Arsenal brush aside Hammers to go fourth
Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe fire Gunners into top four at West Ham's expense
Wednesday, 15th December 2021 — By Sam Ferguson at the Emirates Stadium
ARSENAL 2 (Martinelli 48, Smith Rowe 87)
WEST HAM 0 (Coufal sent off 67)
ARSENAL’S youngsters shelved the distraction of an absent captain to fire the Gunners into a Champions League spot at the Emirates Stadium tonight (Wednesday).
Two second half goals and a controversial sending off proved enough to dispatch fellow Europe-hunters West Ham, with both Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe continuing their fine form with well-taken goals.
The first – and best – came just three minutes into the second half, when centre-back Gabriel found captain-for-the-night Alexandre Lacazette with an accurate ball through the middle.
The striker turned well and fed Martinelli as the winger burst through the channel. His pace was too much for the West Ham defence and he finished with aplomb beyond Lukasz Fabianski into the bottom corner.
After dominating a first half of few chances and scoring early on after the break, Arsenal had threatened to let the Hammers back into the game before the excellent Lacazette went down in the box to earn the home team a controversial penalty in the 69th minute.
Vladimir Coufal had to swallow an unfair second yellow card, with replays showing he got to the ball. But the defender was presumably grateful at least to see Lacazette’s tame effort saved by Fabianski.
Even against 10-men for the best part of 30 minutes, the Gunners still didn’t really look like putting the game to bed and struggled to create anything clear-cut.
But substitute Smith Rowe once again proved his importance to this team, producing a fine finish with just minutes left in the game.
The enigmatic number 10 linked up with Bukayo Saka on the edge of the Arsenal box, sprinting onto the ball down the right and cutting inside before pulling a shot back across the goal, beating Fabianski comfortably.
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta praised his youngsters after the game. “They know each other well,” he said. “Some of them from the academy. I really like that link and the way the senior players are contributing too. They are really enjoying helping those boys in a context that has at times been difficult.”
But Arteta warned that occupying fourth spot at this stage of the season “means nothing”. He added: “We are not where we want to be. We want to be higher. We need to find consistency because this league is absolutely ruthless.”
Arsenal didn’t create much in an energetic first half though both Granit Xhaka and Martinelli could have scored just before the half time whistle. Kieran Tierney also unleashed a fierce shot against the Hammers’ crossbar.
An even bigger chance came just before the break. Saka, terrorising West Ham again from the right wing, found Lacazette in the middle of the box with a pinpoint pass. The striker turned and curled a low shot towards goal, which Fabianski spilled into the path of Martinelli, but some last-ditch defending put off Martinelli, who poked wide from a few yards out.
The Gunners were more clinical in the second half, and will be thankful for a London derby victory – and more so for the fourth place spot they currently occupy.
And with no permanent captain named, Arteta will be delighted at the fight shown by his team – with Lacazette particularly impressive while wearing the armband.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Odegaard (Smith Rowe, 65), Saka, Lacazette (Tavares, 88), Martinelli (Nketiah)
Substitutes not used: Okonkwo, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Pepe, Lokonga, Elneny
West Ham: Fabianski, Coufal (sent off 67), Dawson, Diop, Masuaku, Soucek, Rice, Bowen, Fornals (Ashby, 84), Antonio, Lanzini (Benrahma, 76)
Substitutes not used: Areola, Yarmolenko, Vlasic, Noble, Kral, Oko-Flex, Alese