West Ham 1-2 Arsenal: Rob Holding’s first Premier League goal was cancelled out by Jarrod Bowen’s equaliser, only for the Brazilian centre-back to earn three precious points
Arsenal maintained their slender lead in the top-four race as two set-piece goals exposed a West Ham side thinned and fatigued by their European exploits. Both headers arrived courtesy of corners, with Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes leaping into the void left by West Ham’s injury-ravaged defence.
Jarrod Bowen had equalised on the brink of half-time at the London Stadium but there was to be no second reprieve during a tense finish in which their will was eventually extinguished by a lack of energy reserves, with West Ham having now taken just one point from their last four fixtures following Europa League nights.
It has been an increasingly damaging theme of West Ham’s season, one for which Moyes and the hierarchy must take some blame for not acting more assertively in the transfer market. They have now lost five of their last eight Premier League games, leaving seventh-place far from a certain outcome, but Arsenal still needed to show plenty of mettle to avoid another stumble in a pursuit of fourth that has been littered with potholes.
Mikel Arteta’s squad had seen Tottenham leapfrog them in the table earlier in the afternoon and that pressure, coupled with West Ham’s tiredness, made for a cagey and sluggish start as both sides stuttered in possession.
West Ham perhaps had a little more conviction in their attack, owing to the incessant threat of Bowen, but any bursts forwards were promptly scythed to a standstill by Granit Xhaka. Even Arsenal’s agent of chaos, Nuno Tavares, the Premier League’s answer to a powder keg on legs, was initially a damp squib while Takehiro Tomiyasu’s first start since January shored up the opposing flank.
A stalemate was the generous description of what ensued but when there was finally some give, the balance did seem to shift slightly in West Ham’s favour. Pablo Fornals blazed over the bar after a poor headed clearance by Magalhaes and, after Vladimir Coufal’s deflected cross squirmed its way through to Manuel Lanzini at the back post, his blocked effort did at least register the game’s first shot on target. It wasn’t quite blood drawn, but it did at least leave some ink on the paper.
A breakthrough was desperately required, not just to breathe life into the contest but give it CPR. It felt almost inevitable, such was the lack of decisive quality on display, that it would come via a set-piece. Holding was inexplicably marked by Lanzini at a corner and the centre-back leapt highest to deftly glance Bukayo Saka’s in-swinging cross towards the first corner. Starting in place of the injured Ben White, it was Holding’s first-ever Premier League goal and first for Arsenal since September 2019.
The goal ignited a fire underneath West Ham and finally the match burst into life. Barely a minute after falling behind, they almost equalised in a mirror image of Arsenal’s opener, with Rice meeting Fornals’ corner at the near post. Aaron Ramsdale made a terrific fingertip save but their lead would last just five minutes longer.
On the brink of half-time, Vladimir Coufal was afforded acres of space by Tavares, whose dawdling effort to block the cross offered no more resistance than a piece of tissue paper. Coufal picked out Bowen, who span and thrashed a shot that took a slight deflection off Gabriel’s backside and barrelled into the bottom corner.
The rhythm showed no sign of abating in the second half as Bowen’s pace increasingly caused Arsenal problems. He tried to latch onto one speculative long ball with Ramsdale charging a little recklessly out of goal. With Arteta’s head in his hands, Ramsdale lunged in and missed the ball. He missed Bowen for that matter too, though, and he was booked by Mike Dean for diving.
The following attack led to Arsenal retaking the lead. Saka continued to terrorise Ryan Fredericks and his low shot almost caught out Lukasz Fabianksi at the near post. From the resulting corner, the ball was only cleared so far as Gabriel Martinelli and his cross found Magalhaes almost entirely unmarked in the six-yard box. His header cannoned off Fabianski’s thigh and into the net.
Arsenal didn’t quite go into siege mode, but they were certainly prepared to sit on their lead and wait to counter. Nketiah should have killed the game off when bursting through on one such break but his curling shot fizzed just past the post and set up another nervous test of Arteta’s side mettle. The striker had the chance to make amends five minutes later on another breakaway, but Fabianski made a fine low save to his left to tip the ball around the post.
Those opportunities wouldn’t prove costly, though, even if the sight of Saka limping off will leave Arsenal supporters concerned. West Ham’s tank had been emptied, as has become something of a curse for them on these Sunday afternoons. While Arsenal held on to take another cautious step towards a Champions League return.