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Arsenal 1 - West Ham 0 match report: VAR is good again

It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.

Arsenal FC v West Ham United - Premier League
I’ll take it.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, in fact, it was quite ugly, but three points are three points. They count the same in the table as if Arsenal had run rampant over visiting West Ham. Today’s win gives the Gunners their first three-match winning streak in the Premier League this season. The Gunners are within striking distance of fifth place, which is likely a Champions League place with a game in hand. Granted, that game in hand is against Manchester City on Wednesday, but hey, anything can happen. And for what it’s worth, the Gunners have yet to lose in the league this calendar year.

Arsenal looked their early-season selves on attack in the first half and that’s not a good thing. A lot of possession in the middle third, not much end product in the final third. The strategy seemed to be give it to one of the attackers and hope they work a miracle. Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka provided dangerous service, but they both had to beat multiple defenders to get anything going. The Gunners’ best chance was a Sokratis header that clipped the top of the bar.

Notwithstanding Arsenal’s domination of the ball, West Ham may have had the better chances of the half. The Hammers failed to get a shot on a clear 2-on-1 break and Michail Antonio went wide at the back post from inside the six yard box.

It was too slow in attack for Arsenal all match. The side has tremendous pace with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe, but the players most often on the ball, Mesut Özil and Dani Ceballos, want to slow down the play. Speaking of PEA, he’s one of the best center forwards in the world, and Arsenal are playing him out of position to get Eddie Nketiah on the pitch? Come on. Nketiah might be the Gunners’ striker of the future, but right now, the team would be better off with Aubameyang leading the line and somebody else out of position on the left.

The lone goal in the match came more from a broken play than a piece of attacking brilliance from the Gunners. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a shot partially blocked, and Özil and substitute Alexandre Lacazette were the only two to follow it up. The German headed across to the Frenchman, who put it into the wide open net. The goal was initially disallowed for offside but correctly given after a surprisingly long VAR check.

Arsenal very easily could have drawn this match. They didn’t generate many chances, and it took a somewhat-fluky play for them to find the back of the net. The defense was leaky, again. West Ham squandered a number of chances, mostly through a lack of quality. A better team scores at least one against the Gunners today.

Pablo Mari looked shaky on his Premier League debut. I’m not sure whether it was his pace, his positioning, or his decision-making, but he seemed to be chasing moves and forced into last-ditch efforts to break up the play. I’ll withhold judgment until he’s had more match experience to get up to speed, but it wasn’t a reassuring display.

Bernd Leno had a fantastic match. I shudder to think where Arsenal would be in the table if not for him. The Gunners’ defense has been giving up high-quality chances all season, and he has kept most of them out. Yes, he’s made a handful of glaring mistakes that cost the team points, but I think he’s the player of the season for the club.

Even though they got the full points, it’s just not good enough from Arsenal. The Gunners should be boatracing teams like this West Ham one, especially at the Emirates. The team and the players might not be at that level right now, but a club with Arsenal’s aspirations that has spent as it has should be dominating relegation threatened clubs fielding, at best, replacement level players. It’s that simple. Arsenal have a long way to go.