The relief with which the Arsenal players celebrated Alexandre Lacazette’s 78th minute goal in their team’s 1-0 victory over West Ham United was obvious. After a lengthy check by VAR, Lacazette pumped the air with both fists. Dani Ceballos set off on a lone run waving his arms wildly. Their teammates clustered in the centre circle and expressed their joy as the Emirates erupted. When the dust settles and proper analysis is conducted, Mikel Arteta may not be so happy.
Arsenal were lucky to escape with the three points. They had large chunks of possession but were ponderous on the ball and lacked creativity. West Ham were more incisive and, had Michail Antonio been more composed and clinical, might have won at a canter. David Moyes will be sick of pyrrhic victories but his side did more than enough to show that they will escape the relegation battle.
Moyes’s organisational skills are exceptional. West Ham have begun to take on a shape that they lacked before the Scot’s arrival. They do not, however, press with any ferocity. This allowed Arsenal to pass the ball around the back at their leisure in the early stages – a strategy that leaves Arteta’s team vulnerable against more proactive sides. Early on David Luiz miscontrolled a dozen yards inside his own half and would have been easy meat for a harrying opponent.
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Regardless of the opposition’s approach, however, Arsenal will always give them a chance. All West Ham had to do is wait, and not for long. Just two minutes had gone when Granit Xhaka gave the ball away to Jarrod Bowen. The midfielder’s long-range shot was touched against the post by Bernd Leno.
The visiting side should have been in front after 10 minutes. Antonio did brilliantly to get behind the Arsenal defence on the right but the winger’s cross was awful. Sebastien Haller was alone on the six-yard line begging for the ball but the pass was behind him. Both players gesticulated in frustration.
Arsenal struggled to find coherence. Xhaka fired over the bar but there was no real sense of danger until Eddie Nketiah latched on to a loose clearance in the West Ham area. He drove towards goal but Mesut Ozil took the ball out of his path and powered a left-footed effort just wide. It was probably the right decision for the German to take responsibility and he was unlucky that the snap-shot was just off target.
Chances came at both ends. Bowen released Haller in the inside right position but the Frenchman dithered and allowed Leno time to block the chance. At the other end, Nicolas Pepe chipped in a cross that Sokratis, still lurking after an Arsenal corner, headed onto the top of the crossbar. The defender held his head in disappointment.
The value of Moyes’s disciplined approach showed in the closing 20 minutes of the first half. Arsenal had the majority of possession and began to build up pressure. The effect was largely cosmetic, though, because for all the neat passing around the periphery the West Ham defence rarely looked troubled. With Antonio lurking upfield waiting to break, the Hammers were always a threat. One of those raids upfield generated a corner that Mark Noble sent towards the far post. Issa Diop rose above the home defenders and nodded it down in the direction of Antonio, who was a yard from goal. The winger swung a foot at the ball but made only the most superficial contact and flicked wide.
The second half started in a similar pattern of pointless Arsenal possession. Ceballos saw plenty of the ball but he was operating outside West Ham’s buffer zone and rarely looked likely to penetrate the protective block. It needed someone to run at defenders and Bukayo Saka gave an indication of how it could be done by racing from the byline into the box and drawing opponents towards him. He slipped the ball to Nketiah but Lukasz Fabianski was alive to the threat and closed down the 20-year-old.
The incident roused West Ham and yet again Antonio let another chance go begging. Haller knocked on an Aaron Cresswell cross to where the Englishman was in the clear at the back post. Antonio should have buried the free header but Leno was able to palm it away.
The Arsenal goalkeeper was busy. Bowen ran unchallenged from the halfway line to the edge of the box but his shot lacked power and direction and German blocked with his legs.
Arteta introduced Lacazette for Nketiah in an attempt to give his side more of a cutting edge and the Frenchman scored the only goal when Arsenal had a large slice of luck. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot was deflected and Ozil cushioned a header to Lacazette to score from close range. Ozil was a yard onside and the deliberations seemed unnecessary.
Despite the victory, there is still much work ahead of Arteta if this team are to make a viable challenge for a top-four place. The result was satisfying. The performance did not inspire much confidence.
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