Pepe brilliance restores positivity around Arsenal: West Ham 1-3 Arsenal Review
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Editor)
A euphoric night at the London Stadium for the fanbase, the players and the coaching staff. The emotions on the faces of the Arsenal players when Mike Dean blew the full-time whistle were palpable, with a mixture of relief and over-riding joy relaxing the turbulent and traumatic feelings of the last 2 months. For the fans, the winning feeling made this an oddly special night, with such a victory unusually attracting this level of happiness, in what would normally be perceived as a routine 3 points.
Whilst the ultimate outcome of the game saw a stark contrast to the toxic turbulence of recent months, the game wasn’t without it’s difficult moments for Arsenal. Freddie Ljungberg was hit with a full-back crisis, with Hector Bellerin pulling out of the side in the warm-up and Kieran Tierney going off early with a shoulder injury. Adding to these injury problems, Arsenal were abject in the opening hour, resembling a side lacking cohesion and confidence, playing with fear.
Freddie’s team selection aroused positivity before the game, and on paper it was indeed an encouraging eleven picked. Lacazette’s necessary dropping happened, enabling natural wide players to come in and Aubameyang to be deployed in his more natural central role. Luiz was finally dropped after a series of underwhelming performances, whilst we finally had both of our first-choice full-backs starting.
However, this positivity was slowly eroded with a diabolical first-half. We were extremely conservative and cagey in possession, opting for the backward pass whenever under even a slight bit of pressure. The pace at which we moved the ball was infuriating, with this lack of urgency resulting in just 2 attempts being mustered up in the first 45. The lack of confidence in the side was striking, albeit understandable.
Their goal epitomised the lacklustre nature of the game. A scrap following a corner saw Kolasinac being caught far too narrow, before Xhaka failed to make his presence known to Ogbonna and Maitland-Niles was caught ducking, with the ball bouncing off of him and spinning beyond the unfortunate Leno. A mess- symptomatic of our performance up until that point.
We didn’t begin the second period any better. Struggling to get the ball into dangerous areas, most of our possession was well within our own half; it appeared we were strolling toward another damaging result. However, on the hour mark, we sprung to life out of nowhere. After some incisive build up play, Torreira found Kolasinac out wide, who cut back excellently to the lively Martinelli, who confidently slid home. This goal alone seemed to revitalise the players, giving them a new lease of life, playing with a certain swagger reminiscent of the sort of team Freddie played in himself from that moment on.
Our momentum allowed us to blitz West Ham in a frantic 10-minute period, where Pepe marked an encouraging performance with an emphatic left-footed curler and Aubameyang added a third after a fluid move involving Ozil and the Ivorian.
We had our chances to extend this lead, with Torreira and Aubameyang both having shots within the hosts box superbly blocked. However, we didn’t go rapidly chasing another goal, and played with an element of maturity, confidently retaining possession in the final 20 minutes. With defensive personnel a problem, perhaps adopting a possession based style going forward is a way to minimise opposition threat. It certainly worked to an extent last night, with West Ham limited to a mere 0.68 xG, whilst we managed 64% of the ball.
Whilst it is worth pointing out that this was a very much out of sorts, dysfunctional West Ham side in disarray, the character and quality the players demonstrated to come from behind and win comfortably away from home was encouraging. These characteristics perhaps a reminder to interested candidates to replace Unai Emery that there is something to work with here.
It would be a big stretch to say we’ve got our Arsenal back, but winning after 64 days without winning showed us once again, why we do love the club. I love this game.