- Match bursts into life after half-time following cool finish by Martinelli
- Coufal sent off after second yellow for foul on Lacazette but Arsenal captain misses penalty
- Substitute Smith Rowe wraps up points late on after combining with Saka
After all the sound and fury of finally stripping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy and banishing the striker, Arsenal needed to make a different kind of statement on the pitch. And here it was as they gained the stirring victory over West Ham that lifted them into fourth in the Premier League and, with it, into the Champions League places.
As well as Arsenal played, and certainly it was the response demanded by their clearly-agitated manager Mikel Arteta after the Aubameyang episode, it was tough on West Ham especially with the contentious dismissal of Vladimir Coufal as they chased the game. If ever there was a case for a clear and obvious error then here it was and yet there was no intervention from the Var. His first booking was questionable; his second certainly was.
The stakes were high. And tensions were also. Kieran Tierney tried to burst past Coufal who put his arm across the Arsenal defender’s chest. Tierney clutched his face and hit the turf with team-mates waving imaginary cards that incensed West Ham captain Declan Rice. A melee followed. Coufal was booked, Arsenal’s latest captain, Alexandre Lacazette was spoken to by referee Anthony Taylor, and the free-kick came to nothing.
It felt almost febrile. Maybe the impending fear of attendances being limited and games called off due to the new Covid variant gave it an ‘end-of-days’ feel. Maybe also the prize, Arsenal moving into the top four with a win or West Ham consolidating their place there, made it even more wrought. Either way both sides were ‘up for it’, as they say and no quarter was given with Taylor also jogging over to try and calm Arsenal’s excitable set-piece coach Nico Javer who led a constant barrage of complaints.
It continued. Thomas Partey and Michail Antonio clashed with the latter being caught in the face by an elbow. The free-kick went to Arsenal while the pressing, from both sides, was ferocious even if it meant possession was being turned over at a bewildering rate with tackles flying in. Pablo Fornals, Arthur Masuaku and Bukayo Saka all hit the turf.
Next Lacazette and Craig Dawson lunged into each other and again, as with Saka, Arsenal screamed for a penalty. It went unheeded but it was yet more evidence that Arsenal were taking control, pushing for the opening goal and harrying West Ham who were pinned back, ever more dependent on Antonio breaking away as he did, running at Ben White, before also running out of options although he also shook up Aaron Ramsdale with the goalkeeper fortunate to escape after fumbling a corner.
From a half-cleared free-kick the ball fell to Pablo Fornals who took a touch and curled a right-foot shot narrowly wide. That served as a warning to Arsenal and, for such an open game, also represented the first real meaningful effort on goal.
Arsenal heeded it. Saka weaved his way into the area, quickly exchanging passes with Martin Odegaard and teeing up Granit Xhaka whose side-footed shot was superbly blocked by Dawson. The rebound falling to Tierney and, from 22 yards, he drove the ball with Lukasz Fabianski brilliantly tipping it onto the crossbar.
The former Arsenal goalkeeper then dived low to repel Lacazette’s bouncing shot with Dawson just doing enough to force Gabriel Martinelli to sidefoot the rebound past the post when it looked like he was certain to open the scoring. Somehow after the intensity, the pell-mell speed and sense of chaos, it remained goalless at half-time.
But it did not for long after that. Martinelli struck. Lacazette collected a pass from White and was allowed to turn in the West Ham half and slip the ball through to the Brazilian whose first touch took him away from Coufal as he proved too fast for him and Dawson, who was beginning to struggle with the pace, before calmly bending his shot around Fabianski and into the net. It was a fine finish and, on the touchline, Arteta’s unbridled celebration showed how much it meant.
Nevertheless, West Ham almost found an immediate response with Jarrod Bowen’s shot from the area’s edge clipping off Gabriel. It appeared set to beat Ramsdale but he did well to adjust to push the ball away for a corner. Bowen held his head. He knew that was close.
It remained open. Fabianski thwarted Odegaard’s free-kick and Bowen clipped a shot wide from Antonio’s cut-back before Arsenal were awarded a controversial penalty. It came as Coufal tackled Lacazette, winning the ball first but catching the forward on his shins. He was stunned – not only when the spot-kick was awarded but also a second yellow card, and then a red, was shown by Taylor. It looked incredibly harsh and West Ham protested but to no avail although Fabianski then dived low to his left to wonderfully push out Lacazette’s penalty.