With five minutes remaining, the change had the desired effect, with Ceballos finding space inside the box and placing the ball to his right for Nketiah to enter.For Arsenal, it was an escape; for David Moyes it was a punch one night his players ignored the inconsolable atmosphere of their early-season form.
The world has changed dramatically since West Ham narrowly lost here on March 7 in the teams’ last game before the lockout. Lacazette’s opening was a reminder that some things, at least, remain familiar. Six months ago he scored a potential winner which was awarded after a long VAR check canceled the assistant referee’s flag; now he’s found himself on the right side of technology.
It was skillfully worked, Bukayo Saka weighing a ball across to the left inside to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The captain, newly hired until 2023, was on point with his delivery chipped and Lacazette ran to beat a header Lukasz Fabianski had no hope of pushing back. The check at Stockley Park was prompted by suspicion that Aubameyang had been offside by receiving the pass. The replays suggested that part of his upper body may have strayed from the defensive line; it was tight and goals were scored for similar infractions, but this one was ultimately held.
In another comeback from the previous meeting, West Ham had been the better team so far. That doesn’t mean much given the lack of real goal-hungry action during those first 25 minutes. But Moyes sent a team that defended with discipline and chose wisely when to investigate. They were without Mark Noble, absent with a toe injury, but a late withdrawal from Arsenal’s XI helped their cause.
Kieran Tierney maintained a tight hip in the warm-up and Sead Kolasinac took his place at left center-back. The new arrival received a long pep talk from Gabriel Magalhães, but the local defense seemed hazy at first. In four minutes, Arthur Masuaku had passed Gabriel too easily and won a corner that headed down, then, via Angelo Ogbonna, nodded at Bernd Leno from a good position. Gabriel also looked unsure when Jarrod Bowen threatened to be shot and, while that was about all for the excitement, West Ham had gained a foothold.
He was ripped off by Lacazette but Moyes’ team continued to hook up. They screamed for a penalty when the ball seemed to hit Gabriel’s arm and deserved their equalizer, which came just at half-time. Arsenal’s defense left something to be desired as West Ham advanced to the right with Kolasinac failing to put pressure on the ball, but Ryan Fredericks’ cross was perfectly inclined and Antonio stretched to pass Leno in goal of Arsenal.
Saka had shot shortly after Lacazette’s goal but Arsenal generally struggled to find the rhythm. They reappeared with more purpose but openings were still rare. After a long passing movement Saka was taken offside, Moyes and his staff loudly applauded their team for keeping in shape. Seconds later, they were almost celebrating with much more enthusiasm, Masuaku crossing deliciously from the left and Antonio pricking into the arms of a grateful Leno from a matter of feet. On time, it was Aaron Cresswell’s turn to whip up a beauty and Bowen, meeting Tomas Soucek, couldn’t make good contact when in a good position.
One of Arsenal’s problems, symbolized when Aubameyang sent the ball over for little Willian and saw West Ham clear away easily, was that their prize asset didn’t come close enough to the goal. Another was that Willian himself was much less involved than in Fulham last week. He was replaced by Nicolas Pépé as Arteta looked for a spark. But it was Antonio who almost provided that for West Ham, heading against the crossbar before Leno blocked Bowen’s follow-up.
On came Nketiah and after more good work from Saka created the space for Ceballos, the Arsenal hero was done. For long periods, it had been a story of how much Mikel Arteta still needed to take them; in the end, however, the bickers at Craven Cottage had made sure they were happy families again.