking flair, the goal being his sixth of the season.
Or as one wag in the press box angled it: ‘Monreal breaks six game drought to toast Wenger’s special day’.
As if one cue the crowd, who had been curiously subdued, as if the draining and mixed emotions of the previous 72 hours, had fed through to those in attendance at the Emirates, started singing ‘There’s only one Arsene Wenger’.
Of course, Arsenal being Arsenal conceded shortly afterwards as Marko Arnautovic drilled home a low, left-footed shot that flew past Ospina’s right hand and into the far corner to make it 1-1.
As the match slid towards its denouement – with Wenger standing anxiously in the technical area – knowing a draw would see an outcome which would make it mathematically impossible to end the season in the top four – also meaning St Totteringham’s Day would be cancelled for a second successive season.
It probably still will be but and Arsenal will end the year behind their bitter rivals from N17 for a second successive term – a fact that has not occurred for 35 years.
Arsenal were made of sterner stuff and shot back through Ramsey’s fortuitous strike to make it 2-1 after his flighted ball into the box saw West Ham defender Rice duck out of the way as it evaded Hart to nestle in the far corner.
Irons boss Moyes declared afterwards with sympathy mingled with the merest hint of a threat, proclaiming: “Declan has done a good job, but he has to show it can’t happen again,” before issuing the damming question every West Ham fan was thinking: “Why would you duck? A centre-half heads the ball away then worries about it.”
Lacazette then grabbed a couple of goals – as all good strikers should do, even on a quiet day where he was largely anonymous – to seael the win.
There will be bigger fish to fry this week than a poor West Ham side, but for now, on this day of all days, on this week of unprecedented change and upheaval, it was the least Wenger - and the club’s long-suffering fans – deserved.