HAPPY HAMMER: Declan Rice cannot contain his joy after scoring against Arsenal
DECLAN RICE’s first West Ham goal capped another fine display from the young midfielder and gave Manuel Pellegrini’s side another prized scalp at the London Stadium (January 12).
The east Londoners’ form can be patchy but when they are good, as was the case here, they can be a handful. West Ham went toe to toe with an Arsenal team whose publicly stated top-four ambitions will be a little more muted in the wake of a woefully pedestrian performance.
Unai Emery’s side were devoid of pace, inspiration and precision but that should not deflect from a the sort of West Ham performance that gives the home supporters cause to look up rather than down the Premier League table.
The visitors started brightly but faded as the first half wore on and West Ham gradually grew into the game, perhaps sensing that Emery’s Arsenal are a significantly flawed outfit despite their pretensions.
That sense grew after the interval and within minutes of the restart West Ham had their reward courtesy of Rice’s confident finish.
Arsenal failed to adequately clear their lines having defended a corner. Granit Xhaka in particular will have cause to wince when he watches the replay as his weak header gifted possession back to West Ham. Former Gunner Samir Nasri, who was booed throughout his 71-minute appearance by the away supporters, teed up Rice, who had the simple task of curling the ball beyond Bernd Leno.
It was a moment of genuine quality but Arsenal’s culpability in their own downfall goes some way to explaining why only Fulham and Bournemouth have conceded more than their 23 goals on the road this term.
Arsenal needed to find a spark from somewhere if they were to salvage something from this contest, and Emery, never afraid to sanction a slew of substitutions or change his team’s shape, introduced Lucas Torreira and Aaron Ramsey, for Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi respectively, as his team switched from three to four at the back. The duo were soon joined by Hector Bellerin, back from injury, as the ineffective Ainsley Maitland-Niles made way.
It did not, however, herald a comeback and West Ham, who first brought on Robert Snodgrass and Andy Carroll for Nasri and Marko Arnautovic and then Pedro Obiang for Michail Antonio, held their shape, remained compact and kept their north London opponents at arm’s length, all while pursuing a second goal.
Soon West Ham were celebrating their first home win over these opponents since Marlon Harewood gave the Hammers a 1-0 victory at Upton Park in 2006. It remains to be seen what becomes of Arnautovic, who is said to be interested in a lucrative move to China but, here and now, Rice, who turns 20 on Monday, was the main story; and Pellegrini can reflect on a job well done.
As for Arsenal, with Ramsey reportedly Juventus-bound and Mesut Ozil still nowhere to be seen in a week where Emery revealed that he can only consider loan moves in this January transfer window, this was a bitter reminder of their current standing in the Premier League pecking order, with Chelsea still tantalisingly out of reach and a rejuvenated Manchester United ominously breathing down their necks.