Match report – Player ratings – Arteta reaction – Video
After two defeats this season to West Ham, it was time for Arsenal to make amends yesterday, and boy did we do that in some style. It was quite interesting that pre-game there was a sense of anxiety after the team was announced. Not so much about the selection itself, but the bench looked light. Emile Smith Rowe turned an ankle in training so wasn’t available, while Takehiro Tomiyasu was not risked after returning from the Asian Cup with a little niggle.
When you added them to the longer-term absentees, it meant there was a real onus on the players picked from the start because it didn’t look like there was loads on the bench to change the dynamic of a game if needed. Those worries were relatively short lived, it’s fair to say.
Although it took us a little over half an hour to find a way through, it had essentially been one-way traffic all game. We got control from the start, notably changing our kick-off routine by keeping possession rather than going long via David Raya, and that stranglehold continued. For a while you did wonder if it was going to be one of those games, a bit like the one at the Emirates, where their defensive work would frustrate us, but it felt different. There was a sense of inevitability about Arsenal yesterday.
Leandro Trossard had forced Areola into a good save, and there were a couple of moments for Saka, before Declan Rice took a corner and William Saliba headed home in the 32nd minute. It looked easy, perhaps it was, but that goal opened the floodgates. Twice after that Saka should have scored – heading an excellent Jakub Kiwior cross wide, then poking beyond the post after being put in by Martin Odegaard.
The second goal came from the spot after a really good ball over the top sent Saka through, he went around the keeper who pulled him down with no attempt at the ball, and the ref pointed to the spot. Having missed one here last season, Saka stepped up to take it and his spot-kick was emphatic. 2-0 Arsenal, and West Ham were all over the place.
It was 3-0 after lovely movement allowed Gabriel to head home a Rice free kick, and before the break, Trossard made it 4-0, making the most of an Odegaard pass to step inside and smash the ball into the top corner. At that point, some of the home fans decided they’d had enough and started streaming for the exits. You can understand why, but it’s funny that Arsenal being 4-0 up at half-time with the game pretty obviously won also triggered memories of that Newcastle game all those years ago. Football trauma runs deep.
There was a lot of talk about West Ham being bad, and look, any team that’s 4-0 down at home at the break hasn’t played well, but I think Arsenal deserve more credit for making them look as poor as they did. That final third efficiency that was so much a topic of conversation for a few weeks, especially around the 2-0 defeat at home to the Hammers, made all the difference yesterday. Do Arsenal need a striker? Maybe so. Can this Arsenal side score goals. Yes, yes it can. Would it surprise you to hear that we’ve scored more goals after 24 games this season than last? Probably not after a 6-0 win which does tip the balance a little bit, but we now have 53 to 51 last time out.
The second half was more of the same. It was so easy Gabriel played with one boot for a while. West Ham weren’t just beaten, they were a decaying husk of a team, sort of playing for pride but not even that bothered to do that. Saka’s first half goal was his 50th for the club, he made it 5-0 in the second half with a nice cut inside and finish. It’s 13 goals and 13 assists in all competitions for him now, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say I don’t think we’ve quite seen him at his very best this season. Hopefully he’s saving that for the run-in.
The goal of the game came in the 65th minute though, when a Ben White pass wrong-footed Trossard and Odegaard, and who else but Declan Rice was there to spank a brilliant shot home to make it 6-0? He didn’t celebrate, but he must have been delighted after losing twice against West Ham this season. The few home fans who remained at that point had given up the pantomime booing, and his goal added a nice gloss to the scoreline.
It gave the manager the chance to make some changes, most interesting of which was Ethan Nwaneri coming on with about 15 minutes to go. Arteta said afterwards:
There is something that you have to do in your team, and that is the trust of the teammates. And I had two things: one, the players on the bench whispering to bring Ethan on, which is a great thing to hear, and the other one your teammates want to give you the ball all of the time. If they do that, it’s because they really trust you and you can only have to see how many times he was involved in that. So it was a great sign.
You can’t read too much into a short cameo from a 16 year old, but it was obvious straight away how easily he clicked with those around him. He wasn’t peripheral either, he had as many touches as Reiss Nelson who came on a good 10 minutes earlier, got involved in some nice moments – and set up a chance for Mohamed Elneny. Another little step in his development, and without wanting to jinx anything, he reminds me a little of Jack Wilshere in terms of his movement/build, and the way he knocks the ball away at the last second before skipping off to receive it somewhere else.
The manager, as you would imagine, was pleased overall, saying of the performance:
I’m not surprised by the way they train every single day. It’s true we are missing some big players for us, and some big starters, but at the end, players need possibilities and chances to judge them. And certainly, today we can judge them and say how good they are.
After the weekend’s games, it was so important to win, and we did that in some style. Not to mention that this title race could potentially come down to goal difference, or at least that could be a consideration, so being as ruthless as we were yesterday to score six was very pleasing. Those extra couple in the second half were great to see, and perhaps we could even have had more. I don’t want to be too greedy though.
All in all, a very good day, and perhaps the kind of win that sends a little statement too: that an an Arsenal side without seven first team players is capable of this kind of destruction. Hopefully there’s more to come.
Right, let’s leave it there. We are recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning, so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
Podcast should be out around midday. Until then.