Premier League
Arsenal 3-1 West Ham United 

Monday, 26th December 2022
by Chris Wilkerson

Make that 12 Premier League losses in the calendar year for David Moyes’s West Ham side, after a gritty first-half performance was replaced by a surrender in the second, and West Ham’s 1-0 lead became a comprehensive 3-1 defeat at The Emirates.

There will be some sadists who were looking forward to the return of the Premier League and West Ham after a World Cup paid for in blood came to a dramatic end.

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In the six or so weeks the manager and the majority of his squad have had to find improvements from an awful opening 15 games, what little hope there was for change has all but dissipated. Lock the doors and prepare yourself, the anger and the pressure swirling around this side are about to intensify.

The first game back could have been the last game before the break. Injuries remain a huge issue, with Zouma recovering from surgery and Aguerd back into an unknown amount of time off. Scamacca didn't make the bench, although it was a pleasant surprise to see Antonio selected to start.

The same system that so many sides have exposed also returned, which meant there was again a double pivot of Rice and Soucek behind the more advanced Paqueta. Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before.

And so began a game of attack vs defence, which was barely broken for 90 minutes. Arsenal flew forward, moving the ball around to try and manipulate one-vs-ones on the flanks, with Odegaard floating about unchecked and controlling the tempo of the game at ease. Whether there was a West Ham player able to stop him, it's hard to know, but it certainly didn't look like anyone tried.

The league leaders thought they'd scored within five minutes, Nketiah and Saka combining under very little pressure for the latter to smash into the top corner from close range, but a little deflection on the ball as it went by Saka was enough to rule Nketiah offside.

Where West Ham looked to target seemed to be long balls down Arsenal's left channel, with Antonio favouring that side and looking to combine with Bowen. There was very little else to mention, really. There was one obvious plan, and sometimes the players would also pass it on the ground and create nothing, which probably wasn't a plan but has happened so often this season that it's starting to feel intentional, West Ham wilfully being awful and then hoping something else will happen.

It felt like West Ham were waiting for Arsenal to score, and there seemed very little belief in anything positive. The midfield was static, attacks an afterthought. Arsenal are very good, but West Ham are so passive, so often, but relying on a defence that no longer seems to be able to go 90 minutes without a serious error. They are lucky to go 10 minutes.

With that said, as Arsenal struggled to make the breakthrough, West Ham seemed to grow more resilient. Soon, the pockets of space around the box were not Arsenal's to walk into unattended, instead challenges were made and a bit of fight became apparent.

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And as they started to earn their luck a little more, the direct route paid off and the plan showed its merit.

This time, the long ball was allowed to bounce, and Antonio was there to pounce. He took it on and took control, forcing Bowen to make the run at goal, with one defender stuck with the pair.

Antonio played the right pass and Bowen rushed through to it, beating Saliba to the ball, hurdling his challenge and then failing to keep his footing as he attempted to pass. Thankfully, the referee was on the spot, and awarded the penalty even though the forward has gone down later than the first contact.

It was the right decision, Saliba doing enough to knock Bowen's ankle and impede him.

Up stepped Benrahma, and the Algerian sent it straight down the middle as Ramsdale dived to the corner and West Ham took an undeserved 1-0 lead.

The goal interrupted Arsenal's flow and helped West Ham get a grip of things, but soon the rhythm returned to the home side's play, and the Hammers were, of course, more than happy to sit back and allow them to find it.

Nketiah could have levelled it before the break, first missing a big opening to beat Coufal as last man, and then getting chipped in over the defence but trying to be too clever to beat Dawson. Even once stopped, the striker had an easy pass on to Saka, but was too soft with the pass, just by a margin, but enough for Dawson to steal the ball and save his side. Of all the crimes done to defending today, Dawson was again exemplary defending in his own box. The question might well be whether his inclusion forces the deep line, but the performance from the man himself was good.

When they couldn't break down the West Ham defence, they leaned on the referee, and he was happy to oblige, giving a quite frankly ridiculous penalty was a shot he was right behind smashed into the head of Cresswell and bounced away. Sure, his hands were up, but it didn't even nearly hit them. Thankfully, VAR saved the day.

And so West Ham, somehow, went into the break with a one-goal lead. But, come on now, you didn't really have any hope, did you?

But who knows how different it could have been. Another long ball in the first minute of the half saw Soucek and Bowen combine, the Czech midfielder playing Antonio through, He sprinted from 40 yards from goal and into the box, before hitting a poor shot too close to Ramsdale.

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It was basically the last moment where two teams were competing. From then on, Arsenal abused their opponents.

The breakthrough had a little luck, but with the defence so deep, you invite such things. It came from West Ham looking to break, but as Benrahma left the pass to Rice short, the midfielder tried to be clever and was easily dispossessed. From there, Odegaard got the ball and was allowed time to shoot from 30 yards.

