West Ham United (1) 1 Arsenal (1) 2
London Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London E20 2ST
Sunday, 1st May 2022. Kick-off time: 4.30pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Nuno Tavares; Martin Ødegaard, Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Alexandre Lacazette, Emile Smith-Rowe, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Alex Kirk, Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand, Zak Swanson.
Scorers: Rob Holding (38 mins), Gabriel (54 mins)
Yellow Cards: Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 44%
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistant Referees: Ian Hussin, Darren Cann
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR Matthew Wilkes
Mikel Arteta has made three changes to the side that defeated Manchester United last week, with Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding and Gabriel Martinelli coming in for Ben White, Cedric Soares and Emile Smith-Rowe, who have all dropped out of the line-up. Good to see Takehiro Tomiyasu returning after a period of injury, but sad to report that both Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey are still not fit enough to return to the squad.
In the white-hot armosphere of the London Stadium, we kicked off proceedings and almost immediately claimed our first corner of the match, which although went nowhere, our intent was there for all too see. The pace of the match in the early stages was quick, and both sides gave no quarter in their desire to gain an early advantage, with the battle for midfield becoming apparent. Mohamed Elneny was caught in a late challenge by Kurt Zouma and was down on the ground, laying injured. Our midfielder had eventually recovered enough to get up and continue before Granit Xhaka took the game’s first shot in anger, but his driven effort was blocked. A couple of minutes later, Eddie Nketiah turned and shot from some distance, but his shot was also blocked and he won a corner for his effort; Martin Ødegaard sent over the corner but Kurt Zouma powered a header away. The game was pressurised, and was going from end-to-end, with very few decent chances for either team. Said Benrahma tried to wriggle past Takehiro Tomiyasu on the left before crossing low into the box but he had been unable to keep the ball in play, and from the resulting goal-kick, the ball arrived at the feet of Nuno Tavares, who whipped in a cross from the left but it was easily cleared by the West Ham defence. The home side got close to scoring with both Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini, but fortunately these chances were squandered. Aaron Ramsdale easily saved a twenty yard shot from Declan Rice (which was the game’s first shot on target after thirty-three minutes), and just after a superb Eddie Nketiah shot that was pushed away for a corner by Lukasz Fabianski, the resulting corner saw Rob Holding rise above the West Ham defence to not only open the scoring, but also score his first-ever Premiership goal for the club after thirty-eight minutes! The goal certainly livened the game up, with the home side putting pressure on our defence to try to grab the equaliser before the break, and although we held out well, the amount of attempts on our goal meant that inevitably Jarrod Bowen ensured that the home side went into the half-time break with an opportunist’s goal during injury time.
The home side started the second half, and both teams started to look somewhat cautious of each other; Bukayo Saka received a yellow card for a slight clip on Jarrod Bowen’s ankle, and the match started to get back into gear shortly afterwards. And then, the first incident of the match happened when Aaron Ramsdale came flying out of his penalty area as Jarrod Bowen looked to break clear; the West Ham man went down as our goalie slid in. There was no contact and it indeed it was the West Ham forward who got booked. Nine minutes after the restart, we were back in front when Bukayo Saka won a corner as his strong shot was pushed behind.by Lukasz Fabianski. The corner was headed away but Gabriel Martinelli picked it up and his cross found Gabriel, who headed our second goal of the match. A minute or so later, we nearly grabbed a third goal when Eddie Nketiah was in the penalty area and had sight of goal but fired his shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski. Eddie Nketiah was picked out by a ball from the back and was able to break down the left, but he had no support, so he decided to go for goal but Lukasz Fabianski easily saved. With nineteen minutes of the match remaining, Eddie Nketiah again ran onto a long ball from Mohamed Elneny, but despite turnining a West Ham defender, his shot went inches past the West Ham goalie’s post. Vladimir Coufal whipped in a cross with Michail Antonio the target but it was too close to Aaron Ramsdale, who plucked it out of the air quite easily. Unfortunately, Takehiro Tomiyasu kicked the ball out of play and went to ground with, what looked like a recurrence of his injury; he was replaced by Cédric Soares. Yet again, young Eddie Nketiah found hmelf the lone Arsenal man up front, after an error by Vladimir Coufal, but his superb shot was tipped by the post by Lukasz Fabianski for an Arsenal corner which he simply plucked out of the air when it came his way. With three minutes of the match remaining, a very weary Bukayo Saka was replaced by Emile Smith-Rowe in order to keep things moving, and after a rather unsightly and unnecessary incident on the stroke of ninety minutes, Eddie Nketiah received a yellow card from referee Mike Dean. Albert Sambi Lokonga replaced Martin Ødegaard for the four minute injury time period, and within a minute, our substitute had a chance to grab our third of the afternoon, but his shot went way over the bar. Despite one or two interesting challenges, the game was spent, and we ran out worthy winners by the odd goal in three.
Okay, it wasn’t a pretty match, and at times it was downright turgid and fractious, but hey, we won, and we got the three points, something for which we can all be extremely thankful. In order to get back to fourth place we battled, we fought, we never gave up, and in the end we learned how to win ugly. Our next two games, against Leeds United next Sunday and the Big One against our “friends” from N17 are both truly must-wins, if we are to get into the Champions League next year. It’s going to be a very bumpy ride indeed, people. Hold on to your hats. And everything else, for that matter.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Leeds United at the Emirates on Sunday, 8th May at 2.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon