Friday, March 1, 2024

Hammers blown away by Arsenal in biggest loss in sixty years

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David Moyes men may have come into this hopelessly one-side contest holding the 2023/24 bragging rights of a Carabao Cup fourth-round victory (3-1) over Arsenal in early-November together with a festive win (2-0) at Emirates Stadium back in December but those results would count for zero as the visitors avenged those defeats by dishing out six of the best to move to within two points of table-topping Liverpool.

Indeed, the Scot saw his toothless side take an absolute caning at the hands of the title contenders with William Saliba’s opener on the half-hour mark being followed by a Bukayo Saka penalty plus strikes from Gabriel and Leandro Trossard as Arsenal raced into a four-goal interval lead.

And with many Hammers fans having already headed home in their quest to avoid a second 45 minutes of agony, Saka and former West Ham skipper Declan Rice then made it half-dozen as West Ham were left to lick their wounds following their worst result at home since Blackburn Rovers won 8-2 at the Boleyn Ground on Boxing Day 1963.

Last Sunday’s three-goal defeat at Manchester United had already brought the curtain down on a six-match unbeaten Premier League run but despite that Old Trafford reverse Moyes still named an unchanged side.

That meant another place on the bench for on-loan Kalvin Phillips, while there was still no sign of injured duo Lucas Paquetá and Michail Antonio, who Moyes clearly needs back in his depleted Hammers fold following the January transfer window departures of Saïd Benrahma, Pablo Fornals and Thilo Kehrer.

Predictably, summer leaver Rice endured a mixed reception upon his return to London Stadium and – with his last act in Claret and Blue having been to hoist the UEFA Europa Conference League trophy following Hammers historic win over Fiorentina in Prague back in June – Arsenal’s £105million midfielder was greeted with a cocktail of cheers and jeers as he took a couple of early Gunners corners which were comfortably fielded by Alphonse Areola.

Newham Recorder: West Ham United manager David Moyes after the final whistle in the Premier League match at the London StadiumWest Ham United manager David Moyes after the final whistle in the Premier League match at the London Stadium (Image: PA)

Victory over league-leaders Liverpool last weekend, had kept Arsenal firmly in the title race and with his side kicking-off in third-spot – five places and 13 points above the Hammers – Arteta made two changes as Trossard and Jakub Kiwior came in for Oleksandr Zinchenko (calf) and substitute Jorginho.

Saka had also been a doubt in the pre-match run-up after being substituted against the Merseysiders last time out and there was more pain for the Arsenal wide-boy, when Edson Álvarez took his yellow card count to a dozen for the season following a touchline slide.

Picking himself up from the Stratford turf, Saka saw an 18-yarder deflected wide before also curling another low effort beyond Areola’s left-hand upright and, although Jarrod Bowen’s 20-yarder ricocheted into David Raya’s gloves, the visitors were looking far more threatening in terms of territorial advantage, possession and attempts on goal.

Indeed, Trossard looped a header over before forcing the acrobatic Areola to tip-over his point-blank volley, while Martin Ødegaard also went close with another deflected effort and, as the half-hour mark passed, only one team was going to break the deadlock.

Sure enough, on 32 minutes, the inevitable Gunners goal duly arrived when Rice floated Arsenal’s sixth corner of the afternoon to the far post where Saliba comfortably outjumped Àlvarez to send a powerful header into the net.

With the wind firmly in their sails, the visitors continued to press and, after Saka twice wasted good chances to double his side’s advantage, it proved third-time lucky for the 32-times capped England international on 41 minutes, when Trossard’s perfectly-weighted pass sent him clean through from halfway.

The helplessly-exposed and consequently-cautioned Areola was left with little option but to upend Saka, who duly dusted himself down before sending the subsequent spot-kick inside the right-hand post as the Hammers ‘keeper headed in the opposite direction.

That penalty conversion and two-goal deficit would prove only half of West Ham’s worries for, one minute before the break, Vladimír Coufal’s touchline foul enabled Rice to send the resulting left-wing free-kick towards the near-post where Gabriel charged beyond the statuesque figures of Ben Johnson and Álvarez to power his header under Areola’s right-hand angle. 

Already three-down in regulation time, the last thing that Moyes wanted to see now was the sight of the fourth official’s board signalling no less than seven additional minutes.

And that proved time enough for Arsenal to bag their fourth, first-half goal as Kai Havertz won possession on the edge of the Hammers area before squaring to Ødegaard, who then invited Trossard to curl an inch-perfect 18-yarder around Kurt Zouma and the outstretched left-glove of the groping Areola.

That prompted an early evacuation of London Stadium as hordes of Hammers headed home with better things to do than watch a second-half of strife that would begin with Konstantinos Mavropanos and Phillips replacing Zouma and Álvarez, who had endured a torrid afternoon.

Within seconds of the restart, it was obvious that Arsenal – despite being home and hosed – still felt that their race had not been run as Trossard blazed over before Saka galloped into the area, where he forced Areola into another agile stop.

Sadly for the forlorn Frenchman, though, former Gunner Mavropanos was not in such defiant mood and, indeed, on 63 minutes he inexcusably allowed Saka to stroll onto Ødegaard’s through-ball and plant a low eight-yarder inside the base of the right-hand post.

Their patience now tested to the limits, yet more home supporters streamed for the exits but as they climbed those stairs in their bid to escape more punishment, Rice produced another quick-fire body-blow when he waltzed onto Ben White’s cut-back to send an unstoppable 25-yarder beyond the flying figure of Areola.

To his credit, the former West Ham skipper did not celebrate the fact that he had just added to the Hammers humiliation and, that strike would prove his final act of the afternoon given he duly departed alongside fellow tormentors, Trossard and Saka to be replaced by Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson for the final quarter of a contest that would have been stopped long ago had it taken place in a boxing ring.

New arrivals Elneny and Nketiah soon forced poor Areola into saves before Bowen finally mustered a cheer from those die-hard Hammers fans still present when he forced a corner, which predictably came to absolutely nothing on an afternoon when West Ham United had deserved absolutely nothing, too.

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