Arsenal secured an impressive 2-0 home win against top-four rivals West Ham to leapfrog their opponents to enter the top four for the first time this season. The Gunners were very much deserving of their win on the night and were the dominant side throughout this London derby, putting aside their off-pitch drama to lay down a real marker of intent heading into a busy Christmas period.
Here are some brief takeaways from Wednesday evening’s encounter at the Emirates.
Marvellous Martinelli hits the mark again
If there ever were a performance to embody the resurgence of Gabriel Martinelli in recent weeks, the young Brazilian’s energetic and daring display against West Ham on Wednesday serves as an excellent example.
The 20-year old had been struggling for form and fitness over the last 18 months or so at the club, but he was truly electric at the Emirates, and is fast proving to be the lifeblood in this youthful Arsenal side.
His goal, early into the second half was fantastically well taken, as he burst into the box on the left-hand behind the Hammers backline before slotting the ball with his right foot low past Lukasz Fabianski to open the scoring, with a finish reminiscent of club legend Thierry Henry.
The immense confidence he has been currently displaying was evident in his deft nutmeg on opposing midfielder Declan Rice late on in the match, to the audible glee of all home fans in the ground.
Martinelli’s tireless pressing off the ball was also a significant factor in West Ham failing to build any lasting rhythm in possession, whilst serving to rouse the home fans in attendance who would inevitably ignite at the sight of him harrying the Hammers’ players in their half.
The large standing ovation he received upon his exit on the 82nd minute alludes to the great affection held by the Arsenal faithful towards their promising young talent, who is becoming ever more indispensable from the starting XI at the moment.
Auba absence not felt
The unceremonious removal of Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as club captain dominated newspaper headlines and social media discussions on Tuesday, once the news broke, with growing questions asked about what this meant for the Gabonese’s future at Arsenal, and whether this may disrupt the team’s form, coming into such a critical juncture of the season.
Everybody searching for answers certainly received a resounding response from Arsenal’s players, courtesy of a performance highly praised by boss Mikel Arteta for the “team unity” on display. Aubameyang’s replacement for the evening as captain, Alexandre Lacazette, was brilliant on the day and was crucial in the game’s eventual outcome.
The Frenchman’s terrific hold-up play continually allowed the Gunners to gain ground into the opposition half and retain possession at critical moments in the match, and his well-weighted pass for Gabriel Martinelli’s opener was the extra touch of quality that may arguably provide him with the edge in this Arsenal XI over his striking counterpart Aubameyang.
Despite having his penalty saved in the second half, Lacazette’s excellent outing may ultimately soften the blow of Aubameyang’s current exile from the first-team setup, and the 30-year-old will most definitely become increasingly essential to Arsenal’s Champions League qualification hopes once his teammate leaves for the African Cup of Nations with Gabon next month.
Saka stars with Smith Rowe
West Ham defender Arthur Masuaku stole the show with a memorably fortuitous winner in the Hammers’ 3-2 win over Chelsea earlier this month, but on Wednesday, the Congolese international was given a very torrid time at the Emirates, courtesy of Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka, who was irrepressible on the night.
In fact, it would be rather unsurprising if the menacing sight of Saka striding with the ball on the right-hand flank was the final thought preying on Masuaku’s mind before going to sleep, such was the manner in which the Arsenal winger had made his evening a very unpleasant one time and time again.
As soon as Saka had craftily spun Masuaku on the halfway line early in the second half, there was a growing sense of inevitability that if the home side were to score in the game, it would come in no small part due to the 20-year old England international.
Three minutes from the game’s end, he did help provide the Gunners’ knockout blow, with assistance from another precocious youngster in Emile Smith Rowe, who came on from the bench to score Arsenal’s second goal, with a brilliant low shot that Fabianski could only watch into the net, after Saka supplied him with the ball on the half way line.
Despite their youth, both players are certainly key components of Arsenal’s attacking set-up, with the duo generating 14 goal involvements between them this season so far in the Premier League for the Gunners: Saka (2G, 4A); Smith Rowe (6G, 2A) Therefore, if the Gunners are to make the jump and challenge for the top-four until the very end, a lot of this will undoubtedly depend on whether their young guns can continue firing up to the season’s finale in May.
Arsenal’s top-four tilt reinvigorated
Arsenal headed into this game, with the bitter disappointment of their away losses to Manchester United and Everton still relatively fresh, knowing they could not afford to cede any more ground in the hotly-contested race for a top-four place in the Premier League, especially to another of their adversaries in West Ham, who sat above them in the table before kick-off.
However, Mikel Arteta’s side produced a tireless performance, supplemented with real touches of quality from their young attacking tyros, as well as a measured and resolute defensive performance from their rearguard, aside from a few nervy backpasses, if anything.
What will most definitely please Arsenal fans about this pivotal victory is the manner in which the team controlled the game. The Gunners restricted West Ham to just one shot on target in the whole match, and comfortably handled the considerable threat of Michail Antonio up front to secure an eighth clean sheet in their last 14 league games.
Any notion Arteta prefers his team to sit back after taking the lead could easily be dispelled, upon viewing his wild gesticulating and flailing arms when the Spaniard was coaxing his team to push higher up the pitch out of possession to regain the ball.
Arsenal’s home form is unquestionably strong, having won seven of their nine home Premier League games at the Emirates this season. However, questions will still remain about their patchy away form, especially after having lost their last three Premier League away matches.
Elland Road will be a stern test, albeit against a relatively depleted Leeds side beset by injury, but if Arteta can rectify his team’s troubles away from home and pick up wins, starting Saturday evening, there may be a strong chance Arsenal could at last re-enter the promised land of the Champions League after so long away.