His shot was poor, but Saka had run in off the flank and it rolled into his path, with the England international passing into the bottom corner to get his side level. There were calls for offside, but the replies showed Coufal five yards behind the rest of his team.

Five minutes later, it was 2-1. This time, Rice lost the physical battle twice in midfield with Saka, a loose ball won too easily by the winger. Arsenal quickly moved it wide to Martinelli, who Coufal was too afraid to get tight to. He looked to be going down to the byline to strike a ball across goal, but instead shot for the near post. Fabianski had prepared for the cross, and was caught wrong footed as he was beaten far too easily and his own front post.

There was only another 10 minutes before the third. As a West Ham fan, watching these games is tough. Writing them up again afterwards feels like a form of self-inflicted torture. Each of these goals has "too easy" written next to them, and each of them was. It was pathetic defending on each, so static, afraid and, most importantly, done without any skill.

This time, Arsenal were allowed to pass their way into the box under no pressure, and then Kehrer allowed Nketiah to turn him like the German was holding a door for a foreign dignitary. The striker then drove it across goal and into the far corner, and the game pretty much ended.

Arsenal were done, West Ham were hopeless, substitute Fornals forcing a good late save the only highlight left. Both he and Premier League debutant Divin Mubama were introduced after all three goals were conceded.

And so Christmas was completed and the Premier League returned. West Ham tried their best to ruin both, but the real test comes on Friday against Brentford. With Leeds to come between two fixtures against The Bees, it feels like the manager is fighting for his life. It very well may be the case.

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Manager's Rating

David Moyes: 5/10
Gets some benefit of the doubt as he has key injuries to deal with and his plan worked for a while. But it was also the downfall. On a larger scale, the concern is that nothing appears to have been learned or changed after this break.

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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
Kicking was often loose, easily beaten for the goals, even made saves from shots that were going quite far wide.

Vladimir Coufal
Defended well in the first half, got an unlucky booking and then looked terrified of Martinelli. It was that fear that forced him so deep for the first goal, to be so far away from him on the second, too.

Aaron Cresswell
Multiple first half errors didn?EUR(TM)t get punished, so the others will take more flack, but Cresswell didn?EUR(TM)t look fit enough to deal with Saka.

Craig Dawson
Defended the box really well, passed quite well, too. He may force us to play deep, but he can then go out there and play very well.

Thilo Kehrer
One really good tackle was soon forgotten by a second half of woe. Always, always makes at least one big error that leads to a chance. It appears West Ham have replaced Issa Diop with Issa Diop.

Declan Rice
Judged to higher standards, his exceptional first half, where he received deserved praise from king of the co-comms Ally McCoist, was soon cancelled out by an atrocious second half. Uncharacteristic errors, followed by the very common flailing arms and victim?EUR(TM)s expression.

Tomas Soucek
Frankly, the moments where Soucek wasn?EUR(TM)t lost and anonymous were almost always moments where he was bad. 40% pass accuracy in the centre of midfield is just not going to work.

Lucas Paqueta
Frustrating, as his close control and intelligence under pressure often helped his team play out, or won a foul to relieve pressure. But his passing, the important ones, that could have been incisive, well, it wasn?EUR(TM)t good enough.

Jarrod Bowen
Given nothing, worked hard, made some inroads chasing long balls down the channel. He was a victim of a bad midfield and a bad plan.

Said Benrahma
The penalty bumps him a little, but the decision-making from Benrahma was ridiculous. Lazy or switched off in defence.

Michail Antonio
He didn?EUR(TM)t look fit, looks slow, and whilst he caused issues, he faded horribly. But is another victim of how bad the base is behind him.


Pablo Fornals
(Replaced Soucek 77) Came on with a spark and looked hungry to make a difference. He didn?EUR(TM)t really achieve it, but he tried.

Divin Mubama
(Replaced Antonio 86) Ran hard and looked eager, but was brought on for barely any time in a dead match.

Conor Coventry
Did not play.

Alphonse Areola
Did not play.

Ben Johnson
Did not play.

Angelo Ogbonna
Did not play.

Emerson Palmieri
Did not play.

Manuel Lanzini
Did not play.

Flynn Downes
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Craig Dawson, Thilo Kehrer, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Lucas Paqueta, Jarrod Bowen, Said Benrahma, Michail Antonio.

Goals: Said Benrahma 26                  .

Booked: Jarrod Bowen 8 Vladimir Coufal 44        .

Sent off: None.

Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Gabriel, Saliba, Tierney (Zinchenko 73), Partey (Elneny 90+5), Xhaka, Saka, Ødegaard, Martinelli (Vieira 88), Nketiah.

Subs not used: Turner, Holding, Cédric, Lokonga, Marquinhos, Cozier-Duberry.

Goals: Saka (53), Martinelli (58), Nketiah (68).

Booked: .

Sent off: None.

Referee: Michael Oliver.

Attendance: 0.

Man of the Match: Craig Dawson.