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Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Hammers show steel but remain pointless in Premier League

Gunners edge a scrappy encounter

Manuel Pellegrini is still in search of his first Premier League points at West Ham
1 of 1

Premier League

Arsenal 3 West Ham 1
Monreal 30      Arnautovic 25
Diop (og) 70
Welbeck 90+2

A pervading cool breeze suggested autumn was near on the third Saturday of the Premier League season and the weather was not the only thing in transition at the Emirates.

Both Arsenal and West Ham had endured challenging starts under new management prior to their meeting in north London but it was Unai Emery's side who registered their first points in a scrappy affair.

Despite three consecutive defeats to Liverpool, Bournemouth and the Gunners, West Ham supporters had reason to leave the Emirates feeling optimistic about their team this term.

Manuel Pellegrini made four changes for the trip to Arsenal, as Issa Diop and Carlos Sanchez were handed their full debuts. 

Sanchez looked more adept at the heart of the Hammers midfield than the absent Mark Noble and was a key contributor to a physical game, as no West Ham player made more succesful tackles (three) than the Colombian.

It was in attacking midfield where West Ham looked most dangerous though, and their standout performer was former Lazio man Felipe Anderson.

The Brazilian's work rate was unparalleled, as he consistently broke up Arsenal attacks and ran from deep, bringing full-backs Ryan Fredericks and Arthur Masuaku into the game on the overlap.

Anderson made more passes (47) and more key passes (three) than any other West Ham player and combined the industrious strength of a holding midfielder with the flair and creativity of a typical number ten.

His experience of playing on the flank in Serie A was evident as he often peeled away from Arsenal full-backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal to find space out wide.

West Ham's opener came when the Brazilian did just that and linked up with Marko Arnautovic who struck low and hard to send a wave of agitation through the Arsenal spectators.

It was a well-deserved lead for the Hammers but it did not last long, as a lapse in concentration at the back left Monreal unmarked and able to convert the equaliser from a Bellerin cross.

The game became harder to watch as it progressed, with both sets of players relying on last-ditch challenges and scruffy tackles.

Arsenal's second goal was the epitome of a match that often had the aesthetic value of Sunday league football. 

Home fans rose jubilantly from their seats, expecting to applaud Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's anticipated first goal of the season.

It was, however, new boy Diop who became the eighth player to net an own goal on his Prem debut when he turned in Alexandre Lacazette's cross twenty minutes from time.

The compact shape West Ham had operated with for much of the first half evaporated in the closing stages as an unmarked Danny Welbeck turned and rifled home a third inside the box in injury time.

Three former Arsenal players featured for West Ham - Jack Wilshere, Lucas Perez and Lukasz Fabianski - and it was a mixed bag of performances from the returning Gunners.

Fabianski, like Anderson, did not deserve to be on the losing side. The Pole in goal was at full stretch to deny Shkodran Mustafi's header at a crucial stage in the game and got down well on multiple occasions to keep out Arsenal from close range.

Wilshere looked sluggish, though, and Perez's only notable involvement was a poor cross in the closing periods of the game.

Pellegrini was bold to criticise West Ham fans just two matches into his tenure last time out and despite the many positives, his team simply need to improve before games against Wolves and Everton.

The Hammers then face Chelsea, Man United and Tottenham in three of their following four encounters.

Finishing was the key concern for the east London outfit, who failed to make the most of their 13 shots, and their rearguard looked permeable, with Masuaku often neglecting defensive duties to attack.

There's an element of deja vu about West Ham this term, as a new manager attempts to galvanise a fresh group of players, but they have shown enough to suggest they can build on last season's 13th-place finish.

The opposition

Unai Emery would have hoped that his first competitive win as Arsenal manager would be easier on the eye and there are fundamental issues the Spaniard will be keen to address.

A brittle back line and Arsenal have gone hand in hand in recent seasons and the same issues presented themselves against West Ham.

Bellerin was dangerous in the final third but his reluctance to track back coupled with some poor positioning left Arsenal exposed on the right side of defence.

With the full-backs bombing forward, the pair in the centre of defence, Sokratis and Mustafi, had little protection and lacked the pace to retreat quickly from the high-pressing line Emery wants the team to operate with.

Aubameyang was often isolated in the final third and, despite making good runs with the ball, lacked a strike partner to combine with until Lacazette was introduced.

Three points are three points though and a huge psychological barrier will have been removed after winning without playing their best and Arsenal's pursuit of a top-six finish is still in sight.

Arsenal - 4-2-3-1: Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal; Xhaka, Guendouzi (Torreira 56); Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Iwobi (Lacazette 46); Aubameyang (Welbeck 75).

West Ham - 4-2-3-1: Fabianski; Fredericks, Balbuena, Diop, Masuaku; Sanchez, Wilshere; Antonio (L Perez 63), Anderson, Snodgrass (Yarmolenko 75); Arnautovic (J Hernandez 59).


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The compact shape West Ham had operated with for much of the first half evaporated in the closing stages
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