Mikel Arteta’s side will feel much better after it, however, having come back from 3-0 down to claim a raucous 3-3 draw.
Even if some of the football that put them behind showed how much the Basque still has to solve, it is an indication of Arsenal’s progress that they turned it around. Earlier in the season, it would have been easy to see this becoming 4-1 rather than 3-0. They displayed excellent character instead, a lot of it from Martin Odegaard displaying exquisite football. He was the source of so much that was good, even if we had the odd fact that West Ham players had put in five of the six goals. Alex Lacazette still claimed that clinching equaliser.
Maybe that collapse is a sign of West Ham’s own levelling off, as their European hopes again become that bit more complicated. If it would Arsenal would have allowed this to become 4-1 a few months ago, West Ham probably would have kept it at 3-1 a few months ago. They are not quite as robust as they had been. That shouldn’t be to criticise David Moyes. No matter what happens from here, he has drastically over-performed with this team this season.
Arteta, his former playmaker at Everton for so long, will appreciate how difficult this was. It is still possible that this game – and the manner in which it swung – could be both campaigns in microcosm, mind. The first 33 minutes were up there – or perhaps down there – among the worst performances you will see from any team this season from Arsenal, but also a showcase of everything that has made West Ham so good for so long.
There is a real element of Everton 2004-09 about them, which is really only surprising in that it wasn’t too long ago that it felt like Moyes’ own best days were past him. He has been one of the managers of the season, and timed his moment well. That is all because, like that Everton – as Arteta is all too familiar with – they pick their moments to attack well. They aren’t cautious, in the way some Moyes teams have been, but are calculated.
It helps, of course, when Arsenal ensure almost every moment you have possession is a good moment to attack. They were initially that slack. The first goal was a fine move down the flank, but still felt too easy. The execution of Jesse Lingard’s finish was anything but easy, however, as he slammed the ball into the roof of the net on the bounce. It was almost a visible approximation of his return to form.
The second showed impressively quick thinking from the midfielder, even if it was just typical of the tragicomedy that has afflicted Arsenal this season. As their players remonstrated ahead of a free-kick, Lingard played it forward for Jarrod Bowen to almost casually slot it past Bernd Leno – if through a deflection from Pablo Mari. David Luiz was then too easily beaten by Michail Antonio for Tomas Soucek to make it 3-0.
It looked a farce at that point for Arsenal, but instead forced some of their best football of the season. What followed wasn’t all on West Ham. Arsenal reached a superb level, far removed from that shambles of an opening half-hour. They actually had the chances to put themselves in the clear, and reduced West Ham to some desperate defending.
Hence the fact Arsenal’s two goals came from West Ham players – one a deflection after a brilliant Lacazette strike, the other a straight own goal after a supreme Callum Chambers cross turned pressure into end product. In between, it was only two supreme interventions by Craig Dawson and particularly Issa Diop that prevented Arsenal going ahead.
It would have been deserved for Odegaard’s performance alone. He was running the game, and dictating it, especially with divine angled balls like that which put in Chambers. That, naturally, was the source of the equaliser.
Odegaard again put just the right weight on a pass, allowing substitute Nicolas Pepe to lift the ball over for Lacazette to equalise.
There was still gloriously chaotic drama in between all of that. Declan Rice almost scored one of the goals of the season with a run from his own half that ended up with Leno desperately beating the ball away. The goalkeeper could do little before that, when Said Benrahma flashed a ball across for Antonio, only for the latter’s strike to hit the post.
Even by that point, it felt like it would have been wrong for either side to come away with nothing from a match that had almost everything.
Arsenal, nevertheless, will probably take a bit more from it.
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