Thursday 21 March 2019

Emery victorious at third time of asking

Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1

Arsenal players celebrate their team's second goal, an own goal scored by Issa Diop of West Ham United (not pictured). Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal players celebrate their team's second goal, an own goal scored by Issa Diop of West Ham United (not pictured). Photo: Getty Images

Ed Aarons

Unai Emery breathed a huge sigh of relief while Manuel Pellegrini could barely believe his bad luck. Three matches in, the Arsenal era post-Arsene Wenger is finally up and running thanks to a comical own goal from Issa Diop 20 minutes from time as West Ham - inspired by the excellent Felipe Anderson - missed a series of chances that left their new manager shaking his head at the final whistle.

Missing Mesut Ozil through illness yet again, and forced to later deny reports of a training-ground bust-up with the new head coach, this comeback after Marko Arnautovic had given the visitors the lead was the perfect fillip for Emery following a difficult first few weeks in charge.

Granit Xhaka of Arsenal is challenged by Andriy Yarmolenko of West Ham United. Photo: Getty Images
Granit Xhaka of Arsenal is challenged by Andriy Yarmolenko of West Ham United. Photo: Getty Images

The news before kick-off that Ozil was absent would have been of no surprise to supporters given that the former Germany midfielder has excused himself on medical grounds on seven separate occasions since the start of 2017.

"He sat down with me and we decided that he would not play," Emery said of Ozil. "He left training because he was going to his home because he is sick. Today he was here, I told him to come in if he feels better and he feels better today and before the match he was with the team. He is bad with sickness. There is no problem with the player; speak with the doctor, he can explain better."

This Arsenal side remain very much a work in progress. "We are happy with the first three points, that was the first objective," said Emery. "After the first two results we needed this today, it was important to show our supporters a match with three points. It's clear we need to improve, we will continue working on not conceding as many chances to the opposition."

Ozil's absence allowed Aaron Ramsey to return after being left out for the defeat against Chelsea last week, with continuing doubts whether the Wales midfielder will sign a new contract at the Emirates.

Arsenal's English striker Danny Welbeck (L) is challenged by Jack Wilshere (R). Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal's English striker Danny Welbeck (L) is challenged by Jack Wilshere (R). Photo: Getty Images

That cloud hung over Jack Wilshere for the majority of his final season in north London as his 17-year career at Arsenal culminated in a 15-minute meeting with Emery at the end of June.

The decision to join West Ham was based on the belief he would be a regular starter and three successive appearances appear to have borne that out and he worked tirelessly - albeit in a third lost cause. He was one of seven summer arrivals in Pellegrini's side that featured four changes for the second successive week after opening defeats to Liverpool and Bournemouth.

The addition of Carlos Sanchez - who took only 150 seconds to register his first foul - alongside Wilshere added some much-needed steel in the middle, although Wilshere was given a rude awakening in an early clash with Arsenal's latest teenage midfielder, Matteo Guendouzi.

A flowing move in the 11th minute almost ended with the hosts taking the lead, only for Ramsey's header to be correctly ruled offside after Lucas Fabianski saved brilliantly from Henrikh Mkhitaryan's drive following good work from Hector Bellerin.

But with Anderson thriving in his free role, West Ham looked dangerous on the break and almost went ahead straight afterwards, only for Arnautovic to hit the side netting from Robert Snodgrass's pass.

The Austrian made no mistake with his second attempt 13 minutes later after being set up by Anderson, drilling the ball home from the edge of the box with a first-time shot.

To their credit, Arsenal responded well and were level within five minutes. Mkhitaryan played in Bellerin and his cross was palmed by Fabianski straight into the path of the waiting Nacho Monreal to tap home.

Yet if a symbol of Arsenal under Wenger was their defensive naivety then the last 15 minutes of the first half showed Emery still has plenty to do. Michail Antonio fluffed his lines following an excellent through-ball from Anderson, while Snodgrass was denied by Petr Cech on the stroke of half-time when it seemed easier to score.

The introduction of Alexandre Lacazette for Alex Iwobi after the break showed Emery knew things had to change, with efforts from Shkodran Mustafi and the substitute inside the first 10 minutes forcing saves from Fabianski.

Arnautovic, who limped off moments later, passed up a golden opportunity to score his second after another superb ball from Anderson.

Pellegrini threw on Javier Hernandez and another Arsenal old boy in Lucas Perez and it almost paid off immediately when the Mexican curled his effort just wide after being afforded acres of space by the Arsenal defence.

Cech then did his best to gift West Ham the lead when he spilled Anderson's shot from the edge of the area and looked relieved to see the ball fall to an Arsenal player to clear. It was another defensive error that was to prove decisive. Diop - a France international signed for a club-record £22m from Toulouse in the summer - inexplicably booted the ball high and not very far and ended turning the ball past his own goalkeeper after good work from Lacazette. Another substitute, Danny Welbeck, rounded things off in injury time. Not pretty. But then you have to start somewhere.

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