Monday 17 June 2019

Rice underlines his potential with winner as Gunners fall flat again

West Ham United 1 Arsenal 0

Declan Rice scored his first senior West Ham goal. Photo: PA
Declan Rice scored his first senior West Ham goal. Photo: PA

Jacob Steinberg

While body language experts debated whether Marko Arnautovic was waving goodbye or thanking the crowd for a warm round of applause after his substitution in the second half, it was a day when the limelight ended up shining on the local lad who has been earmarked as the leader of West Ham's next generation.

After all the fuss over Arnautovic's desire to take a lucrative offer from an unnamed Chinese club, the biggest roar here was reserved for the moment when a crisp finish from Declan Rice gave West Ham the edge over one of the blander Arsenal sides in recent memory.

They have a rich heritage of producing their own in these parts and there is no doubt that they have unearthed a gem in Rice, a youngster whose maturity continues to take the breath away.

To put his rise into context, the defensive midfielder's first senior goal arrived two days before his 20th birthday. Rice's latest immaculate display underlined why West Ham tied him down to a new long-term deal last month, not to mention why the Republic of Ireland and England are standing by with bated breath as he prepares to decide his international future. Rice was everywhere, frustrating Unai Emery's toothless side with a series of unfussy interventions.

"I am sure Declan will be a top player," Manuel Pellegrini said. "He is very strong in the aerial duels and has good technique, as we saw with the goal he scored."

The West Ham manager was just as delighted his side provided further evidence that his attacking approach is working. They achieved their first home win over Arsenal since 2006 with one of their most complete performances of the season, outplaying opponents with designs on qualifying for the Champions League. "I am pleased with the way we played," Pellegrini said. "We tried to have an ambitious mind."

Ever the showman, Arnautovic bleached his hair for the occasion. Yet this was a subdued performance from the Austrian, who went off with a pain in his back for the second successive week, and the early threat emanated from Arsenal.

The visitors almost scored when Alex Iwobi played Alexandre Lacazette into space vacated by Angelo Ogbonna, only for Lukasz Fabianski to deny the forward with a fine stop.

Emery criticised his players for failing to impose themselves on West Ham and, following their manager's recent admission he has funds for only loan signings this month, it was impossible not to feel Arsenal have got themselves into an unenviable bind when it comes to Mesut Ozil. He did not even merit a place on a bench containing three full-backs and a 19-year-old forward, Eddie Nketiah, who has never started a Premier League game.

Ozil is Arsenal's biggest earner by a considerable distance. Was it not a luxury to travel to West Ham without a player on £350,000 a week? "The players that were here were the players that deserved to be at this match," Emery said.

Yet Arsenal have taken two points from their previous five away games and their failure to score in the league for the first time since the opening weekend exposed their creative deficit.

West Ham were the stronger side in the final third, with Felipe Anderson's quick feet causing problems and Samir Nasri determined to silence the taunts from the away end. The ex-Arsenal midfielder was influential in the No 10 role and produced the assist for Rice's goal.

Slack defending led to the breakthrough in the 48th minute. Anderson skipped around a lacklustre challenge from Lacazette and when Granit Xhaka met the winger's cross with a lazy header, Nasri fed a composed pass to Rice, who swept a shot high to Bernd Leno's left.

Emery responded by replacing Xhaka with Aaron Ramsey and switching to a back four, Shkodran Mustafi making way for Lucas Torreira. There was a brief flurry from Arsenal, Iwobi threatening, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang firing over.

Those were isolated moments, though, and Aubameyang spent most of the game pining for the kind of service Özil could have provided.

Observer

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