Wenger fails to feel the love as Arsenal goodbye begins
Declan Rice mistake lets Arsenal in before late Lacazette double seals the win
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on the sidelines at the Emirates Stadium for Sunday’s Premier League game against West Ham. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
Arsenal 4 West Ham 1
Until the final 10 minutes of this match, with Arsenal being held and Arsène Wenger standing anxiously on the touchline, it was tempting to wonder whether a few supporters might even be impertinent enough to boo the team off. The score was 1-1, West Ham were holding their own and Arsenal were heading towards a result that would have made it mathematically impossible to reach the top four and meant a second successive season behind Tottenham Hotspur for the first time since 1983.
Unfortunately for Wenger, what followed will only be delaying the inevitable when his team are still 11 points adrift off the leading pack and, staggeringly, 33 adrift of the top, little more than a speck in Manchester City’s wing-mirrors. Yet that three-goal blitz did at least ensure a happy ending to the first game since Wenger announced he is cutting his ties with the club he has served with distinction – mostly, anyway – for 22 years.
In the process, Arsenal warmed up nicely for the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Atlético Madrid, the only downside being the first-half injury to Mohamed Elneny that led to the Egyptian being taken off on a stretcher and could also threaten his participation in the World Cup.
Alexandre Lacazette scored twice in the late drama but the key moment came in the 82nd minute when Aaron Ramsey crossed from the left and a terrible mix-up between Republic of Ireland defender Declan Rice and Joe Hart led to the West Ham centre half and his goalkeeper leaving the ball to each other. The ball went between them both to bounce into the net and Lacazette’s quick one-two, in the 85th and 89th minutes, lifted the volume by a few more notches.
Not that this could be described as the Wenger love-in that might have been anticipated. That, above all, was the strangest part of the afternoon. Where were the banners thanking him for everything? Where were the loud chants to make it clear this was not just a normal occasion? Wenger took his seat to mild applause and, briefly, some of the fans behind his dugout serenaded him. Only a small number, though. Then the game kicked off and it was not until just before the hour, once Nacho Monreal had given Arsenal the lead, that we heard his name being sung with any volume. The atmosphere at other times, just like the man’s cardigan, was grey and low-key.
Perhaps those of us who expected it to be different, emotional even, had underestimated the apathy that has engulfed the Emirates Stadium this season. The banners here pay tribute to “Old Trafford ’02”, the Invincibles season – “P38 W26 D12 L0” – and many of the other highlights from the Wenger years.
Yet it was a mistake to think the news of his abdication might tempt back some of the thousands who have stayed away. Again, there were vast expanses of empty red seats. “Merci Arsène” read the front cover of the programme. That apart, however, there was nothing to distinguish this from any other Arsenal match bar the swarm of television crews, a couple of hours before kick-off, conducting voxpops on the roundabout outside the Little Wonder Cafe.
At least nobody was impertinent enough to be too grumpy when half-time came in with the game goal-less but it would have been intriguing to see how the mood might have shifted had Marko Arnautovic or Joao Mario been able to exploit the gaps in Arsenal’s defence during the opening exchanges. West Ham began encouragingly and could also reflect on the moment in the first half when Cheikhou Kouyaté looping header landed on the top of the crossbar.
After that, however, there was a long period when David Moyes’s team lost their momentum. Arsenal finished the first half strongly and when Monreal volleyed in Granit Xhaka’s corner six minutes after the interval there was a 10-minute spell when the home side were threatening to add more goals until West Ham, on the counter-attack, levelled through Arnautovic.
Kouyaté had the first shot but when the ball ricocheted off a defender it went straight back to the West Ham player. Manuel Lanzini, a substitute, took over possession and Arnautovic had managed to find a couple of yards of space inside the penalty area. He was shooting at an angle, on his left foot with a number of opponents closing in, but it was an emphatic finish to put the ball past David Ospina.
At 1-1, Hart made a wonderful one-handed save to deny Danny Welbeck but it must have been alarming for Moyes to see what happened in the 82nd minute. Rice has to accept the culpability after ducking down to avoid Ramsey’s cross. Hart had been expecting his colleague to head it clear. The communication was poor, to say the least, and once Arsenal had retaken the lead Lacazette’s two penalty-box finishes applied some sheen to the final result. – Guardian service