Arsenal fight back to extend Premier League lead


Gabriel Martinelli is Arsenal’s joint top scorer in the Premier League this season – alongside Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard – after scoring his sixth goal

Arsenal underlined their title credentials by producing a second-half fightback to beat West Ham and move seven points clear at the top as the Premier League returned after the World Cup.

West Ham took the lead against the run of play when Jarrod Bowen was judged to have been clipped in the box by William Saliba, allowing Said Benrahma to smash a confident penalty down the middle.

There was a mood of frustration among the home fans until Bukayo Saka converted from close range after collecting Martin Odegaard’s mis-hit shot.

The equaliser gave added impetus to the Gunners and another home goal looked increasingly likely.

Five minutes later, it duly arrived. Gabriel Martinelli put the hosts ahead, catching out West Ham’s former Gunners keeper Lukasz Fabianski by tucking inside the near post from a tight angle when he seemed more likely to cross.

The points were sealed when Eddie Nketiah – starting in place of the injured Gabriel Jesus – spun sharply in the box before firing into the opposite bottom corner.

Arsenal extended their lead at the top over Newcastle, who moved second by beating Leicester earlier on Monday.

Reigning champions Manchester City – who go to Leeds United on Wednesday – are now eight points behind the Gunners.

West Ham are 16th and just a point above the relegation zone after their fourth league defeat in a row.

Arsenal show progression on Arteta anniversary

Arsenal fans are starting to believe their side can genuinely maintain their push for the club’s first title since Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles in 2004.

And on a night where legendary manager Wenger watched from the Emirates Stadium stands for the first time since leaving in 2018, Arteta’s young team added further encouragement to those who are dreaming of a long-awaited triumph.

The match came on the third anniversary of Arteta’s first game as Arsenal manager, and significant progress has been made since then.

When the former Gunners midfielder took over, they were closer to the relegation zone than the top four.

Their current position – and mood around the club – is a stark measure of how they have come.

The Spaniard has built a new team in the past three years which bears little resemblance – in style and substance – to the one picked for his first game at Bournemouth in 2019.

Arteta will not be getting carried after this win over West Ham, especially with several significant fixtures – not least against Manchester City on 15 February – on the horizon.

But the Gunners sent a message with a clinical second-half performance and the omens are also in their favour.

The team who topped the Premier League table on Christmas Day have gone on to be champions in 10 of the past 13 seasons.

Nketiah takes chance as West Ham struggle in front of goal

One of the key questions as the Premier League returned was how the Gunners would cope without key striker Jesus.

The Brazil international had knee surgery after being injured in Qatar and is expected to be out until late February, fuelling talk the Gunners might need to sign some cover.

But against West Ham, a first Premier League start of the season was handed to Nketiah – and the 23-year-old delivered.

After stretching the Hammers defence and creating space with his sharp movement, he capped an impressive all-round performance with a fierce finish and staked his claim to be Jesus’ replacement.

“Gabby will be a big miss but we all believe in Eddie,” Saka told Amazon Prime. “That’s all he needs, us to keep supporting him and we will keep encouraging him.

“Everyone in the team is chipping in [with goals] and everyone will be important.”

Eddie Nketiah scores Arsenal's third goal against West Ham
Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah has scored 11 goals in his last 11 starts at Emirates Stadium

In contrast to the leaders, West Ham are struggling in front of goal.

They have been better than their league position suggests, according to their expected goals statistics, with converting chances being their main problem.

Few opportunities came against Arsenal, although the game might have panned out differently had Michail Antonio not been denied by Aaron Ramsdale shortly after the restart at 1-0.

Hammers manager David Moyes said before the match he has not been feeling pressure because of results, instead urging for perspective and togetherness across the club.

But a fourth straight league defeat leaves West Ham as one of the cluster of teams packed tightly together in the bottom half.

“I don’t think we’re in a relegation fight. Every team has a blip when it isn’t plain sailing and results don’t go your way,” said midfielder Declan Rice.

“It’s down to me as captain to keep everyone going and pushing. We still believe we are a top team. But we need to start showing that. It’s down to us.”

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Player of the match

ØdegaardMartin Ødegaard

West Ham United

  1. Squad number20Player nameBowen

  2. Squad number22Player nameBenrahma

  3. Squad number41Player nameRice

  4. Squad number9Player nameAntonio

  5. Squad number15Player nameDawson

  6. Squad number11Player nameLucas Paquetá

  7. Squad number1Player nameFabianski

  8. Squad number3Player nameCresswell

  9. Squad number24Player nameKehrer

  10. Squad number5Player nameCoufal

  11. Squad number28Player nameSoucek

  12. Squad number72Player nameMubama

  13. Squad number8Player nameFornals

Line-ups

Arsenal

Formation 4-3-3

  • 1Ramsdale
  • 4White
  • 12Saliba
  • 6Gabriel
  • 3TierneySubstituted forZinchenkoat 73′minutes
  • 8Ødegaard
  • 5ParteySubstituted forElnenyat 90+5′minutes
  • 34Xhaka
  • 7Saka
  • 14Nketiah
  • 11MartinelliSubstituted forFábio Vieiraat 88′minutes

Substitutes

  • 16Holding
  • 17Cédric Soares
  • 21Fábio Vieira
  • 23Sambi Lokonga
  • 25Elneny
  • 27Marquinhos
  • 30Turner
  • 35Zinchenko
  • 85Cozier-Duberry

West Ham

Formation 4-2-3-1

  • 1Fabianski
  • 5CoufalBooked at 44mins
  • 15Dawson
  • 24Kehrer
  • 3Cresswell
  • 28SoucekSubstituted forFornalsat 78′minutes
  • 41Rice
  • 20BowenBooked at 8mins
  • 11Lucas Paquetá
  • 22Benrahma
  • 9AntonioSubstituted forMubamaat 87′minutes

Substitutes

  • 2Johnson
  • 8Fornals
  • 10Lanzini
  • 12Downes
  • 13Aréola
  • 21Ogbonna
  • 32Coventry
  • 33Emerson
  • 72Mubama

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