David Moyes admitted that his West Ham United side have “been off the boil a little” ahead of Sunday’s contest but they completely imploded while conceding four goals in a ruinous first half against Arsenal.
West Ham had already beaten Arsenal twice this season, dutifully frustrating the Gunners with a compact and concrete rearguard. However, Arsenal’s finishing – or lack thereof – played its role in the Premier League and Carabao Cup reversals.
For the first 30 minutes of Arsenal’s trip to the London Stadium this weekend, the script threatened to repeat itself.
Leandro Trossard was on the end of Arsenal‘s early chances, glancing a head narrowly wide before forcing a superb stop from Alphonse Areola with a crisp volley.
West Ham are hardly the only team to stymy the Gunners this term. As Mikel Arteta reflected earlier in the campaign: “It’s not going to be as fluent, it’s not going to be as hectic, because there’s no space to run. When you’re sitting in traffic, I want to go 100 miles an hour but I have three buses and 55 taxis and motorbikes around me, so it’s tricky.”
Stuck in another bout of gridlock, Arsenal relied upon a familiar solution: set pieces.
A sly block from Ben White prevented Areola from claiming Declan Rice’s 32nd-minute corner, allowing the ball to sail onto William Saliba’s head at back post.
That concession prompted a bizarre and unexpected capitulation from the hosts.
Bukayo Saka squandered a pair of golden chances before Trossard sent him haring clear of West Ham’s unusually advanced backline towards the end of the first half. Areola lost the race with Saka, bringing down the Arsenal forward who dusted himself off to convert the spot kick.
It proved to be the first of three goals in six minutes as West Ham rolled over and showed Arsenal their belly.
Gabriel took advantage of more slack marking from another Rice set piece to add Arsenal’s third dead-ball goal – an area in which Moyes’ side usually thrive – of the afternoon.
Yet, the humbling was not complete, with Trossard taking advantage of a high turnover and stuffing the ball ruthlessly in the top corner.
The Gunners, buoyed by a title-boosting victory over Liverpool last weekend, had clearly discovered the clinical edge that was so desperately lacking in their previous meetings with West Ham. However, plenty of attention was diverted to the ineptitude of the hosts, rather than Arsenal’s newfound efficiency.
With another 45 minutes still to play, the streets surrounding the London Stadium soon filled with despondent West Ham supporters. Based on their 15-minute collapse, few could blame the departing fans.