Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Arsenal 0-2 West Ham: Not good enough front and back

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It was a night of frustration at the Emirates as Arsenal missed the chance to go back on top, losing 2-0 to West Ham.

I said pre-game we’d need to be efficient in the final third: at the end of the game we’d had 30 shots and scored no goals, so that’s about as far from efficient as you can get. The Hammers had three attempts on target and scored twice. It’s an Arsenal tale as old as time really. How often does it happen that we start brightly and go behind to the opposition’s first attempt?

We did start pretty well, but the story of the last few week is that the final pass or the final action hasn’t been good enough. Crosses just a touch heavy; shots that lack precision; passes that aren’t accurate enough or quick enough; players movement in the opposition box not sharp enough. Same again. And then we give away a silly goal. West Ham worked it well down their left, a quick, dangerous, cross caught us out, Gabriel made contact to clear it away but it hit Zinchenko and went back the other way.

From there the ball looked like it was going to squirt behind for goal kick, but Jarrod Bowen played it back across and Tomas Soucek was unmarked, due to Trossard ball-watching, for an easy finish. There was a VAR check which was inconclusive as to whether the ball had gone out or not. We can bemoan the technology if we like, and maybe it’s something the game should be able to do better in this day and age, but it is what it is. If that tech existed, it might have shown the ball just in and it’s still a goal – we should have defended better.

Up the other end Bukayo Saka had a header very well saved, and then hit the post, Martinelli shot wide, Jesus had an unconvincing shout for a penalty, but what sticks out to me most about that first period is our wastefulness from set-pieces. The plan was obviously to put the ball near post, and while I accept there’s a very small area in which that kind of delivery can be effective, it was frustrating to see them cleared so easily. The total cock-up of a free kick on the edge of their box was dreadful too.

There were no changes at the break, and not much changed after the break. Arsenal were dominant in every attacking metric you wish to pull out, except the one that actually matters: goals. Going 2-0 down from a corner was not ideal either. Zinchenko didn’t do his blocking job, allowing former Gunner Dinos Mavropanos a run all the way across the box which allowed him to out-jump Gabriel and double the West Ham lead. That was 55 minutes.

Arsenal continued to dominate, with Martin Odegaard the bright spot on the night for us. He tried and tried to make things happen, with 6 key passes in total, but if you create and others waste, you will pay the price. There were 19 Arsenal shots between the Mavropanos goal and the final whistle. Jesus headed down but straight at the keeper, then headed over after Odegaard found Ben White brilliantly whose cross was perfect for the Brazilian. That ought to be have been a goal on 66 minutes, loads of time afterwards to find another and maybe another.

We’d made some changes by then, taking off Zinchenko and Martinelli for Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah. On a night when you have 30 shots and don’t score, the discussion about our need for another forward will resurface. It’s clear there is room for, and the need for, an addition in this area. I accept it’s difficult in January, especially given the FFP situation, but Nelson hasn’t started a Premier League match in over three years, and we’re expecting him to be a game-changer? I think it says something about the depth and bench, and neither he nor Nketiah added anything.

I also think Arteta was slow to take off Trossard. Yes, he had a chance (created by Odegaard) but as much as I like what he can bring to this team, he is not the answer to the question at left 8, unless the question is: who should we not play at left 8? I don’t think the role suits him, I don’t think he’s capable of playing the role the way it needs to, and he was lucky to stay on as long as he did. I don’t know if a longer cameo for Emile Smith Rowe would have made much difference, but I’d like to have seen it anyway. I was ready for Trossard to come off at half-time.

There were penalty claims for a foul on Saka, and I think it should have been ordinarily, but replays showed a foul by Jesus on Ogbonna as he went to make that challenge. I suspect that muddied the waters as VAR checked. Without that, I reckon it’s got a much better chance of being given. Odegaard kept trying as those around him offered little, and right at the death West Ham got a penalty after a foul by Declan Rice of all people. David Raya saved his blushes with a good stop but it didn’t really matter, and it’s two and zero for Rice against his former club this season – hopefully third time lucky when we go there in February.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

Congratulate West Ham and praise my players, that’s what I can say. This is football. You look what we’ve done in the game, how much we generated in the game and to see the result is very disappointing, but they were better than us in both boxes. They had two shots, with the penalty, three, we had thirty. I don’t know how many touches in the box, how many situations, how many open goals to score and we haven’t. In football you have to do that better if you want to win, and today we haven’t won because of that and for the rest, the team kept trying and had an incredible attitude again.

I agree that there was no fault in endeavour or application, only execution. We had the dominance and shot-count to, at the very least, not have lost this one. Beyond Odegaard, the front three were not good enough, and as I mentioned above, Trossard was poor, while Rice was nowhere near as influential as he has been this season. Zinchenko’s insistence on setting the world’s slowest tempo for our football is a growing frustration for me too. All those extra touches = more time for teams like West Ham, who are well drilled under a veteran manager like David Moyes, to reset and get organised, and thus more difficult to break down. Speed. It. Up.

Arteta can look at the positives, the 30 shots and so on, but there are different ways of playing poorly. This is probably the best way of doing that, if that makes sense. It’s better to be just missing the final piece than staring at a jigsaw you have no idea what to do with, but it’s still bad. I think West Ham defended as well as we attacked poorly, but we didn’t half give them a helping hand with that.

I think the reality of our situation is that we have to get more from the players we have, because I don’t think there is going to be the kind of addition in January that would raise the level to where people want it. Arteta spoke on that last night, saying:

What we have is the players that we have, it’s the players that I love the most. What we have to do is try to get better situations, and more training, put them there and raise their confidence and that’s it because they have done it.

They can all do it, of course. We’ve seen it. But we’ve also seen this side struggle for goals in a way that has cost us points. Think about games like last night, like Newcastle away and Villa away where the absence of that final ball, that clinical finish, has cost us points. We need them to find their shooting boots ASAP, because if they don’t, there will be more frustration like this to come.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. We’ll have an Arsecast for you a bit later on, so join us for that. Until then.

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