Arsenal defeat West Ham 3-0 to notch first league win in nearly two months
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Arsenal won their first Premier League match for nearly two months as they defeated West Ham 3-0 at the Emirates tonight.
Three second half goals from Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Oliver Giroud saw Arsene Wenger’s men take maximum points for the first time since beating Hull City 2-1 on February 11.
In truth the game and atmosphere was decidedly low key, as talk of boycotts took its toll. Struggling West Ham offered resistance but not much creativity as they succumbed to a predictable defeat.
Emiliano Martinez took the place of David Opsina following Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City.
Theo Walcott took over as captain after Laurent Koscielny missed the game with an Achilles complaint after being substituted at half time against Pep Guardiola’s men. Gabriel who came on for the former Lorient man started tonight.
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Mohamed Elneny replaced Francis Coquelin as a defensive midfielder.
West Ham striker Diafra Sakho was named among the substitutes after recovering from a back problem which has kept him out since November.
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Winger Michail Antonio started after a hamstring injury, but Aaron Cresswell was ruled out.
Arsenal’s finest performance of the season was arguably their 5-1 triumph at the London Stadium back in December. Fortunes were riding high after Alexis Sanchez’s sublime hattrick and there was genuine belief Wenger’s men were capable of mounting a convincing title challenge after seemingly adding steel.
All that misplaced optimism seems like a very long time ago. The Gunners were to lose successive games in the North West to Everton and Manchester City that once again underlined their soft underbelly.
From that moment onwards the team fooled not a single experienced Arsenal watcher. Even Wenger himself admitted those two crushing defeats had a big impact ‘negatively’ on his team.
Not in the scoreline – after all anyone can lose 2-1 – but in the manner of the defeats, where the team showed nothing more nor nothing less than a lack of character that all title chasing sides must possess.
From moment things have changed, changed utterly.
Slaven Bilic’s team may have arrived low on confidence too after losing 2-1 to Hull City at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday. With the dignified but teak tough Croatian also receiving the dreaded vote of confidence the East Londoners know they have a fight on their hands avoid being sucked into a relegation battle.
They could have copied Manchester City’s example on Sunday by opening the scoring within the first four minutes – but a powerful free kick from Manuel Lanzini narrowly flew over Martinez’s bar.
The 24-year-old Argentine keeper – with four loan spells under his belt already – looked confident and agile. But then so did David Ospina when he first joined.
If Hector Bellerin’s failure to track the pacy but not lightening quick Leroy Sane for his goal at the weekend was evidence of either a lack of confidence or a misplaced work ethic there was further evidence of the young Spaniard falling far below his expected standards midway through the first half.
With the giant Antonio full of raw power rather than explosive pace travelling with the ball in the middle of the park, all Bellerin needed to do was track back and jockey safe in the knowledge his pace would cover for a lack of strength. Yet he simply clattered into him, bringing him down from behind, giving away a needless free kick and earning himself a booking.
Such a demonstration of carelessness should not be attributed to inexperience - for it smacks of a far deeper malaise. And one that Wenger – or his backroom staff, or new backroom staff, or new manager needs to address.
Perhaps the uncertainty apparent in any or all of the above suggestions may be a small part of the reason – in players underperforming. But it should not be used as an excuse to hide behind.
Just past the half hour mark Walcott broke through after good work from Danny Welbeck in winning the ball centrally.
However the 28-year-old – how strange to still be waiting for a player two years off 30 to still fulfil his potential – fired wide. His actions prompted the question: Aren’t forwards encouraged to shoot across goal any more?
Elneny then fired over after Bellerin’s shot was blocked moments after Jose Fonte and the redoubtable James Collins combined well to block before half time.
But in truth a goalless 45 minutes was an accurate representation of an average match between two teams low on confidence.
On 57 minutes the ball fell to Mesut Ozil just outside the area. The German set himself, then curled a delicious low shot that bounced treacherously just before keeper Randolph’s dive and over the Irishman and into the net.
Joy erupted from the stands as much in relief as in frustration – even if you felt like asking where the talented but mercurial midfielder had been all winter.
No matter tonight as Ozil then worked a one-two with Walcott on the edge of the box before he fired a cross in for the Stanmore-born forward to finish past Randolph on 67 minutes.
Moments later Sanchez then flicked a tantalising cross into the box where Bellerin slid in among acres of space to slide the ball just wide – as a first league win since Feb 11 became a real possibility.
On 83 minutes Giroud, who had replaced Welbeck curled the ball past Randolph’s despairing dive to make the score 3-0.
Social media wags even joked now that the club was ‘back on track’ could they expect Wenger to announce he was signing a two year contract extension.
The thought may split Arsenal fans but it would take a heart of stone not to be glad their club had won a Premier League football match for the first time in nearly two months.
Martinez, Gabriel, Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott (c) (Oxlade-Chamberlain), Monreal, Mustafi, Welbeck (Giroud), Bellerin, Xhaka, Elneny (Ramsey)
Randolph, Kouyate, Carroll (Sakho), Lanzini, Noble (c) (Fernandes), Collins, Ayew, Byram, Fonte, Masuaku, Antonio
Referee: Martin Atkinson