Arsenal 2 West Ham United 0
Wednesday, 15th December 2021
by Chris Wilkerson
West Ham were forced out of the top four after defeat to Arsenal this evening, but whilst issues with the team need to be assessed, it was a disgraceful performance by referee Anthony Taylor that gifted Arsenal a 2-0 win.With Arteta?EUR(TM)s side using every sly trick they could, the game needed a strong referee. Taylor was anything but, influenced from the very first decision to the last as Arsenal were either throwing themselves to the floor, feigning injury or fiercely surrounding the official to pressure his decisions.
When the chance came for VAR to find the balance, the system failed again - the undefinable need to only overturn clear and obvious errors protecting it from having to embarrass the appalling officiating. West Ham finished with ten-men, Vladimir Coufal sent off for two bookings, neither of which were worthy of the punishment in isolation or accumulation.
Whatever the very worthy grievances, it is now three games without a goal for the Hammers. There are tired legs, many out of form and missing players in the middle of the toughest part of the season. There are four games until the month ends and the transfer window opens, every one of those will need to be survived by a small squad hitting their first difficult moment for quite some time.
This was David Moyes?EUR(TM)s 600th Premier League game and after a flat draw away at Burnley, he brought Fornals back into the side for Benrahma.
The side looked to be prepared to counter attack as the away side, but struggled with the constant running and pressing from an Arsenal side with an extra day?EUR(TM)s rest and an easy win at the weekend.
That was a constant throughout the game, at least until the real later stages, and one West Ham struggled to find a solution to. Diop and Masuaku were often forced to find a pass with no options ahead of them, the defence completing six of their 19 long passes.
Moments of West Ham on the front foot were rare, and whilst Arsenal didn?EUR(TM)t create a flood of chances, they did achieve near-constant pressure. For all the character of their display and the referee?EUR(TM)s performance will grate and fill paragraphs here, they also dominated the game.
However, it came at a cost and it came with huge favour from the referee.
It began early, Tierney challenged down the flank by Coufal and feigning an elbow to the face. Replays showed it was not even nearly contact, but Tierney flew to the deck with hands on his face and the Arsenal players surrounded the referee. Anthony Taylor had not moved to his pocket until he was accosted and saw Tierney holding his face.
It was a highlight of their game across the 90 minutes and has been in many games this season. Watford and Manchester United fans would quickly remind you about recent controversies where the character of this Arsenal side was at the fore. Their manager leads it and they play in his image, an ugly image it is, too.
Funnily enough, West Ham?EUR(TM)s biggest chance came after Soucek had flopped to the floor at the merest of touches down the other end.
It is worth noting here that this was a game to match their behaviour because West Ham were getting punished for their honesty. There were multiple occasions where fouls were not given because the player stayed on his feet when impeded. When the same happened to Arsenal, the snipers in the crowd were called upon. Unfortunately, the officiating in this league only encourages this behaviour because it appears the referees remain enthralled by the historical big names.
From that freekick, the headed clearance fell to Fornals on the edge of the box. He took it down and then smashed a curling drive around the rushing defenders. Unfortunately, it stayed the wrong side of the post.
It was a brief respite to the constant pressure, and just before the break, Arsenal finally got the chances their pressure warranted.
It had been coming, Saka constantly pinning Masuaku to the edge of his area and troubling him with fast feet and direct running. The left back's performance was not great, but this is one game where criticism will come more heavily than is deserved. Cresswell too would have struggled when isolated against Saka and having to backtrack. Really, the winger should have done more, the positions he got into should have seen him be more productive.
This time, he got the ball into the box and it was cut back to Martinelli. The Brazilian was in the centre of goal and just inside the area, but his firm shot was blocked by fantastic last-gasp defending by Dawson. The rebound came out to Tierney, who let it bounce before unleashing a rocket towards the top corner, Fabianski doing very well to flick it onto the bar, the ball ricocheting away to safety.
It was a game that highlighted Dawson's strengths but also had more subtle moments where his limitations were clear too. Defending the box was excellent, but you could mark it similarly to your standard James Collins performance. When what's required is a bit desperate and ugly, Dawson shines. But some of his defending away from the last-ditch work was lacking.
That being said, it is a harsh criticism considering just how important those gritty basics were, saving more than one goal. There was no better example that a minute before half-time.
