West Ham United 1 Arsenal 2
Sunday, 1st May 2022
by Chris Wilkerson
It's another Premier League defeat for West Ham as Arsenal took a 2-1 win away from the London Stadium to press their hopes of a top four finish.In a very level and balanced game, it was sloppy defending on set pieces, combined with Arsenal seizing on their luck too after a possible handball in the build up to their winning goal. Regardless, conceding two goals from set pieces will have disappointed the manager greatly.
With more changes and players rested in the league - this time five from the Eintract Frankfurt game in midweek - Moyes's side again shuffled the pack to give themselves the best chance of managing this game whilst prioritising Thursday's crucial second leg in Germany. In came Fabianski, Coufal, Fredericks, Noble and Benrahma for Areola, Johnson, Dawson, Soucek and Antonio. It left the Hammers operating with a back four and relying on Aaron Cresswell to partner Kurt Zouma in the centre of defence, whilst Fredericks took left back with Arthur Masuaku on the bench.
It was a good first half, with West Ham shading the opening 45 minutes playing a slower, more pass-based approach than usual. This West Ham side have evolved, and continue to evolve, as a passing team, but today saw the team pass with more accuracy and care for the ball. This in part came from a team that had Noble in for Soucek, had Cresswell in for Dawson and Bowen in for Antonio. A lot of the physical element of the home side's play was removed, which made for a nicer watch, but one that lacked the edge to turn possession into something more dangerous.
In a game that, obviously for West Ham, didn't carry the same importance as others, so close to both semi-final legs as it is, it was interesting to see the difference that those players being out made. They are definitely three who are a little rougher on the edges, a little less secure on their first touch and a little less easy on the eye. But they have a steel, that bit of power, height or determination to make a difference that was lacking in the display today.
Of course, in the end, Arsenal were going to get a bit of luck somewhere and take three points. For some reason, it is what these games have become in recent times. To their credit, the histrionics were far less notable this time than the reverse leg, although it helped that Mike Dean was having one of those days where you see him entering a quiet retirement and know it's not earned. That credit was soon gone, summed up by their goalkeeper wasting time after the ball was returned back to them following an injury. It could make you want Tottenham to finish 4th, it really could.
In an opening half hour where that's the only thing I could really think to write, it wasn't anything but a level game with two sides who knew their opponents could damage them. The respect was clear in the shapes each team took without the ball. It was at this 30-minute mark that West Ham had the best chance of the game after Benrahma broke down the left and ran brilliantly across before passing out wide to the right for Coufal. His low cross deflected to the far post, where Lanzini struck hard but struck the ball right at the block of the impressive Rob Holding. Three minutes later, a good driving run by Rice ended with a decent effort struck too centrally and Ramsdale making the first save of the match
West Ham were bright, Fornals finding pockets of space and his natural movement to get involved centrally opening up good space for the right back to overlap into. It was a feature of the first half and an important difference in the performance today compared to many this season. With Coufal now fit, his performance levels have increased to an extent that he is clearly the best right back at the club.
This moment of ascendancy was to be punished. Bowen took simple possession on the right and passed inside to an Arsenal player with teammates committing forward. Arsenal turned and went forwar with speed, pouncing on a loose turnover. Nketiah did excellently, dribbling with purpose at Zouma and beating him easily to make the space for a shot that was very well saved by Fabianski.
The corner came in and it was a centre back who won it, Rob Holding brushing Lanzini aside to rise up and plant a header into the bottom corner. It was too easy, but calls back to that difference in the physical approach of this side. Cresswell and Noble in the box do not compare to what would usually have been Soucek and Dawson.
West Ham could have instantly levelled, Rice forcing a quite fantastic save from Ramsdale. A corner to the near post saw a lovely darting run from the midfielder, and his flicked on header looked to have gone past Ramsdale, only for an arm to fly up and reach it behind him, slapping the ball away. Fine margins.
It was soon forgotten after more good work down the right by Coufal. This time a wonderful diagonal from Rice in midfield found the right back high up the right flank in space. He took the pass on his chest and volleyed in a ball to Bowen, who did brilliantly to react and improvise after his first touch popped the ball into the air. Up hopped Bowen to strike a jumping volley that took a deflection to fizz beyond Ramsdale into the bottom corner and bring West Ham back level five minutes before half-time.
Coming back out for the second half, the manager will have wanted more of the same. The best play had come down the right, but there was control across the pitch. Considering the changes, there was no weak spot other than that lack of height on corners.
The second half started similarly to the first, but this time we had something of note in under ten minutes, spoilt as we are.
Not for the first time this season, a referee capable of the basics would have changed the game. A ball through the Arsenal defence has Bowen sprinting through to it, beating the defenders on the chase. Out flies Ramsdale, who loses the race to Bowen and slides in with his studs raised and waiting to smash into the shin of the West Ham forward.
Bowen got out of the way, falling as he did. Without appealing, Bowen gets up and tells both goalkeeper and referee that he fell to escape the contact. His reward was a booking. Replays show a challenge lacking control and with undeniable force. Had Bowen not got out of the way, Ramsdale would have slammed his studs into the side of his shin, a challenge fully capable of breaking a leg and ending a career.
