Before the break for the Qatar World Cup, West Ham United had suffered three straight league defeats and the last team that they would have wanted to face following the resumption of the Premier League would have been Arsenal.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what the fixture list gave them and given the host’s red-hot form, the travelling support were expecting a very tough night and that proved to be the case as the Hammers eventually lost 3-1 at The Emirates Stadium on Boxing Day.
Tomáš Souček made his 100th Premier League start as David Moyes decided to make two changes to the side from the defeat by Leicester City on 12 November. Kurt Zouma went off injured in the home game with the Foxes and will require knee surgery so his place was taken by Vladimír Coufal and despite having doubts over the fitness of both Michail Antonio and Gianluca Scamacca, Antonio had recovered from a calf injury to replace the Italian in the starting line-up.
Youngsters Connor Coventry and Divin Mubama were included amongst the nine substitutes.
West Ham didn’t make the best of starts in this game, as the fell behind within five minutes as Bukayo Saka beat visiting goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański but they were afforded a reprieve as it was ruled out for offside.
The visitors were playing well and passing the ball much better than they had done in previous games and were awarded a penalty by referee Michael Oliver after Jarrod Bowen was fouled by William Saliba.
As always, VAR reviewed the decision but it wasn’t overturned and Saïd Benrahma was given the responsibility of converting. He gave home stopper Aaron Ramsdale no chance, giving those in the away end a reason to cheer.
Although Mikel Arteta’s side were trying to find a way back into the game, the Irons’ defence stood firm. Having said that Arsenal might have got back into the game just before the break. Oliver awarded them a penalty for an apparent handball by Aaron Cresswell. However, VAR was in use again and the technology confirmed that the ball had actually hit the defender’s head and after the referee had consulted the pitchside monitor, the decision was overturned to the relief of the Hammers’ fans.
The visitors took the advantage into the break but could they hold on?
In fact, they had further chances to increase their advantage just minutes into the second-half. Benrahma tested Ramsdale again but was unfortunate not to get the better of him for a second time. Then, Antonio went close but wasn’t able to hit the target.
The scoreline remained in their favour and they were looking to become the first team to win a top-flight game at The Emirates this season but the Gunners, who had only lost one game in the entire league season to date, weren’t about to let that happen. Within eight minutes of the action recommencing, they were back on level terms, when Saka equalised as Martin Ødegaard’s deflected pass fell nicely for Saka to fire past Fabiański.
Five minutes later, normal service was resumed for Arteta’s team when the ball found Ødegaard after Saka had evaded the attentions of Irons’ Captain Declan Rice and combined with Granit Xhaka to play Gabriel Martinelli through and the Spaniard’s shot unfortunately beat Fabiański at his near post.
West Ham’s record in London derbies this season hasn’t been good and it soon became clear that they weren’t going to get anything out of this one when Eddie Nketiah scored.
On seventy eight minutes, Moyes made his first change as Pablo Fornals replaced Souček. A further nine minutes had passed when the Scotsman decided that more fresh legs were needed so, he took off Antonio and Mubama came on in his place.
Fornals would have reduced the deficit but for an outstanding save from Ramsdale late on.
Having not played for forty four days, the East Londoners now face two games in five days, as they end the year with a home game against Brentford.