We learnt three things as Arsenal clinched a vital victory in the race for fourth place in the Premier League by beating West Ham United 2-1 at the London Stadium on Sunday. Mikel Arteta made three changes to his Arsenal side from their win over Manchester United with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Rob Holding starting in defence. Gabriel Martinelli was also brought in to provide some infusion of pace into the side.
There wasn’t much between the sides in the opening half an hour but Holding headed the game to life in the 38th minute. West Ham United gave a quick response with Jarrod Bowen’s shot taking a deflection on its way into the Arsenal goal. It was all square at halftime.
In the second half, Arsenal took the lead through Gabriel’s header from a Martinelli cross. With Michail Antonio, Tomas Soucek, Craig Dawson and Alphonse Areola rested for the Frankfurt game, the Hammers would be satisfied with their performance. They had a few good opportunities through Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals but lacked that cutting edge.
As the game entered the final 20 minutes, the Gunners had a glorious chance to score the third. Mohamed Elneny saw Eddie Nketiah’s run from deep and released him with a long pass. The striker shifted it away from Kurt Zouma to his right but placed his shot just wide from 20 yards. Nketiah had another chance from similar range soon afterwards, but Lucasz Fabianski got down to save easily.
Let us see the three crucial things we learnt from the West Ham United vs Arsenal game:
Arsenal Have Solved The Defensive Conundrum
This defensive shield was what was lacking in those games lost against Brighton, Southampton and Crystal Palace. Arsenal have now become a team which depends on defensive solidarity to help them score more freely on the opposite end.
Whenever they lack that defensive shape, opponent teams usually keep possession around their penalty box. This makes it difficult for players like Martin Odegaard to create chances for the strikers. At the same time, strikers are forced to be clinical since they only get a few shots to score.
Against West Ham, both Gabriel and Holding kept the opposition attackers at bay and were supported by Tomiyasu and Tavares. Both of the centre-backs scored as well which has now become a regular occurrence in their game. Holding and Gabriel have become reliable in defence and both acted as outlets to bypass the hosts’ high press. Holding made several recoveries and blocked 3 shots while intercepting 2 counter-attacks along with his goal to take the Man of the Match award.
Saka And Elneny Have Hit Form For Arsenal At The Right Time
Bukayo Saka played a huge part in the opening goal giving a pre-assist to Gabriel. He rarely wasted the ball and almost scored a spectacular goal, jinxing inside and going for the near corner, only for Fabianski to turn it behind. The 20-year-old constantly terrorised West Ham’s left-back Ryan Fredricks. Saka was nice and direct when in possession and caused a weakened West Ham defence considerable problem with his dribbling. Saka’s quality on the set-pieces was key for setting up both the goals for Arsenal.
We saw another solid performance from Elneny. He was shielding the backline extremely well. He made 5 recoveries, 2 interceptions and 2 tackles. The Egyptian was a consistent option in the middle of the park, but West Ham’s inability to break Arsenal down in the game could, perhaps, in part be put down to his competent display in shielding the backline against counter-attacks.
Nketiah Seems To Have Offered A Temporary Solution To Scoring Goals
Eddie Nketiah was a constant source of transfer rumours throughout the season. He was expected to leave for some team in the Championship but chose to stay at the Emirates and fight for a place. He has been constantly criticised for his poor shot conversion rate and missing really easy goal-scoring opportunities.
In the last few games, against Chelsea and West Ham, we are seeing the quality finishes that he can produce when in form. He always gives a high work-rate and is extremely dedicated towards chasing down the ball from opposition defenders. This temporary purple patch was necessary for Arteta’s side to get their top-four hopes back on track.
Nketiah is out of contract on July 1 and Arteta wants to keep him. He will no doubt have to give him assurances over his involvement next season, but the young striker has shown his potential with three goals in the last two games.
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Arteta will still have to come up with some tactical masterclass to deal with and break down low-block teams. Arsenal have played remarkably well as they moved two points above their North London rivals and within three points of third-placed Chelsea, securing a top-six finish in the process. European football for next season is assured for Arsenal. Now what’s left is to confirm they are in the Champions League.
This season has been easy for Arteta in terms of fixture congestion with the team getting ample rest due to no European football. Thus, even the injuries to big players have not affected their top-four charge. Next season, with European football under their belt, it will be a mighty challenge and they will need to invest heavily in squad depth. West Ham stay seventh in the Premier League, three points behind United, putting even more significance on their Europa League semi-final second leg away to Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.
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