Opinion: Five things from West Ham

TIERNEY A BIG MISS

The importance of a player is more keenly felt when they are not available and that was true for Kieran Tierney.

The left back pulled up in the warm-up and wasn’t risked as a precaution with Sead Kolašinac called in as his replacement. 

The system that Mikel Arteta has in place sees Tierney operate as a centre back without possession and a marauding full back with the ball and Kolašinac is far inferior to the Scotsman in both positions.

Tierney offers solidity in defence, calmness on the ball, an outlet in attack and a leader on the pitch while the Serbian doesn’t really offer any of these. 

Not only does Kieran help organise the defence he also adds authority to those in front of him and that was clearly missing yesterday. 

The gap between Tierney and Kolašinac is frighteningly big and the Scotland international cannot play every minute of every game so we need to offload Kolašinac and find a more suitable back up. 

SAKA THE CREATIVE OUTLET

The young star has seen him game time diminish since signing his new long-term deal and his place in the team has been questioned when everyone is fully fit but yesterday, he showed what he can bring. 

The Gunners’ lack of creativity was all too plain to see against West Ham. The team struggled to play it out from the back under the Irons’ aggressive pressing and the plan to use the width to supply the attack didn’t prove fruitful. 

Attacking through the centre has been a weak point for Arsenal under both Arteta and Unai Emery but it was exactly that from Saka that yielded both goals. 

Bukayo Saka battles with Jarrod Bowen

No one played more key passes (three) than Saka and his involvement was the key contribution in both the strikes from Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah. 

There will be a lot of focus on transfers but Saka should be a big consideration to fill in that void in midfield as he seems to be the only player that will try to play the intricate passes around the box or the ball that splits the defence. 

GABRIEL’S GREAT IMPACT

On first viewing I thought Gabriel Magalhães struggled and didn’t look as assured as he did against Fulham. 

The Hammers clearly offered more of a threat than the Cottagers but on second viewing he was a lot more accomplished.

He made five clearances, blocked three shots, made two interceptions and cleared one off the line. In comparison Holding produced one clearance and three interceptions while Kolasinac’s only contribution was one interception. 

The Brazilian had more touches (96) and a higher passing accuracy (93%) than his fellow comrades in defence and although he lost possession six times, Holding (12) and Kolašinac (10) lost it more.

Michail Antonio and Tomas Soucek seemed to have the beating of him in the air but Gabriel only lost one of his three aerial duels and his overall match rating was only bettered by Dani Ceballos in many different publications so I concede he had a much better game than I thought and I’m happy to admit I was wrong.

It’s good to see him have such a positive impact on the team so quickly.

BACK TO THE HORSESHOE

Mikel Arteta has been able to fine tune this team to cope with the pressure of passing it out from the back with great success. 

Goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool have been well documented as starting from the back and Bernd Leno proved he could step into Emi Martínez’s shoes last weekend vs Fulham. 

West Ham kept plenty of men back with only their forwards pressing high so when the players managed to beat the first line of the press there was no space to build an attack. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian struggled to find the necessary space to cause West Ham problems and while the hosts enjoyed 62% possession, most of it was played from side to side in the horseshoe pattern that became the norm in the final chapter of Arséne Wenger’s tenure. 

The need to find a way to penetrate the opposition defence through the centre is something Arteta has to work on otherwise we will continue to struggle against teams who choose to pack the defence.

LENO HIGH LINE

There was a moment in the second half when all of Arsenal’s players were in West Ham’s half and a long ball sent the Hammers on the counter but Leno was there to clear the danger near the centre circle. It’s not where you expect your goalkeeper to be but he was there and he needed to be. 

He kept a good distance between himself and his goal when Arsenal were attacking, presumably under instruction to deny West Ham with a ball over the top. 

This isn’t anything new with Leno as he did the same thing in the 1-0 win over West Ham, the last game Arsenal played before lockdown and has been acting as a sweeper for Arteta but he hasn’t had to run so far out of his goal until last night. 

Although he timed his runs to perfection, dealing with aerial balls caused him plenty or problems and while it’s not helpful to compare him to the departed Martínez, the Argentine was very strong when collecting high balls. 

The German made two saves and punched away a cross but he also misjudged the flight of a few balls and that almost proved fatal with West Ham going close to squeezing the ball in. 

His shot-stopping ability can not be questioned but if there is an improvement to make for Leno it is handling crosses.

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