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Continuing my series of past games looks at the win against Arsenal at the London Stadium on a day that was overshadowed with the talk of Marko Arnautovics’ lucrative move to an unnamed Chinese club. The match itself was marked by observers trying to analyse Arnie’s wave to the crowd after being subbed in the second half – was it a wave goodbye or a thank you for the applause from the stands?
Arnie was the subject of a £35 million transfer offer which his agent and brother, Danijel, said Arnautovi? wanted West Ham to accept. Then in a twist, Arnie committed himself to West Ham by signing a contract extension, with a 20% increase raising his weekly wage to £120,000 and a £40 million release clause. Arnautovi? finished the 2018–19 season as West Ham’s leading goal scorer, with 11 goals. Then in July 2019, Arnie signed for Shanghai SIPG for a fee of £22.4 million, scoring on his debut, but leaving behind him ripples of discontent and stories of his disruptive influence, especially of his brother. Arnie was eventually booed off in the defeat to Everton in an eventful end to the season.
But the game will surely be remembered for the performance and goal of Declan Rice, who continued to mature in the latest of a series of impressive displays on the pitch that lead to West Ham tying him down to a long term deal and why he was wanted by both England and Republic of Ireland (This was before Declan committed himself to the England senior team and had already played 3 friendlies for Republic of Ireland).
Throughout the game Rice was everywhere and he frustrated Arsenal all over the pitch and surely scored one of the most popular goals for the club in the modern era. “I am sure Declan will be a top player,” Manuel Pellegrini said. “He is very strong in the aerial duels and has good technique, as we saw with the goal he scored.”
The Gunners almost scored when the game was poised at 0-0 when Alex Iwobi played Alexandre Lacazette into space vacated by Angelo Ogbonna, only for Lukasz Fabianski to deny the forward with an excellent save. This was the first game that Arsenal failed to score since the start of the season. This was also the first home win for the Hammers over Arsenal since 2006 and Pellegrini praised his team’s ambitious approach and attacking play and it was one of the seasons most complete performances. It was certainly a fitting way to mark 50 games at the London Stadium in a highly-competitive London derby.
West Ham were value for money for the win, with Marko, Rice, Nasri and Felipe Anderson all going close when the game was goalless. Nasri brought an air of authority to the game, adding quality to the midfield and Arnie was at times bright and inventive with Anderson providing some creative quick footed movement in the final third.
But it was Arsenal’s slack defending that allowed Anderson to skip round a lacklustre challenge from Lacazette leading to the breakthrough in the 48th minute. Granit Xhaka met the winger’s cross with a sloppy header, Nasri was able to collect and feed a composed pass to Rice, who swept a shot high to Bernd Leno’s left. Rice was rightly swamped by his team mates and the crowd lifted the roof with their celebrations. This was Rice’s day.
The win left Arsenal with just 2 points from 6 away games and sitting 5th in the table, six points behind Chelsea in 4th. West Ham moved to 9th place on 31 points. What will surely stay in the memory is Declan’s performance just a couple of days before his 20th birthday that showed why he has a great future in front of him after scoring his first Premier League goal during a series of impressive performances.