Said Benrahma put the Hammers in front with a 26th-minute penalty after William Saliba fouled Jarrod Bowen in the box before second-half strikes from Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah sealed an important victory.
1. Arsenal’s momentum continues following World Cup break
By the end, it was like they had never been away. Arsenal made a slow start Monday in falling behind even though that Benrahma goal came against the run of play. Saliba’s sloppiness seemed to encapsulate fears that the timing of the World Cup could affect Arsenal more than most Premier League sides given they had exceeded all expectations to top the table in the first part of the campaign.
Yet they stuck to the task admirably with the zest and energy in their attacking play rewarded with a stirring second-half comeback which ensures the feel-good factor around Emirates Stadium continues. As if to aid the segue from World Cup to domestic action, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger — now FIFA’s head of global football development — was in attendance for the first time since leaving the club in 2018. Wenger may have departed amid deep divisions in the fanbase over his latter-day management, but he received a hero’s welcome here.
The Gunners have never looked more robust in the four and a half years since he left. Time will tell if Arsenal can last the pace to land their first league title since 2004 (under Wenger) but a seven-point lead at this stage is very encouraging.
2. Arsenal front three step up in Jesus’ absence
The biggest unknown here was how Arsenal would cope without Gabriel Jesus. The 25-year-old striker is out for up to three months following knee surgery, leaving Nketiah to lead the line in his absence alongside Saka and Martinelli. It feels particularly poignant that on a night when questions were asked about the Gunners’ potency without their star man, all three attacking players found the net.
Saka’s goal relied on a moment of good fortune as Martin Odegaard dragged a shot straight into his path, but the England winger’s composure to steer a low shot past Lukasz Fabianski was exemplary. Martinelli showed great determination and speed to fire a shot inside Fabianski’s near post, although the West Ham goalkeeper was beaten far too easily. And then Nketiah had his moment, turning Thilo Kehrer with embarrassing ease before steering a low shot into the net.
Further reinforcements are needed — they have submitted a bid worth up to €65 million for Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhailo Mudryk‘s transfer — but this was evidence losing Jesus until the spring does not necessarily have to be the devastating blow it appeared at the time.
3. Moyes’ wretched run continues
David Moyes is now winless in 71 Premier League away matches as a manager against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, losing his 50th such game Monday. In fairness, the majority of those matches have come while in charge of teams that start such fixtures as second favourites, but this was a typically conservative approach from Moyes which never really got out of second gear, even when West Ham took the lead.
They were happy to defend on the edge of their own box and looked to hit on the counter-attack — a gameplan which allowed Arsenal time to establish their rhythm and eventually overwhelm their opponents in the second half. They never looked like getting back into it after going behind, and despite the good job Moyes has done in his second stint at the club, criticism will only grow after a result which leaves them just a point outside the relegation zone.
“Sometimes you have dips and at times like that you need the board and everyone to stick together,” Moyes said before the game. He needs that a little more now.
Arsenal: Aaron Ramsdale 6, Ben White 6, Gabriel Magalhaes 6, William Saliba 6, Kieran Tierney 6, Martin Odegaard 9, Thomas Partey 7, Granit Xhaka 7, Bukayo Saka 8, Eddie Nketiah 7, Gabriel Martinelli 8.
Subs: Oleksandr Zinchenko 6, Fabio Vieira 6, Mohamed Elneny 6.
West Ham: Lukasz Fabianski 5, Vladimir Coufal 5, Craig Dawson 7, Thilo Kehrer 5, Aaron Cresswell 6, Tomas Soucek 6, Declan Rice 6, Jarrod Bowen 7, Lucas Paqueta 6, Said Benrahma 7, Michail Antonio 6.
Subs: Pablo Fornals 6, Divin Mubama 6.
Best and worst performers
Best performer: Martin Odegaard, Arsenal.
Was at the heart of Arsenal’s most intelligent and dynamic possession.
Worst performer: Lukasz Fabianski, West Ham.
Beaten at his near post too easily for Gabriel Martinelli’s crucial second goal.
Highlights and notable moments
Arsenal legends at the Emirates for the Boxing Day match 🎁 pic.twitter.com/fkj7B4dro8
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 26, 2022
A couple of Gunners greats in attendance Monday. Thierry Henry strolls the pitch during his broadcasting duties while Arsene Wenger returns to the Emirates for the first time since he left the club as manager in 2018.
After the match: What the players/managers said
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, to Match of the Day: “I’m delighted with the result and performance because I thought we deserved to win the game.”
Arteta, on the injured Gabriel Jesus: “Gabriel is still around the team … and he’s having an impact on the pitch even though he’s not playing. He’s helping Eddie and I’m delighted for him [for his goal]. He showed last season as well that when we need him, he’s always there.”
Arteta, on Arsene Wenger’s attendance: “The players didn’t know [about it]. We wanted to keep it quiet and allow that space for Arsene. [Club owners] Stan and Josh [Kroenke] are here as well and it was a really special day … Thank you so much to him for coming. Hopefully walking through the building he’s going to feel everything that everybody thinks of him, the legacy he left here. As well his presence has to be very, very attached to this football club. Also, thank you to him for everything he did at the club.
“Hopefully he’s going to leave here and be willing to spend more time with us and be more around us because he’s such a big influence for me personally in my career, the way I see the game, but as well for this football club.”
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, to Amazon: “The second half was much better than the first, the first game back you are getting into your rhythm. We had a lot of possession in the first half but then we were more effective.”
West Ham’s Declan Rice, to Amazon: “It is a tough one. In the first half we didn’t have much of the ball but stopped them and had a plan. It is like Manchester City, in the end one of their chances will create something with their free-flowing football. They smothered us all over the pitch.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Bukayo Saka’s 22nd career Premier League goal puts him one shy of tying Nicolas Anelka for the most Premier League goals for Arsenal before turning 22 years old.
– Eddie Nketiah has scored 11 goals in his last 11 starts for Arsenal in all competitions at the Emirates, notching his 11 goals from just 16 shots on target.
– It’s the second time that Martin Odegaard has provided multiple assists in a game for Arsenal — and both games have come on Boxing Day (two assists vs Norwich City in 2021).
Arsenal: Next up for the Gunners is a New Year’s Eve trip to Brighton & Hove Albion.
West Ham: Back in East London to host Brentford on Dec. 30.