LONDON — Arsenal beat West Ham United 5-1 at the London Stadium on Saturday as the Gunners remained unbeaten since the opening day of the Premier League season.
Mesut Ozil’s first half goal was added to by three from Alexis Sanchez and a stunner from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the second half as the Gunners ran riot.
Here’s what we learned from a one-sided London derby.
SANCHEZ THE DIFFERENCE
There was word going around the press room deep in the London Stadium that Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez had tweaked his groin muscle in the warmup and was struggling.
Arsenal fans everywhere panicked. They were right to do that.
Luckily, Sanchez shook it off (he was stretching out his left groin readily early on in the game) and was ready to torment West Ham’s defense. He set up Mesut Ozil for Arsenal’s first and then scored three goals himself in the space of 14 second half minutes, with the first a thing of beauty.
Once again deployed in a central striking role, Sanchez showed exactly why he’s so important to Arsenal and why him signing a new contract must be a priority for Arsene Wenger.
With him they have a real chance of challenging for the title and they’re only three points off first-place Chelsea. Without him, they don’t. Alongside Ozil, they are the two world class talents Arsenal possess and the board must break the bank to keep the star attacking duo on board.
NO PAYET? MORE PROBLEMS
For most of the first half you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Dimitri Payet was on the pitch. The French international playmaker strolled around and barely broke into a sweat as he completely failed to control the ball on one occassion and gave it away readily.
He ballooned a shot 20-yards over the bar and din’t do much else. In the second half he drifted in and out of the game, whipping in a few good set pieces and setting up Manuel Lanzini in the box, plus he also casually walked the ball out of play from a goo crossing position in the box.
With a report circulating on Saturday that Arsenal were lining up a bid for Payet, 29, in January, some could argue that he has mentally checked out at West Ham. The Hammers look set to be embroiled in a relegation battle and Payet just isn’t up for that. His midweek performance in the EFL Cup at Manchester United suggested as much and this display reinforced those notions.
He only committed his future to the Hammers in the summer but if Arsenal come calling in January with a big bid, it’s clear that Payet would prefer to move on. West Ham’s owners would loathe selling Payet, an action which would put further presure on themselves given the tumultuous move to the London Stadium. But ask yourself this: is it better to get $45-50 million for Payet now (ballpark figure) and reinvest it in center backs and strikers you badly need? Or keep him around so he can saunter across the pitch so it’s basically like playing with 10 men?
There’s no doubting West Ham would miss Payet’s creativity in the final third but right now he should be the least of their worries.
BILIC ON THE ROPES
There’s no getting around it. The situation is bleak for the Hammers.
Slaven Bilic‘s team performed so well last season, his debut campaign as West Ham manager. They rode nostalgia-driven euphoria in their final season at Upton Park to finish seventh in the Premier League.
With three defeats in their last five and no wins in that stretch, Bilic seems to be on the brink. They are one point out of the relegation zone and three points off the bottom.
Yes, the Hammers have plenty of issues in defense and that was exasperated by James Collins coming off injured early on, but the entire game was just a case of them hanging in and hoping Payet or Lanzini would bail them out. That was never likely to happen.
The team gave up on Bilic in the end as Arsenal struck three times in the final 10 minutes. Given the stadium issues and fans not being happy with the owners about the move and a multitude of issues, Bilic and his players have been cut plenty of slack so far.
That won’t go on for much longer. With a pivotal two week period from Dec. 14-31 coming up, Bilic will need wins against Burnley, Hull, Swansea and Leicester if he’s not only going to get West Ham out of trouble, but also keep his job.
Make no mistake about, West Ham is in freefall.