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Arsenal 0 - West Ham 2: bummer

Arsenal dominated West Ham everyplace except the scoreline.

Arsenal FC v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

West Ham beat Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates in an incredibly frustrating match for the Gunners. Mikel Arteta’s side bossed the game but couldn’t seem to find a way through. The Hammers, on the other hand, scored a fluke goal off a ball that almost certainly went out of play and from a corner where the header hit the cross bar and post before bouncing in. You could play that exact match 100 times and I think Arsenal lose it once, maybe twice. They draw it 7 or 8 times. And they win 90 of ‘em.

Arsenal really can’t afford to be dropping points at home if they want to challenge for the Premier League title. It especially shouldn’t happen against David Moyes, who until tonight, hadn’t managed a team to a win at a Big Six opponent in 72 tries. Nor should it happen against West Ham, who had just 2 wins in their last 30 matches at Arsenal. The Gunners really need to be taking at least a point at the Emirates and probably all three.

There will be plenty of overreaction to today’s match and it will be misguided. The sky isn’t falling. The team is just going through a rough patch with some (especially) bad luck. Putting aside whether the ball stayed in play, West Ham only score their opening goal because a cross to nobody in particular gets cut out by an Arsenal defender and the clearance goes straight into his teammate. That’s just unfortunate.

Arsenal fired 30 shots today, 8 on target. They had 77 touches inside West Ham’s box. They failed to convert five big chances. Statistically, they were more likely to score five goals than zero today.

Gabriel Jesus twice headed over the bar from promising positions. Bukayo Saka hit the post. On another night, any number of those go in and we’re having a totally different conversation.

Gabriel Martinelli is undoubtedly in the midst of a dry spell and a dip in form. He’s still involved and threatening, but he’s missing his cutting edge. He’s dribbling into bad spots, misplacing passes, and needs to adjust his shooting radar. Continuing to do what he’s doing is probably the best way for him to break out of the slump.

Leandro Trossard was dreadful. He’s been consistently great as a substitute for Arsenal but has struggled when he’s had to start. The Gunners really missed Kai Havertz, who was suspended because of a soft 5th yellow card. His size in the box and physicality might have made the difference.

Martin Ødegaard was magnificent. Whatever Mikel Arteta said to him / switched up in his usage or responsibilities (or maybe it’s just that he’s fully healthy), he is a dominant, creative force once again. Hopefully he maintains that form.

The Gunners also had two “you’ve seen them given” penalty shouts not given — Gabriel Jesus getting taken out by a sliding Tomas Soucek in the first half, Bukayo Saka getting tripped / going over in the second. The Gabriel Jesus one was almost certainly a penalty — it was a carbon copy of a foul correctly called against Oleksandr Zinchenko for sliding in on Vladimir Coufal earlier in the half. Soucek slide through, was nowhere near the ball, and clattered into the Arsenal attacker. I’d guess it wasn’t given because 1) it was in the box and 2) Gabriel Jesus doesn’t get to the ball, but neither of those are reasons to not call a foul a foul. I’d say the Saka incident was 60-40, maybe 70-30, against being a penalty.

Now, if you’ll permit me a bit of a rant.

West Ham’s first goal demonstrates a fundamental problem with VAR. There is zero chance the linesman, who had to see through two posts and multiple bodies, in a split second whether the ball went over the end line, has any idea if it did. The same can be said for Michael Oliver — he’s not in a position to make any kind of determination and he shouldn’t be, as the center referee. In that case, they are supposed to make their best guess as to what the correct call is, but in reality, they just don’t make a call and let it go to VAR.

The problem with letting it go to VAR is that what was, at best a guess at what happened, and at worst, a total non-call, creates a presumption that must be overcome to rule out the goal. The ball looked like it went out. The best evidence is that the ball was out. There is a clear shot where, I believe, if the ball was in play, you’d be able to see it beyond Jarrod Bowen’s leg and / or overlapping the post. You can’t see it because it’s almost certainly out.

That doesn’t matter, however, because we’ve set up the system in such a way as to give deference where it shouldn’t be given. In instances where the referee cannot say what happened, which they can tell the VAR over the communication system, they should be reviewing the decision anew. But that’s my gripe with how VAR operates.

Under the rules as written, you can understand and explain the VAR outcome today.

It’s the second time this season that Arsenal have had a goal scored against them when there wasn’t enough to definitively show the ball was out of play. If the linesman raises his flag and signals for a goal kick, the goal doesn’t get given by VAR. The same can be said for the goal in the Newcastle match.

It’s wild that in the richest league in the world, with cameras everywhere, we can’t do better. The technology to automate the call and get it right every time exists, too. They used it at the World Cup. The Premier League, for whatever reason, has declined to implement it.

Slash end rant.

It’s incredibly frustrating because goals change games. There is no getting around that. So when you have a goal, especially an opening one, that probably shouldn’t have counted, you’ve got an unwarranted shift in the entire tenor of the match. But there isn’t much that can be done about that. The goal counted, rightly or wrongly, so Arsenal have to respond.

And they didn’t do a good enough job of it. At least not from the only standpoint that matters to the result — putting the ball in the net. But I can point to any number of graphics that show that Arsenal played fine, even quite well, and it just didn’t go their way. Check out Scott Willis’ postmatch stats tweets.

David Raya saved an “oh by the way” penalty just as the match ended. Well done to him.

That’s sorta how I feel about today’s match overall. A big old shrug. It happened. It’s a bummer of a result and it definitely hurts the title challenge, but it’s not a reason to make massive changes. Arsenal are playing winning football and sometimes you don’t win when you should. On to the next.