LONDON (AP)Arsenal quickly forgot about the team’s off-field distractions with forward Gabriel Martinelli and substitute Emile Smith Rowe scoring in a 2-0 win over 10-man West Ham on Wednesday that put the Gunners in the top four in the Premier League.
Martinelli latched onto a throughball from stand-in captain Alexandre Lacazette that sliced past three defenders and set the Brazilian clear on goal from the left. Martinelli made up for a miss late in the first half by curling the ball into the far corner in the 48th minute at Emirates Stadium.
Smith Rowe sealed the victory with a clever run and a fine strike from the edge of the area in the 87th that wrong-footed West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. The players ran to a corner to celebrate as manager Mikel Arteta could finally be allowed to break into a smile on the sidelines.
The win came a day after Arsenal stripped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy and was exactly what the Gunners needed to put the tumult at the club behind them. Arsenal is now in fourth place with 29 points, leapfrogging the Hammers, which are in fifth with 28.
”We needed a win,” Martinelli said. ”It was so important for the team. We know the potential we have.”
The visitors had a chance to equalize in the 53rd when Arsenal midfielder Martin Odegaard lost possession and the ball fell to West Ham forward Jarrod Bowen. But his effort from just inside the box was pushed over the crossbar by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
West Ham manager David Moyes bemoaned a string of injuries within his squad, especially in defensive positions, and he hopes that the club doesn’t have to resort to the transfer market next month. He said Arsenal was tough to handle, but that mistakes let his team down.
”There were a few poor bits of play that led to their goals,” Moyes said. ”The second goal that was given away was heartbreaking for the boys who were running for 90 minutes.”
The Gunners failed to convert a penalty after West Ham right back Vladimir Coufal kicked Lacazette in the shin in the 66th. Coufal was sent off after being shown a second yellow card. Lacazette’s spot kick was pushed away by Fabianski.
”I’m really pleased with the performance, the quality, the energy the passion that the team was able to transmit,” Arteta said. ”They are a really difficult team to play against.”
Arsenal named an unchanged team for the third consecutive match, with Arteta trying to project a semblance of stability in the face of all the negative attention on the eve of the derby.
Aubameyang was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy on Tuesday after another disciplinary breach, with Arteta saying the striker hadn’t worked ”to the rules and standards” set by the club. Aubameyang reportedly was allowed by the club to travel to France for a family matter last week, after the 2-1 loss at Everton on Dec. 6 which he started as a substitute, but he returned a day later than agreed upon.
The focus in Arsenal’s matchday program was about unity, with no mention of Aubameyang’s troubles.
Arteta said after the match that his players weren’t distracted by the situation.
”They were fully focused and they wanted to show how strong we are as a team,” he said.
When asked if Lacazette would be Arsenal’s next captain, Arteta said: ”He’s the next in line. And he’s taking it with pride and commitment.”
The Arsenal armband has been a bit of a curse in recent years. The Gabon international was named captain by Arteta’s predecessor, Unai Emery, after Granit Xhaka had the honor taken away in November 2019 following his angry reaction to being booed by Arsenal fans after being substituted in a league game.
Aubameyang was nowhere to be seen at Emirates Stadium after he was dropped for the match. And he wasn’t really missed.
”We will talk about that another day,” Arteta said when asked if he needed to try to rebuild his relationship with Aubameyang.
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