Football Features

Martinelli continues fine season: The winners & losers as Arsenal end nine-game winless run against West Ham

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:17, 9 December 2019

Arsenal ended their nine-game winless run across all competitions on Monday, beating West Ham United 3-1 at the London Stadium.

The Hammers took a first-half lead after Angelo Ogbonna’s deflected header and looked in control before three goals in nine minutes from Gabriel Martinelli, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned the game around and secured Arsenal the points.

But who were the biggest winners and losers?

Winner: Gabriel Martinelli

Arsenal’s season hasn’t produced too many bright moments for their fans to get excited about. But one of those things has been Gabriel Martinelli.

Handed opportunities in the Europa League and Carabao Cup under Unai Emery, Martinelli had been excellent scoring seven goals in six appearances, including a brace in a bonkers 5-5 draw with Liverpool at Anfield.

However, until Monday night Martinelli hadn’t started in the Premier League, with his seven previous appearances all coming from bench and amassing just 96 minutes. He started at the Emirates on the right of an attacking midfield trio alongside Nicolas Pepe and Mesut Ozil and behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but had the freedom to move central when he could.

And it was through those movements that Martinelli finally got his first Premier League goal. It came at a time when Arsenal looked without inspiration or confidence but Sead Kolasinac’s run into the box and pull back found Martinelli in the perfect position to fire home first time. A cool finish for the 18-year-old which started Arsenal’s comeback.

Whatever the future holds for the likes of Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal have a gem in Martinelli.

Loser: Manuel Pellegrini

In the 59th minute, West Ham looked comfortable. A game between two sides not in form, combining for one win in their past 19 games, West Ham had the lead.

It wasn’t the greatest of leads, or goals, but it was an advantage. Starting fairly slowly off the back of a defeat to Wolves last week, West Ham shifted a gear as soon as they realised Arsenal were vulnerable too. It was something they should have known beforehand, given Arsenal’s nine-game winless run, but once it did click West Ham grew in confidence.

They tested Arsenal’s shaky defence and looked to impose themselves on certain players with hard challenges, showing they were in for a game. Set pieces brought West Ham’s best chances to truly hurt Arsenal and that’s where they eventually got the opener. Allowed too many touches inside the Arsenal area following a corner, West Ham eventually took a deserved lead from Ogbonna and didn’t really look like conceding.

Even after half-time, West Ham’s confidence seemed much higher than Arsenal’s and they looked more likely to score a second than the Gunners were to equalise. But then, all of a sudden, they switched off allowing Arsenal down the flank and eventually they equalised. And that’s when West Ham capitulated.

Nine minutes later West Ham were 3-1 down and Manuel Pellegrini looked void of any ideas as to how to turn the game around. Felipe Anderson was taken off for Sebastien Haller and Robert Snodgrass for Nathan Holland but neither added anything to the game, and you could be forgiven for not realising they had come on in the first place.

The defeat stretches West Ham’s run to just one win in 11 games with the Chelsea victory already looking like a distant memory, and one wonders how much longer Pellegrini will be in the Hammers dugout.

Winner: Freddie Ljungberg

For a while it didn’t seem like it was coming, but Freddie Ljungberg finally has his first win as Arsenal’s interim manager.

Usually, unless you’re Watford this season, a managerial change brings an immediate upturn in form. Jose Mourinho’s time at Tottenham Hotspur kicked off with a win as did Duncan Ferguson’s spell with Everton. But, like Quique Sanches Flores and Hayden Mullins, Ljungberg’s Arsenal stint started winless – a 2-2 draw with Norwich City to be exact.

He then followed that up with a 2-1 home defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion, extending Arsenal’s winless run under him and Emery to nine games, and it looked likely to be 10 at half-time on Monday.

But then something clicked for Arsenal and they gained confidence from Martinelli’s equaliser, enough to score and second and third, earning a first win since they beat Vitoria in the Europa League on October 24. Now, a win doesn’t immediately wipe out the problems Arsenal clearly have, that Ljungberg or the a new permanent manager will need to work on, but it provided a starting point.