Lacazette shot low from outside the area, forcing Fabianski low to save. He got to it well, but the goalkeeper palmed it straight out rather than wide and away. Martinelli reacted first, but only a fraction before Dawson, who met the poked effort that would have gone into an empty net with a much stronger tackle and diverted the ball away from goal. It was a fantastic recovery challenge that kept the game at 0-0 going into half-time.
Having really had to hang on to keep parity, it only took two minutes for Arsenal to get the lead after the restart.
A little change in shape looked to have pushed three men higher up the pitch to pressure Arsenal on the ball in defence. It didn't work, but it was not helped by poor defending either. It looked almost as if the system hadn't quite clicked into place yet as Lacazette received a pass from the back in between the West Ham midfield and defence, turned under no pressure and rolled a perfectly weighted pass in front of a Martinelli run.
The Brazilian came in from the right and was not being covered by Coufal, Dawson or Soucek on that side. He burst through the two defenders and was too fast to stop. Had Coufal not been on a yellow card, he could have risked a challenge to stop him, likely drawing a card but one worthy of getting. But he couldn't, thanks to the poor decision and the feigning of injury earlier. It may not have mattered, he may have been too far to even try it, but what did matter was that Martinelli sprinted into the box, opened his body up and curled the ball around the dive of Fabianski and into the far corner, reminiscent of many a Thierry Henry goal, to put Arsenal ahead.
Lacazette had drifted too easily away from the West Ham defence and Dawson committed neither to following his man nor holding shape. It opened up the space that Martinelli ran into and West Ham were punished. Coufal was caught marking two men and it just appeared the change in formation left the defence cold.
It opened the game up a little, Arsenal slightly deeper in their play now they had a lead to protect. It allowed West Ham a little more comfort on the ball and a higher starting position. That helped them pressure the defence, which nearly paid off as Bowen intercepted a sloppy pass in the Arsenal back line. Pouncing on the edge of the box, he composed himself to try bend an effort into the far corner, but his shot was blocked enough to take the sting out and Ramsdale saved well.
At the other end, Masuaku lost the ball in the middle of the park - although fouled in doing so - and Arsenal had the run at the West Ham centre backs. The ball bounced loose in front of Dawson and Lacazette, but the defender backed off and allowed the striker to get the ball unchallenged. The Frenchman ran at him, and all Dawson could do was bring him down in a dangerous position,
The real controversy came again with Lacazette running into the box. This time he got into the area and Coufal delayed before sliding in to tackle. His challenge won the ball, but his shin followed through into the forward's, somehow causing the Frenchman to fly down in a heap in the box looking in some distress.
The referee delayed, but then shocking pointed to the spot. The West Ham players were incredulous, only to be shocked further as Taylor brought out a yellow card and then a red for the right back. VAR took a look, but felt there was not enough to overturn the referee's decision.
Social media isn't the arbiter of judgement, however it is telling that across the board the decision was mocked. Not just the penalty award, but the decision to then book Coufal too. Lacazette, to the surprise of no single soul, was up and fine to take the penalty once the furore had settled down. He struck it low to Fabianski's left, but not right into the corner. It was enough of a chance that a good goalkeeper could get to it, and Fabianski had guessed the right way. His save was firm and true, but no sense of justice prevailed. With Coufal suspended, West Ham will be likely be without any of their first choice defenders come Saturday's game against Norwich. With Johnson and Fredericks injured too, it looks likely young Harrison Ashby will make his first Premier League start this weekend.
Had the referee had a grip of the game, Coufal would never have been on a yellow, would not have been booked for this even if he did feel the challenge was not clean. Replays will show that Coufal's tackle was far from neat, the manager admitting after the game that what annoyed him most was the fact a clean tackle was perfectly achievable, but the bar is now set to a very low level. Coufal's shin went on to collide with Lacazette, not a wild foot or studs. He did enough to tackle and dispossess the forward, but now defenders must take it without touching the attacker at all. As Moyes said after the game, it was soft, even if he surprisingly agreed with its award. It wouldn't have been given one, five, ten or more seasons ago, yet here we are. VAR checked, however VAR appears to mainly be there to allow refereeing decisions to stand.
There was still a game to play. Antonio had already been moved out to the right wing with Bowen central, but now he covered right back. Yes, it was Antonio at right back, Masuaku at left back. Somewhere Bilic would have felt a tremor.
Benrahma replaced Lanzini, and with six minutes to go Ashby came on for Fornals and took the spot down the right so Antonio could get central.
