Arsenal 4 West Ham United 1: Late blitz hurts Hammers
PUBLISHED: 16:06 22 April 2018
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There was no grand finish at the Emirates, where the Hammers slumped to their 1,000th top-flight defeat at the hands of the goal-grabbing Gunners.
When Marko Arnautović wiped out Nacho Monreal’s opener midway through the second period, West Ham looked on course for another precious point in their quest for safety.
But David Moyes’ men pressed the self-destruct button to concede three goals in eight final, mindless minutes as Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette’s double-barrelled blast fired Arsenal to victory, while the Hammers sit in 15th place, six points clear of the drop with a quartet of games left to play.
After Andy Carroll had spared his keeper’s blushes with a last-gasp leveller against Stoke City on Monday night, there had been an unexpected reprieve for Joe Hart, whose earlier blunder looked to have handed the Potters all three points.
But having seen his side extend their unbeaten run to three games, Moyes opted for an unchanged team, which meant that the unfortunate Adrián remained on the bench alongside offensive big guns Carroll, Manuel Lanzini and Javier Hernández.
And although Laurent Koscielny bundled an early corner inches wide, it was West Ham, who enjoyed the best moments of the opening quarter-hour as Edimilson Fernandes almost got a vital touch in the danger-zone, before João Mário’s 20-yarder forced David Ospina into a low save.
Arnautović was then robbed by Shkodran Mustafi in the act of shooting before the Austrian ace accelerated behind the home defence only to see Ospina beat away his stinging, angled 12-yarder and, shortly afterwards, Cheikhou Kouyaté headed Mário’s inswinging corner onto the top of the Colombian ‘keeper’s crossbar.
Despite announced ticket sales of 59,422 and Arsène Wenger’s midweek announcement that he would be departing the Gunners hot-seat at the end of the season following his 22-year stint on Red watch, the no-shows were still conspicuous by their absence.
But at least those Arsenal fans making their way to the Emirates now transformed their fraught, fractious fight for change into the start of a fond farewell for the Frenchman, who was taking charge for his 1,229th match at the helm.
With one eye on Thursday evening’s Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, Wènger made five changes to his sixth-placed side that had lost at Newcastle United last weekend as Ramsey, Ospina, Koscielny, Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin each came in for Petr Cech, Joe Willock plus substitutes Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding.
On 20 minutes, Fernandes sent a long-ranger high into the stands, while at the opposite end, Bellerin curled a similar effort into the vociferous West Ham fans packed behind Hart’s goal before Welbeck drilled an angled 18-yarder across the Hammers ‘keeper’s groping gloves and beyond the base of the far post.
Welbeck also scuffed wide from distance on the half-hour and, when the England striker was felled by Declan Rice shortly afterwards, Granit Xhaka’s 25-yard free-kick was pushed out by the alert Hart, once it had fizzed past the Hammers wall.
The diving Welbeck also headed Bellerin’s cross over the top as Arsenal began to get a firm foothold on the latter stages of a goalless first-half that saw Xhaka booked for a lunge on Arthur Masuaku and Mohamed Elneny stretchered away following an innocuous looking clash with skipper Mark Noble.
Just after the restart, Monreal’s low 18-yarder was held by Hart and, when Mário’s weak corner was easily cleared upfield, last-man Pablo Zabaleta collected his ninth yellow card of the campaign for a desperate trip on the escaping Welbeck.
And although the Hammers cleared the consequent free-kick at the expense of a corner, danger still lurked, as Xhaka sent the flag-kick towards the edge of the area, where Monreal lost his markers to fire a crisp, first-time, 15-yard half-volley inside the base of the sprawling Hart’s right-hand upright.
As the hour-mark neared, Kocielny almost doubled the lead with a low pile-driver that flew inches wide and that was the cue for Moyes to go on the attack himself as Lanzini and Hernández replaced Fernandes and Mário.
Hernández headed over with his first touch and, after substitute Ainsley Maitland-Niles was booked for charging through Noble, Arnautović sent a tightly-angled shot behind.
But Arnautović did not have to wait long for his reward. On 64 minutes, for reasons only known to himself, the flying Ospina launched himself at full-length to punch Masuaku’s cross in towards the penalty spot and with the Hammers winning possession, Kouyaté worked the ball to Lanzini, who rolled it into the path of the overlapping Austrian on the left-hand side of the area.
Typically, Arnautović did not need to be asked twice as he took a controlling touch before drilling an angled 15-yarder across the face of Ospina and into the far corner to claim his 10th goal of the season and send those West Ham fans into brief East End ecstasy.
Hart’s agile and athletic stops from Xhaka and Welbeck looked to have kept revitalised West Ham in line for a share of the spoils but Moyes boys inexplicably imploded as they somehow conceded that horrendous hat-trick of goals inside those final eight, explosive minutes.
On 82 minutes, Ramsey curled in a left-wing cross-cum-shot into the six-yard box, where a total communication breakdown in the visiting defence saw the stooping Declan Rice leave the ball for the oblivious Hart and the dejected duo were left exchanging words as the net rippled while the Welshman wheeled away in delight.
Still reeling from that costly mistake, the Hammers then saw Welbeck feed Bellerin, who picked out the overlapping Lacazette and the Frenchman’s angled eight-yarder deflected off Cresswell’s heel and inside the near post to put the game beyond West Ham’s reach.
Incredibly, there was yet more misery to come for Moyes and, as stoppage time neared, that man Lacazette lashed his second goal of the afternoon past the helpless Hart after Ramsey cleverly cut the ball back from the by-line to the edge of the six-yard box.
And as Arsenal celebrate the start of Wenger’s long goodbye, the Hammers are left looking cautiously over their shoulders with four fraught fixtures left to play.
Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Monreal, Mustafi, Koscielny, Elneny (Maitland-Niles 45), Welbeck (Chambers 87), Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi (Aubameyang 70), Lacazette. Unused subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Nelson. Booked: Xhaka 41, Maitland-Niles 62, Mustafi 74.
West Ham: Hart, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Rice, Zabaleta, Masuaku (Carroll 85), Fernandes (Lanzini 60), Kouyaté, Noble, Mário (Hernandez 60), Arnautovic. Unused subs: Adrián, Hugill, Evra, Cullen. Booked: Zabaleta 50, Arnautovic 87.
Referee: Lee Mason.