Youngsters help Arsenal leapfrog West Ham into top four

Arsenal moved into the top four for the first time this season as goals from young stars Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe gave them a 2-0 win over 10-man West Ham.

Arsenal, captained by Alexandre Lacazette again, had more clear-cut chances in the first half; Kieran Tierney saw his long-range effort tipped onto the bar by Lukasz Fabianski, while Gabriel Martinelli nearly turned home ahead of the West Ham goalkeeper from a rebound.

But Martinelli made up for that miss minutes after the restart, finishing coolly past Fabianski from a threaded Lacazette through ball (48), before drama with 20 minutes remaining as Vladimir Coufal saw red for a second yellow, fouling Lacazette in the box (69). Anthony Taylor controversially awarded the penalty, which Lacazette took, but Fabianski saved.

Gabriel Martinelli celebrated putting Arsenal ahead early in the second half
Gabriel Martinelli celebrated putting Arsenal ahead early in the second half

Sub Emile Smith Rowe made sure of the victory late on, slotting bottom right after a fine break (87) after being fed by the brilliant Bukayo Saka, a goal made in the Arsenal academy. Ten of Arsenal’s 23 Premier League goals this season have been scored by players aged 21 or younger, the most by any team this season.

The result continues Arsenal’s fine home form – they’ve won eight of their last nine in all competitions at the Emirates, and have the best home record in the Premier League – and moves them into the Champions League spots for the first time this season. They replaced West Ham in the top four, with the Hammers winning just one of their last six in the Premier League.

Player ratings

Arsenal: Ramsdale (7), Tomiyasu (7), White (7), Gabriel (7), Tierney (7), Xhaka (7), Partey (7), Odegaard (7), Saka (8), Martinelli (8), Lacazette (8).

Subs: Smith Rowe (7), Nketiah (NA), Tavares (NA)

West Ham: Fabianski (7), Coufal (5), Dawson (6), Diop (6), Masuaku (4), Rice (6), Soucek (5), Fornals (5), Lanzini (5), Bowen (5), Antonio (5).

Subs: Benrahma (5), Ashby (NA)

Man of the match: Bukayo Saka

How young stars helped Arsenal take over fourth spot

Mikel Arteta showed his ruthless edge by stripping Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang of the captaincy the day before the game following a disciplinary breach, and went with the same starting XI for the third straight game, the first time Arsenal have done so since April 2016 under Arsene Wenger.

Lacazette, who coincidentally took part in an in-depth interview centred around leadership in the matchday programme, was named skipper again, and that remained the only real talking point for 40 first-half minutes of nervy and rather listless football.

Manuel Lanzini runs with the ball under pressure from Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka
Manuel Lanzini runs with the ball under pressure from Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka

Pablo Fornals had the first real opening, curling inches wide as the ball broke to him on the edge of the box, but Arsenal found rhythm and carved out several good chances before half-time.

Bukayo Saka was causing havoc down the right, combining with Martin Odegaard to feed Granit Xhaka; his show was blocked heroically by Craig Dawson, before Tierney’s crashing half volley from outside the box was tipped onto the bar by Fabianski.

Arsenal's Gabriel Martinelli rues a missed chance
Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli rues a missed chance

Fabianski then could only parry away Lacazette’s drive from the edge to Martinelli, but the Brazilian only half committed to throwing himself into the rebound under pressure from both the goalkeeper and Dawson, turning wide.

West Ham desperately wanted the break, Arsenal perhaps didn’t, but half-time proved to be only a brief reprieve as the hosts came out firing after the restart.

They took the lead as Lacazette spotted a chasm in the West Ham defence, threading a perfect through ball through to Martinelli. The striker composed himself and slotted bottom right for his second Premier League goal of the season.

Gabriel Martinelli puts Arsenal 1-0 up
Gabriel Martinelli puts Arsenal 1-0 up

Arsenal briefly turned on the style – a Martinelli nutmeg on Tomas Soucek and turn of pace from the brilliant Saka was cheered like a goal at the Emirates – but West Ham nearly quietened the home fans down instantly as Aaron Ramsdale superbly tipped away Jarrod Bowen’s deflected effort.

The game opened up massively, and Arsenal were making the most of the gaps appearing in both final thirds. They won a penalty, albeit controversially, midway through the second half, as Coufal slid in on Lacazette in the box; he made a slight contact with the ball first, then Lacazette, but it was enough for Taylor to award.

Referee Anthony Taylor shows the red card to West Ham's Vladimir Coufal (AP)
Referee Anthony Taylor shows the red card to West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal
Alexandre Lacazette reacts after missing a penalty
Alexandre Lacazette reacts after missing a penalty

Coufal saw red for a second yellow, and though Fabianski saved to his left from Lacazette’s spot-kick, West Ham felt harshly treated with the numerical disadvantage.

Arsenal should have wrapped it up with 10 minutes remaining – Saka’s shot from Tierney’s centre was somehow blocked by Issa Diop – but they did get their two-goal cushion with a move made at the Hale End Academy.

Emile Smith Rowe scores Arsenal's second late in the second half
Emile Smith Rowe scores Arsenal’s second late in the second half

After receiving the ball from Saka, sub Smith Rowe drove towards the box, and found the smallest of gaps between Diop’s legs and into the bottom right corner of the net.

Team news

Arsenal named the same first XI for the third game running, with Alexandre Lacazette named as captain again. As expected, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang didn’t make the bench.

It was just the one change for West Ham as Pablo Fornals came in for Said Benrahma, who dropped to the bench.

West Ham, who have taken just five points out of a possible 18, can point to the debatable decision to send Coufal off, but Arsenal were deserved of their victory, as Arteta begins to make The Emirates a fortress in their quest for a first top-four finish since 2016.

What’s next?

Saturday 18th December 5:00pm

Kick off 5:30pm

Sky Sports Main Event HD
Sky Sports Main Event HD

Arsenal travel to Leeds on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Premier League; kick-off 5.30pm. Meanwhile, West Ham host Norwich, also on Saturday; kick-off 3pm.

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