On-fire Pepe leads revival as Arsenal end dire run at West Ham's expense
West Ham 1 Arsenal 3
Three goals in nine minutes around the hour mark turned the game on its head as Arsenal ended their wretched run of nine without a win.
It gave caretaker boss Freddie Ljungberg his first win in his third game in charge and leaves the Hammers still looking for a first home win in the league since the September victory over Manchester United.
The victory also signalled the potential for Nicolas Pepe to make good on all the promise seen in him. He was outstanding, scoring one, claiming an assist and driving the Gunners forward even during their abject moments during a dire first half.
Angelo Ogbonna’s header had the Hammers ahead at the interval and looking odds-on for all three points, but whatever the temporary boss said at the break had the desired effect as Arsenal shed their inhibitions to go on the front foot.
The transformation was so unexpected because the Gunners had been so timid during an insipid first half and the Hammers’ greater sense of purpose was embarrassing the visitors.
Gabriel Martinelli made it 1-1 on the hour, guiding a low cross from Sead Kolasinac into the far corner – the goal coming out of the blue – and Arsenal were suddenly rampant and, six minutes later, ahead.
A searing run by Mesut Ozil, so diffident up to now, followed by a lay-off to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, ended with another smart ball wide to Pepe and after checking back, the club’s record signing unfurled a beautiful drive past David Martin.
“We are staying up,” chanted the self-mocking Gunners fans.
Three minutes later and Pepe’s chip over a defender was met perfectly by Aubameyang’s volley to make it 3-1. David Martin got a hand to it but was beaten by the power.
This defeat puts pressure back on Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini, who appeared to have bought more time to turn things around with the unexpected win at Chelsea last week. Now, given the unforgiving nature of the Premier League, his future will probably come under scrutiny once more.
Arsenal may be under a different coach right now but their start carried all the hallmarks of matches past under Unai Emery – with the Gunners keeping possession in unimportant areas of the field and only fitfully breaking out of their shell.
They threatened to continue their worst run since the first Viking invasion – or something like that. Ok, 1977.
West Ham, on the other hand, were sharper in the tackle and swarmed into opponents in numbers, hurrying them into mistakes. It was a night seemingly made for skipper Mark Noble, making his 500th senior appearance.
Indeed the opening passages seemed to predict how it might all end up. Lots of Arsenal passing in areas of no danger before Ozil was brushed off the ball and the moment was quickly converted into a chance for the Hammers, with Michail Antonio blazing just over.
Arsenal, who lost Kieran Tierney to injury early on, appeared bereft of confidence, though at least Pepe showed the verve that would turn the night around – unafraid to take players on and working well in combination with Ainsley Maitland Niles down the right flank.
Antonio almost beat Bernd Leno at his near post after wriggling into shooting range from an angle but the Hammers had their lead soon after in the 39th minute when Ogbonna’s header found the net past a wrong-footed Leno after bouncing off the back of Maitland-Niles – Pablo Fornals having supplied the cross.
There was a VAR check for some unspecified issue but the goal was confirmed.
An absolutely dire square ball to nobody from Granit Xhaka gave Robert Snodgrass a sighter soon after the restart and it seemed only a matter of when the Hammers would score again.
Declan Rice tested Leno from distance after another purposeful home attack and there was no suggestion then that we were heading for a home win. How quickly that all changed.
West Ham: Martin – Fredericks, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Cresswell (Masuaku 51) – Rice, Noble – Fornals, Anderson (Haller 69), Snodgrass (Holland 78) – Antonio. Subs not used: Roberto, Zabaleta, Sanchez, Diop.
Arsenal: Leno – Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Chambers, Tierney (Kolasinac 29) – Ozil, Torreira, Xhaka (Guendouzi 86), Pepe (Nelson 88), Martinelli, - Aubameyang. Subs not used: Martinez, Lacazette, Luiz, Saka.