Instead, Bowen was punished. Arsenal went up the other end with the ball and Saka forced another good save out of Fabianski, low to his left. From the corner, again West Ham were exposed.
This time the corner hit Holding, on the arm at that, and dropped to Martinelli on the left side of the area. With too much time and space for the area, he chipped a ball to the far post, where Gabriel was allowed a free run to head at goal from close range. It hit Fabianski but the goalkeeper could only deflect it into the net with him and Arsenal took the lead once more. Lanzini was left with the centre back, and made the decision to leave his man as the ball was delivered.
It was harsh, undeserved for Arsenal, but it was unsurprising still. Unfortunately, we had little in response.
Moyes threw on his options. Antonio came on for the disappointing Lanzini, Soucek and Yarmolenko making appearances later, too, but nothing was in the tank. Arsenal sat in and contained it well, seeing the game out in comfort. The crowd did enjoy Rice and Cresswell refusing to let Nketian go without a word after the forward wasted time, but the home side never looked like scoring had the referee added another 20 minutes on.
The game was almost close to a distraction, but again the more important result came at Wolves. Bruno Lage's side 3-0 defeat at home to Brighton on the Saturday means West Ham's three-point cushion in 7th place remains.
It's all about Thursday, and we'll deal with what comes after that. Hopefully, an extra game. If not, we carry on and we get back-to-back top seven finishes for the first time in the Premier League.
David Moyes 6/10: The risk and reward from Cresswell being the centre back was on show. Maybe it was foolish to rest Soucek when only Zouma had any aerial presence at the back. It all made sense, and the team again deserved a draw when rotated and their focus surely elsewhere.
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Player RatingsLukasz Fabianski
Some very good, very agile saves down low in the game. Would be harsh to criticise him on the goals, it's a little unfortunate Gabriel's header goes at his knees, bouncing into the goal as that's where Fabianski's momentum is taking him.
A strong return. With Johnson missing a late fitness test, combined with the display here from Coufal and Johnson's on Thursday, there surely can be no question which of the two should play in Germany.
Reasonably solid game, but the left side was a touch frustrating to watch as the full back almost always had to cut back and move away from his left. Did fire in one cross that belied all evidence that he cannot kick with the weak foot, but otherwise his pace was useful against Saka and he maintained his positioning well on the wrong side.
Doesn't quite look 100% fit, but then pressed and followed his striker higher up the pitch than he usually does, and on multiple occasions.
Did well in a new position, granted he's played there in a back three. He cannot do anything about being short for a centre back and the lack of height in the team. He did show the benefit of having someone comfortable in possession in the defence, we looked much calmer playing out from the back.
Some won't like the way he went for Nketiah near the end, but considering the team and crowd were flat, it could have paid dividends. And honestly, someone needs to have a pop at those little proverbials. A good, controlled game from Dec. Had attacking threat but sat deeper as things went on and the counter looked on, making sure we could win the ball back to go on the attack again.
A good game, and not in the patronising way he's had some good scores from this writer this season. Today he just had control and dovetailed well with Rice. Just look at some of these stats and make up your own mind: 100% ground duels won (5/5); 100% long ball accuracy (4/4); 100% take-ons successful (2/2); 96% pass accuracy (65/68). Master of the arts and refusing to go out with a whimper.
Whilst neat and tidy with the ball, it was a game that highlighted some of the issues with Manu. Not quite good enough to be a 10 or an 8 in this team. He's great in the middle third, but not dangerous in attack or reliable defensively.
Had moments in the first half, but very much on the periphery and got quieter as it went on.
Faded in the second half but had a bright first. Looked good down the right with Coufal, and whilst he lacks the pace at times for the wing role, Coufal's aggressive overlaps made that less of an issue. It also allowed Pablo to drift and find things in the middle, which he loves to do.
He looks sharp and in good goalscoring form. We missed a presence up there, although it was too late for that by the time Antonio was thrown on. Took his goal well, earning the luck for ingenuity. The booking was a joke, but the running and play to set the whole thing off was a benefit of having him up there.
(Replaced Lanzini, 70) Made no notable difference and couldn't get to grips with the game.
(Replaced Noble, 76) Much the same as Soucek, really. Didn't bring the life and presence Moyes wanted.
(Replaced Benrahma, 80) Has to be the same. The subs just did not work.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Ryan Fredericks, Kurt Zouma, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Manuel Lanzini, Said Benrahma, Pablo Fornals, Jarrod Bowen.
Goals: Jarrod Bowen 45 .
Booked: Jarrod Bowen 52 Aaron Cresswell 90 .
Sent off: None.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu (Soares 78), Holding, Gabriel, Tavares, Xhaka, Elneny, Saka (Smith Rowe 87), Odegaard (Lokonga 90+1), Martinelli, Nketiah.
Subs not used: Leno, Swanson, M’hand, Kirk, Pepe, Lacazette.
Goals: Holding (38), Gabriel (54).
Booked: Saka (48) .
Sent off: None.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.