Resurgent Arsenal leave West Ham wobbling
PUBLISHED: 21:57 05 April 2017
PA Wire/PA Images
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 0
It was a derby of differing fortunes at the Emirates Stadium, where the Gunners re-ignited their Champions League qualification hopes, while the Hammers were left with relegation alarm bells ringing loudly in their ears.
After a goalless opening, second-half strikes from Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and substitute Olivier Giroud condemned wobbling West Ham United to a forlorn fifth consecutive defeat that leaves Slaven Bilić’s side just five points clear of the danger-zone ahead of struggling Swansea City’s crucial visit to London Stadium on Saturday.
A late Tigers’ attack on Saturday had resulted in heartbreak at Hull City, where West Ham were left languishing in 15th place, but despite being too close to the drop-zone for comfort, the Hammers board had, at least, publicly declared their 100 per cent faith in battered and bruised boss Bilić, who made three changes for this subsequent trip across the capital.
The Croatian recalled skipper Mark Noble, Arthur Masuaku and Michail Antonio in place of Aaron Cresswell plus substitutes Sofiane Feghouli and Robert Snodgrass, who were joined on the bench by fit-again Diafra Sakho.
Certainly, Noble and Antonio were soon in the thick of things winning early free-kicks with a couple of probing runs and, indeed, Manuel Lanzini came within a whisker of putting the Hammers ahead with a curling 18-yarder that just cleared the Arsenal wall, Emiliano Martinez’s outstretched glove and the crossbar.
Next up, with a dozen minutes on the clock, Noble sent a low, angled 20-yarder across the face of goal and beyond the far post as the vociferous claret and blue fans taunted their edgy red and white counterparts with chants of: ‘Arséne Wenger, we want you to stay!’ but that was about as good as it got for the visitors.
Sunday afternoon’s hard-fought draw against Manchester City had left the Gunners in sixth spot, seven points adrift of the top four, where they have unfailingly finished in each of Wenger’s previous 20 seasons in charge.
Now with just 10 games left to close that gap on Pep Guardiola’s side, the under-fire Arsenal manager had been forced to switch goalkeepers with Martinez coming in for the crocked David Ospina, while Mohamed Elneny and Gabriel replaced Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) and Francis Coquelin.
On the quarter-hour mark, Hector Bellerin cut back for Walcott to fire a low 15-yard shot straight at the well-placed Darren Randolph and, shortly afterwards, the England wide-boy had his desperate shouts for a penalty waved away by referee Martin Atkinson after he fell under pressure from Masuaku.
Bellerin was then booked for tugging back the breaking Antonio and, after Welbeck just failed to toe-poke beyond Randolph, Cheikhou Kouyaté needed treatment when he was clattered by team-mate José Fonte.
As the half-hour mark approached, though, the Hammers almost pressed the self-destruct button, when James Collins carelessly passed the ball straight to Welbeck, who played in Walcott but he wastefully sliced behind with only Randolph to beat.
The dangerous Walcott was then too quick for the lunging Lanzini, who still received a yellow card for the intent rather than the contact as Arsenal finished the half strongly and, only do-or-die defending by Collins denied both Bellerin and Elneny in quick succession before Ozil floated over the consequent corner which a relieved Randolph claimed following Welbeck’s near-post header.
And with the half now bursting, belatedly into life, the Hammers keeper was forced to race from his line and bravely dive into Walcott’s studs to keep it goalless at the break after Masuaku had been caught flat-footed.
Snodgrass replaced Antonio for the restart and, yet again, Collins was soon putting his body on the line to deny Ozil with a saving stop, while Nacho Monreal curled wide before Fonte and Masuaku clashed heads in another attempt to silence the Gunners.
Only one team was going to open the scoring and, sure enough, on 57 minutes, the ball broke to Ozil and he whipped a low 20-yarder through a wall of bodies and beyond the groping gloves of the stranded Randolph to break the deadlock with his 10th goal of the campaign.
After Shkodran Mustafi was cautioned for sliding Snodgrass, Elneny headed straight at Randolph, while Sakho then replaced Andy Carroll.
But Arsenal’s second goal was not far away and, with 68 minutes on the clock, Ozil played a clever one-two with Alexis Sanchez, who back-heeled the German international into the left-hand channel and when the low cut-back was played to the edge of the six-yard box, Walcott slid in front of Sam Byram to double the lead with his 19th strike of the season.
Bellerin came with inches of adding a third shortly afterwards and, after the lively Lanzini finally forced Martinez into his first save of the evening with a fierce 15-yarder, Byram was booked for slicing Sanchez.
Job done, Arsenal made a flurry of substitutions and, with just eight minutes remaining, two of the fresh faces combined as Alex Oxlade Chamberlain tore into the heart of the Hammers penalty box before laying off to Giroud who curled a precision 15-yarder around Randolph and into the far corner to round off a miserable night for worried West Ham.
GUNNERS: Martinez, Bellerin, Monreal, Mustafi, Gabriel, Elneny (Ramsey 80), Xhaka, Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain 80), Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck (Giroud 74). Unused subs: Macey, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Iwobi.
HAMMERS: Randolph, Byram, Masuaku, Fonte, Collins, Noble (Fernandes 80), Kouyaté, Lanzini, Ayew, Antonio (Snodgrass h/t), Carroll (Sakho 64). Unused subs: Adrián, Nordtveit, Feghouli, Calleri.
Booked: Bellerin (18), Lanzini (39), Mustafi (62), Byram (76).
Referee: Martin Atkinson.