West Ham United F.C
Holding 38, Gabriel 54
Arsenal issue May Day warning for West Ham's European hopes
- Credit: PA
There was nothing merry about the start of May for West Ham United at London Stadium, as derby defeat against Arsenal hampered next season’s Europa League qualifying hopes.
The Gunners jumped back into the box seat in their quest to reach the Champions League as the recalled Rob Holding marked his return to their starting line-up by giving the visitors a 38th-minute lead with his first goal of the season.
Hammers top scorer Jarrod Bowen replied on the stroke of half-time with his 16th strike of the campaign to deservedly send the hosts in level at the interval.
But 10 minutes into the second period, Gabriel’s diving header gave Arsenal the victory that restored them to fourth place in the Premier League, while West Ham remain seventh with just three games left to play.
David Moyes had come into a second successive, Sunday London derby desperately needing to reconcile his desire for European qualification this campaign, with the fact that his side – while admittedly facing a first-leg deficit – are also just 90 minutes away from this season’s Europa League final.
With just one goal needed to level their tie on aggregate in four days’ time, the Hammers boss showed in his team selection that he is still determined to fight on both fronts.
Ahead of the club’s biggest European match in 46 years and following that 2-1 home defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt Moyes made five changes, with Craig Dawson suspended due to his late dismissal at Chelsea last Sunday.
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The Hammers boss commendably opted against wrapping Kurt Zouma – still gently coming back from an ankle injury – in cotton wool, albeit he did rest both Tomáš Souček and Michail Antonio on the bench alongside Alphonse Areola, while Ben Johnson (thigh) sat out altogether.
In came retiring skipper Mark Noble for his final London derby and penultimate game at London Stadium, alongside Saïd Benrahma, Vladimír Coufal, Ryan Fredericks, Łukasz Fabiański.
It was a slow-burner of an opening to this encounter as the Gunners forced four corners to the Hammers one during the first half-hour, while the only goal attempts of note were an off-target Pablo Fornals strike and Manuel Lanzini’s low, angled effort that was bravely blocked at point-blank range by Holding.
Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United last Saturday had kept them on course for Champions League qualification and, eight days on, Mikel Arteta made a trio of changes to a side kicking-off in fifth spot, two places and eight points above the Hammers.
Holding, Gabriel Martinelli and Takehiro Tomiyasu were each called into the starting line-up in place of Ben White plus substitutes Cédric and Emile Smith-Rowe.
On 33 minutes, Declan Rice rampaged from halfway before depositing a low 20-yarder into Aaron Ramsdale’s gloves, while five minutes later, Eddie Nketiah broke forward at the other end before letting fly with a low 15-yard shot that former Gunners keeper Fabiański diverted around the base of his left-hand post.
But danger still lurked for West Ham and when Bukayo Saka sent the consequent corner to the edge of the six-yard box, Holding left his markers in his wake to climb highest and nod Arsenal ahead.
Moyes’ men almost conjured up an instant response from a corner of their very own but when Fornals’ clever cross was met at the near-post by Rice, Ramsdale spectacularly clawed the England midfielder’s back-header out from underneath his crossbar and the loose ball was cleared to safety.
Certainly, the Hammers did not deserve to be trailing but as the interval approached they ensured that they did, indeed, go in at the break all-square.
Rice’s raking crossfield pass found Coufal down the right-hand channel and the Czech Republic defender expertly picked out Bowen, whose 10-yard shot scorched past both Gabriel and Ramsdale before ripping into the net.
Just after the interval, Bowen looked to have chances of doubling his tally when he raced upfield in pursuit of a well-weighted through ball and, with the lone figure of Ramsdale racing outside his box to clear, Arsenal's keeper appeared to take out the striker.
With the partisan claret and blue crowd screaming for a red card the jeers rang around Stratford when referee Mike Dean only produced yellow before the boos reached another level when the locals realised it was Bowen who had been booked for diving.
On 55 minutes, Saka’s low angled shot was beaten away from the base of this left-hand upright by the defiant Fabiański but - just as had been the case with Arsenal’s opener - the subsequent corner led to a goal.
Once again, Saka sent his flag-kick into the dangerzone and, although the Hammers defence were able to clear, Martinelli picked up the pieces and sent a left-wing cross towards the far post, where the now unmarked Gabriel had all the time in the world to plant a diving past the helplessly-exposed Fabianski.
Saka and Nketiah had chances to put yet more daylight between the two sides, before Moyes sent Antonio on for Manuel Lanzini in a fruitless effort to rediscover some attacking spark in his team.
With West Ham pressing for a late leveller, Nketiah broke clear once again but after setting himself he could only curl his 15-yard shot around Fabiański and the far post.
And after Noble was replaced by Souček, the Arsenal striker went closer, this time forcing the Polish stopper to shepherd another low shot around the post, but by now Arsenal already had those three points and fourth spot safely banked.
West Ham United: Fabiański, Coufal, Fredericks, Cresswell, Zouma, Noble (Souček 77), Rice, Fornals, Lanzini (Antonio 70), Bowen, Benrahma (Yarmolenko 81). Unused subs: Areola, Vlašić, Diop, Masuaku, Král, Alese.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Holding, Gabriel, Tavares, Tomiyasu (Cédric 77), Elneny, Xhaka, Ødegaard (Lokonga 90+1), Saka (Smith-Rowe 87), Martinelli, Nketiah. Unused subs: Leno, Lacazette, Pépé, Kirk, M’hand, Swanson.
Booked: Saka (48), Bowen (52), Nketiah (90+1), Cresswell (90+1).
Referee: Mike Dean.