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West Ham improve but come up short in an all too familiar result against Arsenal

The Hammers were a hundred times better than their previous outing but one lapse cost them big time

West Ham put in a good performance against Arsenal in north London on Saturday night but left the Emirates with as many points as they arrived with - zero.

Harsh? Yes. West Ham enjoyed the better of most of the game, outplaying Arsenal in their own backyard and not many teams do that.

The hosts were sluggish and sloppy and failed to get going. West Ham meanwhile were fast, sharp, tenacious, physically dominant. Just like they were when they went undefeated in seven games at the end of last season to secure survival.

But when you don’t take your chances when you’re on top, they will inevitably come back to haunt you and they did in a big way in N5.

Arsenal had next to nothing to show for their early endeavours but then scored with their first chance on goal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s teasing cross powerfully headed home by Alexandre Lacazette.

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West Ham responded just before the break, Michail Antonio tapping home Ryan Fredericks’ cross to give the Hammers a deserved goal and entered half time at 1-1.

But between minutes 55 and 65 is when the visitors should have buried their London rivals. Antonio hit the crossbar with a thumping header, the Hammers were sharper and quicker to every ball, counter-attacking with real intent before moves broke down.

Antonio should have scored a second from Arthur Masuaku’s superb cross but Gabriel got a crucial touch on the ball to take it away from the Hammers striker, who could only get a toe on the ball rather than his whole foot.

West Ham celebrate Michail Antonio's goal against Arsenal (Image: Arfa Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images)

West Ham pressed and pressed but couldn’t blow the door down. So of course, Arsenal took advantage on the stroke of full time.

A criminal piece of lapse defending from Andriy Yarmolenko, not known for his defensive prowess anyway, allowed Bukayo Saka to thread a pass to Dani Ceballos, who centred for Eddie Knetiah to net from close range.

It was another gut-punch defeat for the Hammers at the Emirates. They dominated there last season in the final match before lockdown only for Lacazette to bag a late winner. It was a very similar story in 2020/21 behind closed doors.

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So, what was to blame? Tactics? No. David Moyes got that right with the switch to a 5-4-1 as it completely stifled Arsenal and allowed Masuaku to express himself as a left wing-back, a position he enjoyed when the manager was last in charge.

Michail Antonio was full of running, Tomas Soucek was dominant, Ryan Fredericks had another good outing and Declan Rice returned to his level after his aberration against Newcastle a week before.

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Refereeing decisions, then? West Ham should have had a penalty for a handball against Gabriel in the first half who handled in the box. VAR looked at it and said no. The handball decision against Victor Lindelof in Manchester United’s defeat to Crystal Palace was given as a spot kick when the ball was smashed at him from a yard away. VAR and it’s inconsistencies reared their ugly head once again.

So what else? Substitutions? Moyes, as he often does, persisted with his starting eleven until arguably too late. He has inherited a woefully imbalanced squad and doesn’t trust his bench, leaving the club’s two most expensive signings on there before bringing them on in the final ten minutes. The game was there for the taking long before that.

But switching off in the final ten minutes was criminal. Yarmolenko did it and the Hammers paid the price and it’s such fine margins that will cost you. At the start of a truly hideous run of fixtures for the Hammers, this would have been a much-needed point, at the very least.

Yet they left with none and it’s back to square one ahead of the visit of Wolves next weekend.

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