West Ham 1-2 Arsenal (Bowen ’45 | Holding ’38, Gabriel ’54)
Advantage Arsenal. The north London duel with Tottenham for a fourth spot is providing some late season interest, a kind of undercard support for the power couple topping the bill.
Such is the chasm in quality beneath Manchester City and Liverpool you wonder what the point might be other than the PR benefit associated with Champions League participation. The improvement required to push City and Liverpool out of the way to win the bloody thing is beyond the capabilities of both.
Arsenal went from poor to average here, taking advantage of a pre-occupied West Ham. Perhaps expecting the team that slayed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, West Ham were too slow to recognize the poverty of ideas opposing them.
Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny were like footballing black holes in the middle of the park; the ball went in and never came out. West Ham, having played 30 per cent more games than Arsenal, care of their ongoing European involvement, rested the influential Tomas Soucek and Michail Antonio seemingly without impact.
In the absence of the brittle Thomas Partey, Arsenal’s promising three ball of Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli are starved of quick ball. The offensive heat they bring is cooled by the predictable contributions of Xhaka and Elneny, who favor the square pass over the stiletto thrust.
Manuel Lanzini really should have put West Ham ahead on the half-hour mark. The ball breaking favorably on the edge of the box, Lanzini climbed into it with too much vigor when placement was the option. Rob Holding did his job in presenting a human wall. Nevertheless, his bravery should have been in vain.
How devilish an enterprise this game can be. Having shown little, Arsenal finally put a move together, Eddie Nketiah insinuating his way through the cracks in the West Ham defense like water to win a corner. Saka swung it in and Holding rose unchallenged to make a statue of Lukasz Fabianski. Mikel Arteta went through his Riverdance routine in the technical area as if the goal were the fruit of some grand design. David Moyes, who knows rank bad defending when he sees it, was incandescent at Kurt Zouma’s failure to jump.
There is always Jarrod Bowen. No player burns more energy for the West Ham cause. The boy needs a holiday. His chances of getting one receded with his reply from him shortly before the break. I have required a deflection to register. The good get lucky, which ought to be of huge interest to England manager Gareth Southgate ahead of a busy June featuring four Uefa Nations League games in 10 days.
Interestingly, in an entirely co-incidental episode, Saka was booked for a trip on Bowen two minutes into the second half. Bowen was just too quick for the Arsenal creative. Was Bowen sprinting into Saka’s England shirt, per chance?
A slightly improved Arsenal set about the second half in a manner commensurate with a team notionally fighting for Champions League qualification. They re-established their lead from another corner. Gabriel was the beneficiary of West Ham’s largesse on this occasion, converging on Martinelli’s cross unattended and planting his header in the net via the leg of Fabianski.
Arsenal’s celebrations matched the importance of a goal that would take them back above Spurs into fourth. The teams meet in N17 a week on Thursday. The maths offer each the prospect of gold should they win their remaining fixtures. As things stand Arsenal can afford the luxury of a draw in the derby.
David Moyes reached for Antonio to try to wrestle back the parity West Ham deserved. Arteta deserves credit for instilling a willingness to fight on the days when the ball does not move so sweetly. This is a team that lost their first three fixtures. Had they shown the same desire and belief in the opening fixture at Brentford Arteta might have been spared the trauma that was August. “We didn’t play well, but it’s a win at least. We have to find a way to win on days like this,” Arteta said.
The game finished with an example of said fortitude, Nketiah preventing the Hammers taking a quick free-kick. Declan Rice took offence, Nketiah reacted aggressively prompting Mike Dean to brandish a yellow card. It served the purpose of eating up time and disrupting the opposition. The result means West Ham’s theoretical interest in the top four is no more. The prospect of a real pot was always uppermost for them. And so to Frankfurt they go.
- Fabianski – 7
- Coufal – 6
- Zouma – 6
- Cresswell – 5.5
- Rice – 7.5
- Noble – 7
- Bowens – 7.5
- Lanzini – 5
- Fornals – 6
- Benrahma – 7
- Anthony – 6
- Soucek – 6
- Yarmolenko – 6
- Holding – 8
- Gabriel – 7
- Tavares – 4.5
- Odegaard – 6.5
- Elneny – 6
- Nketiah – 6.5
- Martinelli – 7
- Cedric – 6
- Smith Rowe – 6.5