The Sunday Guardian - - SPORTS - LUKE BROWN LONDON

There was just one ques­tion rum­bling around this cold, con­crete bowl of a sta­dium at half-time: could they keep it up? Against the odds West Ham had dom­i­nated the first-half of this London derby against Arse­nal, re­cov­er­ing from a tem­po­rar­ily ner­vous start to repeatedly go close to tak­ing the lead through the ir­re­sistible trio of Marko Ar­nau­tovic, Felipe An­der­son and — above all — Samir Nasri, his ev­ery wil­lowy trick and flick booed by the away end like it was a mor­tal sin.

It took less than three min­utes of the second half to get our an­swer. Not one, but two lapses in judge­ment from that am­bling calamity Shko­dran Mustafi led to De­clan Rice curl­ing home his first ever Premier League goal, hand­ing the home side a de­served lead which they de­fended to the end. It is Arse­nal’s first defeat at West Ham in 12 matches.

That’s to take noth­ing away from their op­po­nents, who have rarely looked bet­ter un­der Manuel Pellegrini and daz­zled ev­ery time they flooded for­ward in at­tack. This West Ham front three is just so ir­re­sistibly West Ham: three ex­cel­lent but enig­mat­i­cally highly strung per­form­ers who have the God-given tal­ent to run rings around any de­fence, if not al­ways the ap­ti­tude. Here they seam­lessly swapped po­si­tions like par­tic­u­larly en­er­getic line dancers, im­pos­si­ble to track and very dif­fi­cult to stop.

Nasri — signed to a many a mock­ing smile and Drip Doc­tors gag — might even turn out to be the most im­por­tant, the com­pact blob of PVA glue hold­ing this rag­tag band of en­ter­tain­ers to­gether. He was bril­liant: knit­ting to­gether West Ham’s at­tacks, con­stantly look­ing to poke the ball in be­hind and has­sling and har­ry­ing Arse­nal’s de­fence through­out. Will he play like this ev­ery week? Prob­a­bly not — but if Manuel Pellegrini can keep him fo­cused he will be­come vi­tal.

Nat­u­rally Nasri played an im­por­tant role in West Ham’s goal, too, although it was a cur­rent Arse­nal player, rather than a for­mer one, who had the most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion.

Chas­ing a rather heavy touch around La­cazette, An­der­son did su­perbly well just to reach the ball be­fore it ran away for a goal kick, and even bet­ter to stab the ball at Mustafi, sta­tioned at the near post.

The Ger­man gra­ciously nod­ded the ball di­rectly into the path of Nasri, who quickly sorted out his feet and laid off Rice, on a rare soiree for­ward. Lu­cas Tor­reira and Bel­lerin soon joined him and — in­evitably — Arse­nal be­gan to pin West Ham back. They found them­selves with chances to equalise, too, with Pier­reem­er­ick Aubameyang un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally blaz­ing over when re­leased on the counter-at­tack, and Alex Iwobi drag­ging a shot wide from a very sim­i­lar po­si­tion mo­ments later. And right at the death they thought they had done it when Ko­scielny nod­ded Sead Ko­lasinac’s cross past Lukasz Fabi­an­ski. THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT

De­clan Rice

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