Today’s match review will exude positivity. That’s not sarcasm, either. Arsenal had one of those rare routine and, dare I say, enjoyable victories against a poor team. For the first time in about two months, Arsenal fans can revel in a victory without the tiring Wenger debate sucking the fun out of everything. That alone makes this a big win.
Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Gabriel, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny; Walcott, Ozil, Alexis; Welbeck
Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Ramsey, Chamberlain, Iwobi, Giroud
Randolph; Byram, Collins, Fonte, Masuaku; Noble, Kouyate; Ayew, Lanzini, Antonio; Carroll
Subs: Adrian, Nordtveit, Fernandes, Snodgrass, Feghouli, Sakho, Calleri
West Ham retreat, Xhaka and Elneny dominate
The first fifteen minutes were even as both teams poked and prodded one another for openings. As the half progressed, however, West Ham retreated and became more concerned with defending the edge of their penalty area. They may have planned to soak up the Arsenal pressure and hit them on the counter, but they ran into several issues, one of which hasn’t been said in a while: Arsenal defended well.
West Ham sitting deep neutralised the threat of Andy Carroll. He was much less of a worry for Gabriel and Mustafi as he was so far away from their penalty area. Mustafi played him well, often beating him to an aerial ball. A lack of support rendered any flick on Carroll did win useless. With both centre-backs having strong games and with zero threat of movement in behind them, Arsenal were able to maintain a high line and play most of the game in West Ham’s half.
West Ham also neglected to press Arsenal’s defenders and allowed them easy passes into the midfield. Xhaka and Elneny haven’t played a great deal together but they complement each other very well. The duo ran the game and were able to find Mesut Ozil and Alexis in dangerous areas further up the pitch.
Arsenal’s approach play was the best it’s been in a long time, but they still had issues creating good chances. West Ham defended the edge of the box well and managed a number of last ditch tackles and blocks to keep Arsenal out. Danny Welbeck barely had a sniff and failed to link effectively with his fellow forwards. It took some luck for Arsenal to get the lead. Ozil’s curling effort looked an easy save for Randolph, but the Irishman somehow allowed the ball to sneak under him and into the bottom corner.
There was a brief rally from West Ham but it fizzled out completely when a vintage Arsenal move – the run in behind, the pass, the cut-back then finish – doubled their lead. Ozil and Alexis combined to get the German in down West Ham’s right. He cut it back to Walcott, who steered it in at the near post for his 19th goal of the season.
Arsenal relax and enjoy themselves
One might have expected Arsenal to sit back and preserve what they had, given their recent run of form. But rather than a tense finish, Arsenal actually enjoyed themselves. They retained possession for long stretches after the second goal and put together some lovely combinations. The crowd, for once, were united behind the team and responded to Arsenal’s good performance. It was turning into a pleasant evening at the Emirates.
It got even better. Chamberlain, on as a second-half sub, darted past two West Ham challenges and fed the ball to Giroud on the right-hand side of the penalty area. Giroud cut inside onto his left and whipped the ball into the far corner. Another fine goal for his collection, and yet another goal off the bench.
The visitors looked hapless, except for Manuel Lanzini, who tried his best to get something going for them. The Argentine tested his fellow countryman with a swerving shot from distance and forced Martinez into a good save. That, though, was as good as it got for West Ham, and they ended the game convincingly beaten. 3-0 the final score.
There’s always a but whenever Arsenal dispatch a team in poor form such as West Ham. While Arsenal played well, there’s always a feeling that the win wouldn’t have been as straightforward against a better team.
But, in the end, who Arsenal beat doesn’t matter so long as they actually beat them. They needed the three points and were able to capitalise on Liverpool, United and City dropping points. All in all, that’s a good night’s work and nothing more needs to be said than that.
The important thing now is momentum. Arsenal have two Monday night away games to relegation contenders to come before their FA Cup semi-final against City. Those games will be tricky but it’s an opportunity to put a run together and get their confidence back. After City, Arsenal play in-form Leicester in the first of their three games in behind, and then it’s back-to-back games against Spurs and United. They’ll need to be in good shape for that run if they are stand any chance of a top four finish.