How and Where: Arsenal wasted a two-goal lead against West Ham

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Image Courtesy: © Facebook - West Ham

How and Where: Arsenal wasted a two-goal lead against West Ham

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Amlan Majumdar


As West Ham held Arsenal to another draw at the Boleyn Ground, the Gunners fell further behind in an increasingly non-existent title race. Bilic proved once again why he is such a highly-rated tactician as he pushed his team to comeback from 0-2 down in their race for a Champions league place.

How they started

West Ham United (3-4-2-1): Adrian (GK); James Tomkins, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna; Michail Antonio, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Aaron Cresswell; Manuel Lanzini, Dimitri Payet; Andy Carroll

Slaven Bilic made two changes to the side he fielded last weekend with Tomkins and Carroll replacing Emmanuel Emenike and Diafra Sakho. He switched from his usual 4-2-3-1 formation to 3-4-2-1 with Carroll leading the line. Payet and Lanzini were handed over a free role behind Carroll with Cresswell and Antonio playing as wingbacks.

Arsenal (4-3-2-1): David Ospina (GK); Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Paulista, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin; Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi; Danny Welbeck

Arsene Wenger fielded an unchanged lineup in this game although Petr Cech made it to the bench after recovering from his injury. The Frenchman, who is not known for tactical experimentation, opted for his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. Ozil and Iwobi kept interchanging positions during the match with most of Arsenal's attack coming down their left wing.

Arsenal let off the hook by the linesman

With Carroll planted upfront, Belic was not really playing his cards close to his chest. The former Liverpool forward makes for an outstanding target to hit long-balls into the box, and although West Ham have come a long way from being the one-trick pony they were under Sam Allardyce, Belic showed he is more than prepared to mix it up when required. After all, this tactic of playing long aerial balls against Arsenal has always worked in the past for the Hammers.

In the initial stages, West Ham were not only winning the first ball in the box via Carroll, but they were also first to the second balls with Payet and Lanzini hovering like predators in and around the box. Their plan of action very nearly bore fruit when Lanzini had the ball in the net, after an acrobatic attempt by Carroll reached him at the far post. However, the Argentinian and West Ham were wrongly denied by the linesman and his raised flag. Replays showed that Hector Bellerin played him on when Carroll made contact with the ball.

Gunners gunning for the space beyond the back-three

As Arsenal began to control possession and gain a foothold in the match, West Ham's formation was badly exposed. When Arsenal had the ball, West Ham dropped deep, leaving their front-three isolated from the rest of the team. The Hammers defenders and midfielders were bereft of outlets when they won the ball back, and this meant that the possession was turned over to the visitors faster than Belic would have liked. Arsenal were outnumbering West Ham in the middle of the park as Elneny began to dominate the game.

Even more problematic for Bilic, Antonio and Cresswell are not naturally suited for the wing-back role. They were caught in no man's land when they moved the ball quickly in attack. With the wing-backs out of position, the back-three had to spread apart in order to deal with Iwobi, Ozil and Sanchez, who were drifting wide to exploit the space left behind by the wing-backs. As the center-backs stretched to cover one vacant space, they left another in-between themselves.

Welbeck gave them an early warning when Bellerin nearly played him through in the 15th minute, before Adrian came off his line to stop Arsenal's progress.

However, the Hammers failed to heed the warning signs and conceded two back-to-back goals similar fashion. First Iwobi picked out Ozil's run in the 18th minute, and then the run of Alexis Sanchez in the 35th minute, and both the times the ball ended at the back of the net.

Early Christmas for Carroll as he bullies Arsenal fullbacks in the air

West Ham's retribution was swift and ruthless. The Hammers went back to route one, and Carroll displayed exceptional sense of timing with his runs and movement inside the box. The Englishman targeted the far post from either side of the pitch, and the Arsenal center-backs were nowhere to be seen during all his three goals. During his first goal, he was challenged by Monreal in the air, during his second strike he was unchallenged, and while the third came after he won the ball in the air against Bellerin – none of them were a contest.

Bilic amends his tactical mistake in the second half

Every manager makes tactical mistakes, but only few are savvy enough to rectify it halfway through the match. With Arsenal attackers exploiting the three-man defence, the Croatian brought off Tomkins and replaced him with Emenike. His team moved back to the 4-2-3-1 formation with the Nigerian moving to the right wing. The Hammers also began to push higher up the pitch, and this meant Carroll was no longer isolated from the midfield. As they congested the center of the pitch, Arsenal's domination of the midfield began to wither – in turn, they were forced to move to the wide areas. Now with Cresswell and Antonio back to their natural roles, along with Payet and Emenike providing them defensive cover, the Gunners found it hard to break down the defence with the dexterity they showed in the opening 35 minutes of the match.

Eventually, it was Koscielny who rescued a point for Arsenal. However, the Gunners' vulnerability against long balls, crosses and physically dominant strikers was exposed once again this night. 

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