Arsenal leave it late to beat West Ham for Emery's first Premier League win
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts from the Emirates as Arsenal wrapped up a 3-1 win over West Ham.
1. Arsenal get Emery his first win
Arsenal recorded their first victory under Unai Emery, and it came courtesy of a bizarre own goal with 20 minutes remaining.
It wasn't the fact that Issa Diop deflected the ball past Lukasz Fabianski, somewhat unfortunately from Alexandre Lacazette's stab into the box; it was more that 10 seconds beforehand, he'd smashed the ball almost vertically into the air when attempting to clear his lines. It was a bizarre incident to decide a chaotic game, with both sides playing openly and leaving space for the opposition to exploit.
Marko Arnautovic had given West Ham the lead before Nacho Monreal equalised, with both goals decent examples of both sides' style of attacking. Substitute Danny Welbeck provided the insurance goal in stoppage time.
Both Arsenal and West Ham still feel like they're getting up to speed with the tactical demands of their new managers. Emery will be concerned by his side's defence, which seems alarmingly easy to breach with through-balls and speed in behind, while Manuel Pellegrini's system hasn't looked right in midfield. Carlos Sanchez made his first start here, with Mark Noble out, but Arsenal easily found space in wider areas.
The Hammers are still yet to collect a point in this season's Premier League after a busy summer of recruitment and may well find themselves in another fight against relegation this season. But this day was about Arsenal, who don't play another "big six" side until November and should steadily rise up the table over the coming weeks.
After tough tests against Manchester City and Chelsea sides that dominated possession and forced Arsenal to focus upon defence, this felt like the first opportunity to see Arsenal's default shape under Unai Emery and to witness how they'll play week in, week out against the Premier League's lesser lights.
Emery's team selection was hampered by the unavailability of Mesut Ozil, ruled out because of illness. Aaron Ramsey played the No.10 role ahead of Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka, surprisingly keeping his place ahead of Lucas Torreira, and Arsenal passed the ball quickly in the opening stages, with their main combinations coming down the right.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was notionally playing as a right-sided midfielder but actually became a second No.10, leaving the right flank to Hector Bellerin, who overlapped aggressively so much as to be caught offside at one point; the right-back was the main target for Guendouzi's diagonal passes. Mkhitaryan pushed into goal-scoring positions, often finding himself in a position for Bellerin's cutbacks: a notable feature of Arsenal's performances so far.
Indeed, it was one of Bellerin's runs that created Arsenal's opening goal. Slipped in behind the defence again, for once Bellerin drove a ball across the goal rather than cutting it back. A deflection meant the ball fell nicely for the onrushing Monreal, Arsenal's other Spanish full-back, who drove the ball home to maintain his surprisingly impressive scoring run since the start of last season: he has six goals in 30 Premier League games, after one in his first 134.
With the scoreline tied 1-1 at the break, Emery changed things. Alex Iwobi, excellent against Chelsea last weekend but almost anonymous here, was sacrificed at half-time with Alexandre Lacazette taking his place. Aubameyang moved to the left flank, and Arsenal started the second half well. Aubameyang teed up Shkodran Mustafi, forward for a corner, for a far-post header which Fabianski clawed away.
But the pressure dropped for much of the second half, with West Ham arguably having the game's better opportunities at 1-1. Lucas Torreira replaced Guendouzi and was tidy rather than penetrative with his passes. Arsenal's winner had not felt inevitable beforehand, and for the second week in a row, Arsenal's performance dipped noticeably after half-time. That said, as West Ham chased a late equaliser, the Gunners improved for the final 10 minutes, with Ramsey going close.
West Ham found themselves dominated for long periods but maintained a shape that allowed them to counterattack quickly. Their most promising moments came from these situations.
The first example saw Jack Wilshere dribbling menacingly through the centre of the pitch, with three options ahead of him and Arsenal's defence nervily retreating. Wilshere had space and time to pick his next move, but not quite as much time as he believed. Iwobi made up 20 yards to get back and dispossess Wilshere, who was quiet on his first return to the Emirates.
The second dangerous counter featured West Ham going ahead. Again Wilshere was involved although this time, he transferred the ball quickly into Felipe Anderson, who continually found clever positions on the edge of the box. After a quick one-two, Anderson set the ball back for Marko Arnautovic, captaining West Ham and leading the line, to drive a low shot into the bottom corner. Arsenal had been warned.
Arnautovic might not be a natural centre-forward, but he has adjusted excellently to playing in that position over the past year or so and makes excellent runs into the channels. He was foiled by the linesman's flag when breaking through onto Robert Snodgrass' measured through-ball (a very tight decision) that again showed the threat of his speed in behind. Snodgrass, meanwhile, had West Ham's final chance of the first half when shooting straight at Petr Cech from Michail Antonio's clever pass, a rare Hammers chance that didn't arise from a counter.
After the break, though, it was more counters. A Guendouzi mistake in possession allowed Anderson streak away in the inside-left channel yet again, dribbling for 50 yards to the edge of the Arsenal box before playing a square pass for Arnautovic, who struck his shot into the ground and into the arms of Petr Cech. It was Arnautovic's last action: he went down injured, to be replaced by Javier Hernandez.
West Ham could have snatched an equaliser on 84 minutes, yet again led by Anderson's counterattack through the middle. He again carried the ball half the length of the pitch before finding Lucas Perez, on as a substitute against his old side, who side-footed the ball out for a goal-kick in a manner that suggested neither a cross nor a shot. Anderson subsequently fired the ball across the 6-yard box in stoppage time when the score was still 2-1 and the Brazil international was arguably the game's standout player on an otherwise disappointing day for West Ham.