And it’s a starting point Arsenal need to build on, starting with the Europa League on Thursday — where qualification is not guaranteed going into their final group game against Standard Liege. Then after that? Just the small matter of a game against Manchester City side that will be wounded by their recent defeat to Manchester United.

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Losers: Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney

Aside from the running joke of Arsenal always finishing fourth, which they don’t even do any more, the Gunners have been known for their injuries. Over the past five or so years, Arsenal appear to suffer injury problems around the winter period which eventually ends up curtailing their season. And although their season hasn’t really produced anything worth a big drop, the injuries still come.

Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney have not had the best time with injuries. Bellerin had been out since January after a cruciate ligament injury and only recently made his return to the first team, while Tierney’s debut following his move from Celtic was halted by a hip injury.

The pair had been set to start Monday’s clash at the London Stadium with Bellerin on the right and Tierney on the left of a back four. But between Arsenal’s starting XI being named and the start of the match, Bellerin had to withdraw from the line up after tweaking a hamstring in the warm-up. Maitland-Niles replaced him as Tierney’s full-back partner, but it would be a partnership that lasted just under 30 minutes.

Defending a set piece, Tierney collided with Michail Antonio, sending his arm flailing in an unnatural motion. The Scot immediately went down and had to be taken off, nursing a bad shoulder injury by using his shirt as a makeshift sling. As we are about to enter a busy Christmas period, Arsenal really could have done without injuries to their first-choice full-backs.

Winner: Nicolas Pepe

Arsenal’s record-signing, joining for £71m in the summer, a lot had been expected of Nicolas Pepe but unfortunately things just hadn’t clicked.

The Ivorian had scored three goals in 17 games across all competitions prior to Monday’s match, all of which had come from dead-ball situations; a penalty in the Premier League was joined by two wonderful free-kicks in the Europa League. And although those free-kicks were excellent, questions were still being asked about Pepe’s effectiveness on Arsenal.

These questions were raised as he fell out of favour towards the end of Emery’s campaign and was left on the bench on Ljungberg’s managerial debut against Norwich, with the Swede pointing to his poor performances in training. A substitute appearance against Brighton was followed up with a first Premier League start since the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace at the end of October.

The first half was tough for Pepe as he was given fairly rough treatment from the West Ham defenders, who looked to make his life hard, demoralising a player who was already low on confidence. Aaron Cresswell was enjoyed his night against the Ivorian, but then he had to come off injured.

Now going up against Arthur Masuaku, Pepe found an extra step and finally scored from open play with an curling effort having cut inside, putting Arsenal ahead. It only added to Pepe’s confidence and when he was eventually substituted by Ljungberg late on, he was smiling and shared a brief moment with the interim boss.

It still wasn’t the greatest performance overall by Pepe, and he was helped by West Ham faltering, but this is a performance which could spark a turnaround for the winger.

Loser: Bernd Leno

What did Bernd Leno do to deserve this Arsenal defence? The German isn’t a bad goalkeeper, and on many an occasion he has bailed Arsenal out this season.

Prior to Monday’s game Leno had made 66 saves, more than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League, stopping 73.86% of the shots he faced. He added another three against West Ham but, once again, he was let down by his defenders.

Take nothing away from Ogbonna and his bullet of a header but Arsenal’s defending of the initial set piece and subsquent scramble in the area was non-existent. West Ham were allowed to continuously win the ball with little challenge, first Mark Noble, then Declan Rice, Pablo Fornals and finally Ogbonna.

Fornals’ cross towards Ogbonna wasn’t exactly powerful, more of a measured lift, but the Italian was allowed to run onto the ball unchallenged to head home – getting to it before Granit Xhaka. It required a bit of good fortune on his part, deflecting off Ainsley Maitland-Niles and wrong-footing the goalkeeper, but it was a goal Arsenal’s defending — but not Leno — deserved to concede.