Declan Rice’s sweet finish for his first West Ham goal downs wasteful Arsenal | Football
After all the fuss over Marko Arnautovic’s future, the limelight belonged to a local lad who places his love of the game above the riches that are surely going to come his way. The script seemed to demand an audacious performance from Arnautovic but instead the day belonged to Declan Rice, who sealed West Ham’s best win under Manuel Pellegrini with his first goal for the club.
There is unlikely to be a bigger roar at the London Stadium this season. West Ham have a proud tradition of producing their own players and they have unearthed a gem in Rice, a 19-year-old whose maturity continues to take the breath away. He turns 20 on Monday and played like a seasoned professional against Arsenal, frustrating Unai Emery’s side time and again with a series of well-timed interventions in defensive midfield, and he displayed his outstanding technique when he settled a tight encounter with a fine shot in the 48th minute.
Awkward financial realities dominated the conversation before this London derby. While it was disconcerting for Arsenal’s fans to hear Emery say he can only afford to make loan signings this month, West Ham have been confronted by Arnautovic’s desire to accept a lucrative offer from an unidentified Chinese club. Two years after the Dimitri Payet saga, West Ham could have done without the PR nightmare of yet another marquee player pressing for a transfer.
Ever the showman, Arnautovic had bleached his hair for the occasion. Yet this was a subdued performance from the Austrian and the greater threat emanated from Emery’s forwards during the early stages. The visitors oozed menace whenever they had time to scheme in front of West Ham’s defence and they almost scored when Alex Iwobi played Alexandre Lacazette into space vacated by Angelo Ogbonna, only for Lukasz Fabianski to deny the forward with a fine stop.
That was an encouraging moment for Arsenal and they quickly fashioned another opening, Iwobi combining well with Sead Kolasinac, whose inviting cutback only failed to reach Lacazette because of some meticulous sweeping from Rice. Mattéo Guendouzi was also unfortunate to see a powerful drive fly just wide from 25 yards.
Yet the visitors faded after a bright start and, following Emery’s comments about his lack of funds in the transfer market, it was impossible not to feel that Arsenal have got themselves into an unenviable bind when it comes to Mesut Özil, who did not even merit a place on a bench containing three full-backs and a 19-year-old forward, Eddie Nketiah, who has never started a Premier League game.
Emery made his feeling clear about Özil before kick-off, admitting that the German’s absence from yet another awkward away assignment was a tactical decision, but it is an unsatisfactory situation from the club’s perspective. They are crying out for elite talents and their biggest earner, a player on £350,000 a week, is not rated by his manager.
For all of Özil’s inconsistencies, Arsenal needed a player of his class and invention. West Ham were the stronger side as the interval approached, with Samir Nasri determined to silence the constant taunts from the away end. The former Arsenal midfielder was influential in the No 10 role, dragging a shot wide after linking with Arnautovic, before teeing up Felipe Anderson, who fired inches past the right post.
Felipe Anderson’s quick feet were causing problems for his opponents and when the Brazilian found Rice with a corner just before half-time, the youngster ought to have done better with a free header.
Sensing that they were on top, West Ham flew out of the traps at the start of the second half and they took the lead thanks to some slack defending from Arsenal in the 48th minute. Anderson skipped round a lacklustre challenge from Lacazette and when Granit Xhaka met the winger’s cross with a lazy header, Nasri had the composure to roll the ball to Rice, who swept a wonderful shot high to Bernd Leno’s left.
Emery responded by replacing Xhaka with Aaron Ramsey and switching to a back four, with Shkodran Mustafi making way for Lucas Torreira. Stung into action, Arsenal subjected West Ham to plenty of pressure. Aaron Cresswell exerted enough pressure when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a sight of goal and the hosts breathed a sigh of relief when Iwobi’s shot flashed wide.