DECLAN RICE SECURES DESERVED WEST HAM WIN OVER ARSENAL
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