Arsenal 3-1 West Ham United
Premier League, Emirates Stadium, Monday 26 December 2022
West Ham United lost on their return to Premier League action, relinquishing a half-time lead to go down 3-1 at Arsenal on Boxing Day.
Saïd Benrahma’s penalty gave the Irons a half-time lead at Emirates Stadium, but second-half strikes from Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah made for an unhappy Christmas for David Moyes’ side.
Defeat in north London was a fourth top-flight reverse in a row and left West Ham 16th in the table, while his former Everton captain Mikel Arteta’s Gunners are going great guns at the top of the standings.
Following the 44-day break for the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals, tributes were paid before kick-off to 1966 winner George Cohen, who had passed away on 23 December, aged 83.
When the action began, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Darren England was as involved as anyone in the first half, confirming an early ‘goal’ from Saka was rightly ruled out for offside.
England then confirmed referee Michael Oliver’s decision to award West Ham a penalty for William Saliba’s sliding challenge on Jarrod Bowen, which knocked the speeding forward off-balance a yard inside the Arsenal 18-yard box. A confident, in-form Benrahma slammed unerringly past Aaron Ramsdale for his third goal in five Premier League matches.
And the VAR’s hat-trick of interventions arrived in added-time, when he called Oliver to the pitch-side screen to review and overturn his initial decision to award the Gunners a spot-kick of their own, when he deemed Ødegaard’s shot had hit Aaron Cresswell in the hand, when in fact it had hit him square in the head!
Away from the reviews, West Ham defended with determination and discipline, sitting deep but not too deep and repelling the Gunners’ repeated assaults.
The hosts did have chances, of course, but Łukasz Fabiański saved from Granit Xhaka and forced Ødegaard to shoot wide, while centre-backs Craig Dawson and Thilo Kehrer each made an important block to deny Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah respectively.
At the other end, West Ham may have had less than a third of possession in the first half, but they used what they did have well, with Benrahma working Ramsdale and Michail Antonio firing a powerful effort past the post either side of the Algerian’s goal.
Unfortunately, the Hammers were unable to maintain that defensive discipline and were punished within eight minutes of the restart. Ødegaard was the creator, finding Saka with a pass that caught out the visitors and, with Vladimír Coufal playing the England winger onside, enabled him to sidefoot his shot past Fabiański and in.
And five minutes later, Arsenal went in front. Saka held off Rice, Ødegaard and Xhaka combined and Martinelli’s low shot flew between Fabiański’s right boot and the near post.
Having fallen behind, the Irons’ previous belief, resilience and organisation slowly evaporated, while the table-toppers’ own confidence grew, and the Gunners went further in front 21 minutes from full-time. Again, the home side passed their way through before Nketiah span away from Kehrer and shot low to Fabiański’s left and into the net for 3-1.
With their opponents looking increasingly ragged, Ødegaard sought a goal to add to his two assists, but two left-footers curled narrowly past the post, before a third was kept out by Dawson’s head.
Academy of Football forward Divin Mubama made his Premier League debut late on, but had precious little time to make a telling impact.
Fellow substitute Pablo Fornals was denied by a flying Ramsdale save late on but, in truth, Arsenal were the dominant force overall and warranted their victory, while West Ham will need to dig deep to change their fortunes and end 2022 with a win at home to Brentford on Friday 30 December.
West Ham United: Fabiański, Coufal, Dawson, Kehrer, Cresswell, Rice ©, Souček (Fornals 78), Bowen, Paquetá, Benrahma, Antonio (Mubama 87)
Subs not used: Areola (GK), Johnson, Ogbonna, Emerson, Coventry, Lanzini, Downes
Goal: Benrahma 24 (pen)
Booked: Bowen, Coufal
Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Gabriel, Saliba, Tierney (Zinchenko 73), Partey (Elneny 90+5), Xhaka, Saka, Ødegaard ©, Martinelli (Vieira 88), Nketiah
Subs not used: Turner (GK), Holding, Cédric, Lokonga, Marquinhos, Cozier-Duberry
Goals: Saka 53, Martinelli 58, Nketiah 69
Referee: Michael Oliver