Arsenal (0) 3 West Ham United (1) 1
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Monday, 26th December 2022. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Martin Ødegaard (c), Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Fabio Vieira, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, (Marcus Vinicius Oliveira Alencar) Marquinhos, Matt Turner, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Amario Cozier-Duberry.
Scorers: Bukayo Saka (53 min), Gabriel Martinelli (59 mins), Eddie Nketiah (69 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 67%
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant Referees: Stuart Burt, Simon Bennett
Fourth Official: Graham Scott
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR Darren Cann
Attendance: circa 60,000
Well, it has certainly been a while since our last Premiership match against Wolverhampton Wanderers on 12th November, and it is good to be back. Although Mikel Arteta hoped to have both Oleksandr Zinchenko and Takehiro Tomiyasu fit following minor injuries, but sadly only the former is fit enough to sit on the substitute’s bench tonight. Emile Smith-Rowe is close to returning but Gabriel Jesus recently had knee surgery for his injury sustained in the World Cup and Reiss Nelson is injured.
After a respectful round of applause for the life of George Cohen, a World Cup winner with England back in 1966 who passed away on 23rd December, the visitors kicked off the last of the 2022 Boxing Day fixtures. After a very good and confident start in which we were passing the ball around in the visitors’ half, Bukayo Saka got the ball into the net, but it was disallowed for offside, unfortunately. A couple of minutes later, Jarrod Bowen had the dubious honour of being the first player booked tonight for an amateurish lunging tackle on Gabriel Martinelli, and this only fired us up to put more pressure on the West Ham goal. Aaron Cresswell played a corner into Lucas Paqueta but it was pushed behind for another corner by Martin Ødegaard. From the resulting corner, Said Benrahma’s twenty-yard shot was saved well by Aaron Ramsdale. We counter-attacked quickly, started by Aaron Ramsdale, but Eddie Nketiah’s superb shot was blocked. Shortly afterwards, Michail Antonio ran onto a long ball and flicked it into the path of Jarrod Bowen, who pushed it forward into the box and just past William Saliba, who slid in and clipped him slightly on the ankle. A penalty was thus awarded, and Said Benrahma scored the opening goal of the night. The goal fired up the visitors, who started to put us under pressure; we quickly snapped out of it and got back to where we were before the penalty was awarded to them. The goal certainly livened up proceedings, and ten minutes before the break, we nearly scored when Eddie Nketiah ran onto a ball into the penalty area, and his flick over a defender did not quite land quickly enough to enable him to shoot and then he could not get the pass to Bukayo Saka quick enough to give the England man a proper chance, and the promising effort went awry. Ben White then sidestepped a defender but his cross was too high for Gabriel Martinelli to do anything with it, and another chance went begging. The visitors quckly regrouped and Michail Antonio ran onto a long ball, sent William Saliba the wrong way and blasted a shot wide, which all in all was fortunate that he did. Vladimir Coufal received a yellow card for an appalling tackle on Gabriel Martinelli, and in the last minute of injury time, we were awarded a penalty by referee Michael Oliver, but on the advice of the VAR team, he went to the monitor and found that Aaron Cresswell’s arms were raised but the ball hit his face, so the penalty was cancelled out and we went into the break a goal down.
We started the second half off in earnest, and we had forty-five minutes to get a result here at the Emirates tonight, but within a minute or so of the restart, Michail Antonio ran in on our goal, and fortunately Aaron Ramsdale was on hand to neutralise the problem. This threat woke us up, and then Martin Ødegaard pulled the ball back for Thomas Partey, whose low twenty-five yard shot was saved by Lukasz Fabianski. Moments later, Jarrod Bowen caught Kieran Tierney with an accidental elbow and he went down to the pitch in pain, but was able to continue fortunately. Eight minutes after the restart, Martin Ødegaard dragged a terrible shot from twenty yards, which landed at the feet of the unmarked Bukayo Saka in the box, who slotted it coolly into the bottom corner of the net to equalise the scores. Just five minutes later, we took the lead when Bukayo Saka won the ball off Declan Rice and found Martin Ødegaard, who passed it to Granit Xhaka, who slotted the ball to Gabriel Martinelli, who was charging into the visitors’penalty area. Gabriel Martinelli smashed the ball past Lukasz Fabianski at his near post; the goalie stuck out a foot but could not keep the ball out of the back of the net. This goal livened the match up even more, with both teams attacking each other’s goals with purpose, but ten minutes after our second goal, Granit Xhaka passed the ball to Ben White, who flicked the ball past Said Benrahma. He easily found Martin Ødegaard, who gave a first-time pass to Eddie Nketiah. The Arsenal striker spun past Thilo Kehrer and slotted the ball into the far bottom corner for our third goal of the night. Shortly afterwards, Kieran Tierney was replaced by the returning Oleksandr Zinchenko and with fifteen minutes of the game remaining, we were in control. Martin Ødegaard almost grabbed a fourth goal shortly afterwards, when his curled shot went narowly wide of the goal, and with ten minutes of the game remaining, both Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard were despereatly unlucky not to score when their respective shots went narrowly wide. Martin Ødegaard passed the ball out to Bukayo Saka on the right flank, but his first-time cross was cut out by Craig Dawson deep in the West Ham penalty area. Gabriel Martinelli was replaced by Fabio Vieira with three minutes of normal time left on the clock, and in the four minutes injury time, despite Thomas Partey being replaced by Mohamed Elneny, game management became the order of the day to ensure that we took all three points at the end of the match.
On the night of the third anniversary that Mikel Arteta became the first-team manager, Arsène Wenger returned to Arsenal to watch this team of stars show their true title credentials by coming back into the match after being on the back foot following a messy first half penalty. Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and captain Martin Ødegaard were the outstanding players here tonight, but in essence, everyone played their part in this victory tonight. We showed our character when we were a goal down early on in the game; they simply gritted their teeth and carried on, and in the end, Arsenal got their reward. All we have to do is keep it up; Arsenal have some tough tests ahead, but this team are more than capable of rising to the challenge over the next few months. Exciting times ahead for everyone!
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: Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Saturday, 31st December at 5.30pm (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