A below-par Arsenal performance led to an unlikely blank against West Ham on Saturday afternoon.
Unai Emery’s Gunners were uncharacteristically poor in attack and asked very few questions of their London Stadium hosts in the Gameweek 22 opener.
Why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.4m) followed up the captain hype of the last seven days with a frustrating two-pointer is the focus of this latest Scout Notes article.
West Ham 1-0 Arsenal
Goals: Declan Rice (£4.4m)
Assists: Samir Nasri (£5.5m)
Arsenal were well below their usual standard for offensive play in their 1-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday. Emery named the exact same XI that put four past Fulham in Gameweek 21, with Alexandre Lacazette (£9.4m) alongside Aubameyang in attack, but the Gunners still offered little. In the first 21 Gameweeks of the campaign the Gunners averaged 1.95 big chances and 4.8 shots on target per match; against West Ham, they averaged zero and two in those respective categories.
The defeat also seems to have exposed problems delivering away from home for Arsenal. In their last four road trips, they have now registered an expected goals score of 4.40 compared to 10.29 in their last four Emirates Stadium encounters. They have also not won away from home since their trip to Bournemouth in November.
All of that meant a blank for Aubameyang who had been backed by this author as a strong captain candidate in Gameweek 22. considering he topped the league for expected goals in the last four Gameweeks and had notched up more shots than Salah and Hazard in that time.
With Lucas Torreira (£5.0m) named on the bench for a second consecutive Premier League match, and featuring only as a 59th-minute substitute, Arsenal lacked composure in midfield. Mark Noble (£4.8m) and Declan Rice (£4.4m) were clear winners in the central battle over the inexperienced Matteo Guendouzi (£4.4m). Like what happened against Fulham, the Gunners looked a little more fluid in attack after Torreira entered the fray, but by that stage, Aubameyang could only snatch at his chances, missing a great opportunity in the 63rd minute, before Alex Iwobi (£5.4m) grazed the far post when he was freed up on the left.
“We needed to attack more, better, but they defensively worked well. We created some chances but it wasn’t enough. In the first 20 minutes when we created more it was the time we started thinking of winning this match but after it was very difficult as we didn’t impose everything that we wanted.” – Unai Emery
Emery may come in for criticism for not starting Torreira, but also over Aaron Ramsey (£7.2m), supposedly soon to leave for Juventus, improved things when he came on. That will beg more questions about why he has been left out so often, and why Emery is prepared to let him leave. Meanwhile, Mesut Özil (£8.0m) was absent from the match-day squad entirely for supposedly tactical reasons.
“I decided that the players I have here were the best for this match. We have won with him, we have lost with him, he is not one player that is for sale. We know we can’t lose him.” – Unai Emery
What made Arsenal’s goalless display all the more perplexing was the fact that West Ham’s defence was in poor shape ahead of the game. The Hammers had just one Premier League clean sheet at home prior to kick-off and had slipped into the division’s bottom-five for shots conceded in the penalty box over the previous four Gameweeks. Furthermore, West Ham had been visibly suffering in the absence of centre-back Fabian Balbuena (£4.3m) of late, the Paraguayan now ruled out for six weeks. So just as Arsenal bucked their recent trends in attack, the Hammers responded in kind by unexpectedly stifling the visitors, collecting just a second clean sheet in front of their own supporters this season.
It is rather frustrating for Fantasy managers that Manuel Pellegrini’s men struggled to keep out the likes of Watford, Cardiff and Wolves at the London Stadium, their only home shut-outs coming against Arsenal and Chelsea. That meant another nine-point haul against top opposition for Lukasz Fabianski (£4.7m), who lost roughly 80,000 owners ahead of Gameweek 22.
While West Ham secured a rare clean sheet, Emery’s defensive problems continued in the capital. Initially, there was the boost of a return to fitness for three defensive players who were yellow-flagged before kick-off. Laurent Koscielny (£5.4m) started in the back-three while Nacho Monreal (£5.4m) and Hector Bellerín (£5.4m) were named on the bench. Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.4m) was preferred to the latter at right back but was replaced by him in the second half. On the other flank, Sead Kolasinac (£4.9m) kept his place despite the return of Monreal.
Those returns counted for nothing in the opening minutes of the second half when Rice put the hosts in front. Koscielny continued to show his rustiness since coming back from injury as it was his poor defensive header which was pounced upon by Samir Nasri (£5.5m) in the Arsenal box. With the Gunners’ back-line not expecting to be required so quickly after the failed clearance, Rice had all the time he needed to pick out the top corner. Arsenal have now conceded 10 times in their last four away matches and only Fulham and Bournemouth have shipped more goals on their travels this season than Emery’s men. For that reason, they may continue to be targeted by those holding attacking assets of their upcoming opponents.
Marko Arnautovic (£6.9m) was back to lead the West Ham line after being substituted as a precaution in the FA Cup third round. In truth, he wasn’t a constant thorn in Arsenal’s side and actually only registered one shot in the match. The Austrian was substituted in the 71st minute and waved to the West Ham fans, further fuelling rumours that his departure from the club is imminent. After the game, Pellegrini explained that he was replaced by Andy Carroll (£5.4m) because of the back pain felt against Birmingham City flaring up again.
“Marko felt the same pain in his back as he felt during the Cup so it was not good for him to take the risk to continue. He was part of the team and the complete team played well.” – Manuel Pellegrini
Playing loosely in the number 10 role behind Arnautovic was Nasri, making his full Premier League debut for West Ham. It was his first competitive fixture for over a year but he played well considering his absence from the game. Only two players registered more penalty box touches in the match than him, and it was his short pass to Rice which set up West Ham’s only goal. His inclusion in the starting XI was bad news for Robert Snodgrass (£5.4m) who dropped to the bench. Pellegrini was very pleased with Nasri’s performance and cited his versatility when discussing whether he would be a regular feature in the West Ham midfield.
“He was similar behind the striker, I don’t think that he is able to play in this moment on the wing or as a holding midfielder but sure in two or three games more he will be able to play in all the positions he did before. He played the right wing, left wing be near the position of Mark Noble, he doesn’t have any problem, he is a football player.” – Manuel Pellegrini
Not surprisingly, Nasri was unable to last the full match having managed only an hour in the FA Cup third round last week. He was substituted in the 70th minute, but Pellegrini remains unconcerned by his fitness.
“Yes, because Samir Nasri is a top player and when he has more minutes and his feet are 100 per cent he will make the difference as always he did in Arsenal and Manchester City. In that position it was very necessary for us to have those kind of players because the other three, Wilshere, Lanzini and Yarmolenko are injured, so Samir is improving and I am sure, because I trust a lot in his game, that he will continue to do so in the future.” – Manuel Pellegrini
Felipe Anderson (£7.4m) is now three matches in a row without attacking returns but showed some promise. He looked threatening every time West Ham bore down on Arsenal’s goal and touched the ball more times in the penalty box more times than any other player in the match.
West Ham United XI (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Diop, Zabaleta; Rice, Noble; Anderson, Nasri (Snodgrass 70′), Antonio (Obiang 81′); Arnautovic (Carroll 70′).
Arsenal XI (3-4-2-1): Leno; Koscielny, Sokratis, Mustafi (Ramsey 59′); Kolasinac, Xhaka (Torreira 59′), Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles (Bellerín 68′); Iwobi, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
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