VAR to the rescue as Gunners survive West Ham hammering to secure all three points
Updated: Mar 8
By Daniel Finton
A London derby was on the cards for the gunners as we were set to host West Ham United on a rare Saturday fixture. With Mikel Arteta’s men being upset by Greek champions Olympiacos and knocked out of the Europa league so prematurely, Saturday fixtures are going to be a direct effect of being booted out of the Thursday night based competition. I guess that's the one positive of our elimination, Sundays are for our born-into families again.
Arteta made six changes from the Portsmouth victory on Monday. Bernd Leno started in goal over Emiliano Martinez. The back four consisted of Bukayo Saka, David Luiz, Pablo Mari and Sokratis remain unchanged. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos started as the pivot, given Lucas Torreira's unfortunate injury on Monday- which is now confirmed to be a fractured ankle. Mesut Ozil was once again chosen to fill the number 10 role and the front three consisted of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Eddie Nketiah. Nketiah’s start is may have surprised a few, although given the form of the youngster and the lack there of from Alexandre Lacazette, it made sense.
The first half was somewhat cagey. Arsenal ended it with a resounding 79% possession, although David Moyes’ men were sure to be the happier of sides at the break, having had the more notable offensive highlights. Bowen opened the game up immediately seeing a shot saved by Leno onto the post in the first minute. Arteta’s men often invited unnecessary pressure by cheaply conceding possession in the middle of the park, leaving themselves exposed to counter attacks. Michail Antonio in particular proved to be majorly troublesome for the back line, with that of Mari especially struggling on some occasions to cope with his athleticism.
The gunners did manage a high quality chance of their own through Sokratis. An elaborate set piece routine saw the ball land to Aubameyang on the right, who then found the Greek international’s meatish noggin. Unfortunately, the stone faced defender saw his chance smash the cross bar. At the very end of the half there were desperate shouts for a penalty on Nketiah, but the calls were audacious to say the least and in my opinion, Martin Atkinson made the right decision in not giving us the spot kick.
There were causes for concern in the first half. Again, we looked indecisive in the crucial moments. Down the right, Sokratis’ lack of attacking threat saw the right side of the attack lack any potency. It was not until the final ten-minutes of the first forty-five that Pepe started to take initiative and drive at West ham’s defence rather than opting for square, or backwards, central passes. Furthermore, the gunners lack of decisiveness on set pieces was also very concerning. These tactical elements of our game had to change if we were to have any hope of picking up a much needed three points.
The second half caused more anxiety for Arsenal fans, but we eventually ground out the win despite an underwhelming performance (most notably from Mesut Ozil). Fortunately the number 10 came up clutch at the crucial moment, nodding a ball into Lacazette, a 59th-minute substitute's, stride. At first, the goal was deemed offside, but then a rarity occured. VAR actually worked to our benefit. The German playmaker was clearly onside and Atkinson being forced (surely against his will) to check VAR gave us the go ahead goal.
Despite a few nervy late moments, the side were able to stand strong from the Irons pressure, and attain a crucial 3 points. The victory represents our third successive 3 points in the league and was crucial given the Champions league and Manchester City situation. On the subject of Manchester city, Arsenal face Arteta's former side on Wednesday night in a re-arranged fixture. We still sit in 9th currently, just two-points off of 7th place, Manchester United. Given the difficulties Areta’s former boss, Pep Guardiola, is sure to provide us with in our next fixture, it is good that we showed our metal and endured the onslaught from West Ham, who were the better side on the day.