There is some credit to be taken that West Ham pinned Arsenal back, even with a man down and fatigue rifling through them. But it also opened them up for the counter attack.
Unsurprisingly, in this game, the counter was there and West Ham were punished. Once more it was Benrahma making a poor decision on the ball and being caught when he shouldn't. Saka drove forward, committing Rice to pressure him. That left Smith-Rowe on for an easy pass, which he took and drove to the area. Just on the edge of the box he shot, his low drive going through Diop's legs and into the bottom corner.
Any hope went, and so did West Ham's place in the top four. But that will be discussed later, the injustices too much to take for the time being. The discussion will be with those before the performance is truly analysed, one the manager was unhappy with. Still, he smiled as he reminded fans and his interviewer alike, this team got us into the place we have just fallen from. Their may be signings, there may not, but these players have not become bad overnight. Standards have slipped, he will ensure things don't remain that way.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
A wonderful penalty save, a good save from Tierney. His kicking was poor and it exacerbated the pressure we were under. But the general basics from your goalkeeper were well covered.
Regardless of whether it should have happened, it did. He was sent off and gave a penalty away. He was otherwise reasonably solid, but feelings of injustice matter less than facts of the game.
For all Saka looked dangerous, he actually achieved little against Masuaku. What was more disappointing was his work in the Arsenal half, where he was rarely good on the ball and his choices or delviery in the final third were poor. Did OK in defence, even if Saka shifted the balance so West Ham had to pull cover over to the left.
This will seem harsh, but the eye-catching fantastic challenges do not mean the weaker sides of his game were not there. There are times where you feel he wishes he didn't have to leave his penalty area, because in there he is usually king. Outside of it, backing away from forwards, he is often clumsy.
One accurate long pass from eight doesn't sound or look great, but then neither did his options on the pass when he looked up. Generally, since being drafted in, he has performed well, much better than expected of him, and is proving doubters (this writer included) wrong so far about what he can achieve in this team.
Struggled as the game was so compact in the middle and he had no options to pass to. Was winning the ball well early on, and did his work reasonably well, but couldn't take the game on and threaten Arsenal as much as he would have liked.
One of his better games for passing, the diagonal balls opened up the team to attack when we were struggling. Made so many clearances and did his defensive work with his usual diligence.
Did neat work with the ball and was solid in keeping possession. But offered very little dynamism and couldn't provide a spark to make something happen. He is proving a safer bet than Benrahma because he doesn't let the team down or do anything daft, but in this game you see why he hasn't been part of the manager's first team. He wouldn't have made the mistake Benrahma did, but he's unlikely to make something individually either.
He put his hard yards in, especially aware of when to cover Lanzini on the left and make sure Masuaku was supported, but failed to really do much going forward. After the Liverpool game, you can see why he's deployed centrally in these counter attacking games where we expect to defend. But he would probably have done better supporting the defending on the left.
Had the least touches of the starters and, as can happen when the side aren't playing well, he just drifts out of things and is an asset mainly for running up and down and being with a full back. When he went up front, he pretty much disappeared. Was an odd move as balls were being thrown into the box, with Bowen drifting around whilst Soucek flew at anything he could.
40% pass success rate. He is willing and he continued to try all night, covering hard yards when he played right back and right wing all at once. But he is not threatening goal and he's starting to make attacks harder for the rest of the team. Some of his passing today, and his touch, just outrageously poor. Needs a rest.
(Replaced Lanzini, 76) Nothing he did worked, then he got robbed trying something with a really low chance of success and we conceded. He's had a bad, bad run recently and is becoming an advert for signing Lingard.
(Replaced Fornals, 84) Looked bright and, maybe more importantly, composed in his cameo. Good sign considering he'll likely start, and nice for the lad to be rewarded with a debut here.
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Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Arthur Masuaku, Craig Dawson, Issa Diop, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen, Michail Antonio.
Booked: Vladimir Coufal 13 .
Sent Off: Vladimir Coufal 66 .
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Xhaka, Saka, Odegaard (Smith Rowe 66), Martinelli (Nketiah 82), Lacazette.
Subs not used: Okonkwa, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Tavares, Lokonga, Elneny, Pepe.
Goals: Martinelli (48), Smith Rowe (87).
Booked: Martinelli (58), Ramsdale (-).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the Match: Lukasz Fabianski.