West Ham United 3 Arsenal 3
Sunday 21st March 2021, 3pm
Firstly, it needs stating that Arsenal came into this match less than three complete days after their second leg against Olympicos. West Ham had not played since the previous Sunday. Whether or not that mitigates the Hammers being three goals up after 32 minutes is debatable. Is fatigue a factor in the first half normally? Their impressive comeback suggested that fitness levels were not the issue. Although at three goals down it would have had you questioning Arteta and the team. You certainly wouldn't have been asking for the betting odds for Arsenal to pull three goals back to improbably draw 3-3. Incidentally for those who do like a punt why not try Premier League betting on your mobile where betting on English Premier League is simple. You can browse over 98 markets, including English Premier League. For those who did predict the Gunners pulling back a three goal deficit on Sunday you would have been quids in.
There were five changes from the side that lost the match last Thursday, and Calum Chambers starting at right back was the most notable, given how he has struggled in that position in the past. Even commentator Martin Tyler referenced his nightmare against Swansea’s Montero, which seems a long time ago now. Chambers was signed in the summer of 2014 – he is now in his seventh season at the club, although he had spent two seasons out on loan. He has also suffered long term injury.
There is a theory he is being given game time above either of Bellerin or Cedric to enhance his value in the summer, the thought being the club will be looking to sell. They have a lot of options at centre-back, although surely David Luiz won't be given another year, and it remains to be seen what value Arsenal are going to get for their outlay on William Saliba. The other changes were Lacazette coming in for Pepe, Mari in place of Gabriel, and Elneny and Ceballos stepping down as Partey and Saka were given starts. So certainly some fresh legs.
Let’s give credit where it’s due for West Ham’s 15th minute opening goal. It was a well worked move that ended up with a glorious strike by Jessie Lingard, and Mikel Arteta refused to criticize his players for it when interviewed after the game. Two minutes later, it was a different story. It’s pretty much policy for an opposing player to stand in front of the ball when a free-kick is awarded to stop it being taken quickly. It’s a basic at top level. No-one ever seems to get booked for it. Yet, no-one thought to do this in the Arsenal team, and they were punished big time. One pass and the Bowen was in on goal. Whether it was a soft free kick against Saka or not was something that should not have mattered. Do referees ever reverse that kind of decision? Only when VAR is used for penalties. Yes, Bernd Leno should have done better with the shot, but the team were caught cold, and it needn’t have come to that.
It got worse after 31 minutes – Arsenal were not getting in the game at all and then lost the ball playing out from the back – Tierney the villain this time. Antonio’s header – between two defenders – was too easy, and Soucek got a touch to help it in. 3-0. I know of Gooners who switched off at this point. It was soon after Doktor Schneide messaged me - Perhaps we should see if we could set up that machine to blow bubbles across our goal. It might offer us some stiffer resistance.
But of course this is a Jekyll and Hyde team – has been for ages. They suddenly started playing some good possession football, as Odegaard become seriously influential, and it led to Chambers crossing the ball to Lacazette, whose shot was deflected in.
You did feel that, with more than a half to go, Arsenal could get a result if only they could score the next goal, and Saka came very close before half time with just Lukas Fabianski to beat.
As for the second half – what can be said? Pure entertainment, either side could have won the game, but Arsenal did enough with two goals. The first (another own goal) was also set up by Chambers who excelled in the attacking aspect of the right back role. He was not as culpable as David Luiz for West Ham’s goals, but no-one in defence had a good game yesterday.
Arsenal’s equalizer came just after Martinelli had replaced Aubameyang, so much so that the captain was walking behind the goal when Lacazette headed in from an excellent right footed Pepe cross. His mood changed from sulkiness to joy in an instant, Arteta seemingly vindicated (even if Martinelli had nothing to do with the goal).
It was a bonkers second half – before we praise Arsenal to the skies, we must acknowledge how close West Ham came to scoring more than once. So it was not completely one-way traffic, although some of Arsenal’s play, generally centring around Odegaard, was top notch.
So good to see some attacking quality, even if these kind of performances are likely to put Odegaard out of Arsenal’s price bracket. But defensive issues still remain. Focus is not 100% and the defenders are too easily out-jumped for headers. This does not augur well for the consistency required to climb the table, although Europa League qualification is certainly still possible, given it will likely be a top six side that wins the FA Cup. As for the Europa League? Well, they can’t be giving away cheap goals so easily or there is no chance of winning that.
We have two weeks off now anyway, at least from Arsenal. But quite a game to bow out with before the internationals take centre stage. I wonder if Norway’s games will be shown anywhere? With Odegaard named as the new skipper, their tactics have to have changed.