Arsenal 0 West Ham 2: Three talking points
Paul McNamara takes a look at some of the things we learned from Arsenal's shock 2-0 loss to West Ham on Sunday
If there were any doubts that Slaven Bilic could instil the fight and organisation into this West Ham team to make them competitive in this year’s Premier League, then they were dispelled by this display. This wasn’t the sort of mis-directed, futile combativeness that saw three Hammers players, and the manager himself, red-carded in the course of their slightly bizarre and brief Europa League campaign. Bilic’s men, a few careless early tackles aside, were disciplined and resolute. That’s not to say that this was a West Ham team light on craft and enterprise. Starting with a 4-3-3 formation the Hammers travelled across the capital with more than damage limitation on their minds. It was only when they had established a deserved two goal advantage that the away team dropped into a sturdy 4-5-1. That they adapted so effectively spoke highly of their more attack-minded performers, and of the selfless mindset that seems to be common to this Irons side. Bilic’s back-four retained its shape admirably as Arsenal sought to find a way back into the contest in the latter stages, their concentration never wavering as they compacted into a narrow line the width of the 18-yard box. Additionally, West Ham’s passing from midfield and the intelligent front-running of Sakho meant that the visitors always carried a goal-threat, even as the Gunners attempted to pin them back. While the headlines will be all about Arsenal’s toothless display, West Ham were superb. Bilic was already under some pressure having all but sacrificed his team’s European ambitions with his team selection at Astra Giurgiu on Thursday. What a response from the Croatian and his men.
No 16-year-old Premier League debutant can pass without mention. Oxford showed enough promise here to suggest that he could follow in the footsteps of some of the more auspicious names to have made a top-flight bow at a similarly tender age. Speaking on Match of the Day 2 prior to the game, Mark Lawrenson likened Bilic’s decision to select the teenager at The Emirates to the Christians being thrown to the lions. It was nothing of the sort. Deployed as the deepest lying component of a three-man midfield, despite his upbringing as a centre-half, Oxford’s positioning was immaculate. Unfazed by squaring up to the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla, the young Londoner was adept at pinching possession, rather than having to hurl himself into tackles. What’s more, Oxford chose his moments to break like a veteran of this extremely specialised role, and wasn’t afraid of letting his team-mates know when he thought they should have passed to him. If it is true that supporters love nothing more than watching one of their own flourish in their club’s colours, then Hammers fans are in for a treat. There was certainly enough in this debut outing, in the most demanding of environments, to indicate that Oxford will be treading the path laid by his more illustrious forerunners; men such as Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Lennon, who all played their first Premier League football at 16 years of age.
Same old Arsenal?
There can hardly have been a soul who expected Arsenal to flounder quite so spectacularly in their season opener. This, so many shrewd observers, believed, was the year when it would all be different under Arsene Wenger. But here we go again. Most troubling for those of a Gunners persuasion, will be Petr Cech’s indecisive debut display. The goalkeeper, in whom so much faith has been invested in north London, was culpable for both of the goals shipped by his new team. It wasn’t only the new-boy having a miserable time of it, though. Ozil continues to be one of the Premier League’s ultimate enigmas. The reality is, that for £42m, Arsenal would have been expecting to purchase a player who can turn this sort of taxing afternoon back in their favour. Ozil has shown neither the ability nor inclination to alter the mood when the going gets tough, since his arrival at The Emirates two years ago. Amid the exciting style in which the Gunners closed their last campaign in May, it is easily forgotten that as the 2014-15 season was coming to an end, Chelsea, Swansea City and Sunderland all collected clean sheets on visits to the home of the Londoners. There is plainly, then, a weakness inherent in this Arsenal team, when it is presented with the task of breaking down a stubborn opponent. It is a failing that they cannot afford, because things remain as unconvincing at the other end of the field as they ever were. It would be no surprise if Wenger’s side go out and win their next two or three games in eye-catching fashion. As early as day one, however, we have seen that this Gunners’ side has a number of issues to address before it can expect to challenge for Premier League titles.