Arsenal have extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to seven points after coming from behind to beat London rivals West Ham United 3-1 at the Emirates.
The Gunners surprisingly went into the break a goal down following Said Benrahma‘s penalty, but Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah turned the game on its head for the league leaders, who piled the pressure on Manchester City ahead of their clash with Leeds United on Wednesday.
Those in red and white experienced the added pressure of performing in front of Arsene Wenger, who returned to the Emirates for the very first time since his departure as Arsenal manager in 2018, and the Frenchman smartly opted not to celebrate when Saka lashed home in the fifth minute.
The England international found the roof of the net with aplomb after a neat link-up with Nketiah, but the latter had run offside – a decision which was upheld after confirmation that Saka’s heel got the slightest of touches on the ball on its way through.
Very rarely did Arsenal not have the ball in the first 20 minutes, but the absence of Gabriel Jesus was well and truly felt up front, and Hammers balls over the top were causing the Gunners all sorts of problems.
One such scenario saw William Saliba fail to deal with the route one tactics, and the 21-year-old lunged in on Jarrod Bowen, who managed to continue into the box before ultimately losing his footing and winning a penalty.
The contact was minimal but not enough for VAR to overturn Michael Oliver‘s ruling, and Benrahma powered home his penalty down the middle to give West Ham an unexpected lead at the Emirates.
Gooners immediately roared their players on to respond, but David Moyes‘s side defended admirably against an Arsenal team who were lacking a bit of incision, and Lukasz Fabianski was left with little to do.
The leaders thought they had a spot kick of their own in injury time when Martin Odegaard‘s shot was blocked by Aaron Cresswell, and deafening calls for a penalty were rewarded before replays showed that the ball had struck the left-back’s head, and the spot kick was correctly chalked off.
However, the visitors’ defensive efforts were undone by a huge slice of luck in the 53rd minute, as Odegaard cut inside and scuffed his shot, but the ball fell very kindly for Saka, who composed himself brilliantly to find the bottom corner.
Most were expecting the linesman’s flag to go up again, but Vladimir Coufal was the guilty party playing Saka onside, and the Emirates exploded into pandemonium when Arsenal raced into the lead only five minutes later.
The galvanized Gunners were winning their duels in the final third and played the ball out wide for Martinelli, who managed to squeeze a shot past Fabianski at his near post from a tight angle.
Pretty soon, Jesus’s deputy Nketiah wanted a slice of the action, and the 23-year-old repaid the faith that Arteta had shown in him in the 69th minute, receiving the ball from Odegaard and producing a sublime turn to evade Thilo Kehrer before finding the far corner.
Any shred of hope that West Ham had of a miraculous turnaround soon evaporated, although Pablo Fornals did force Aaron Ramsdale into a full-stretch save right at the death before the final whistle blew.
Arsenal’s final fixture of the year sees them make the trip to Brighton & Hove Albion on New Year’s Eve, while West Ham host Brentford for another London derby on Friday.
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