Arsenal fans were given a stark reminder that their team is still a work in progress under head coach Unai Emery in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to West Ham at the London Stadium.
Former Gunners star Samir Nasri was lining up in the Premier League against his old club and he made a huge impact with an assist for Declan Rice’s match-winning goal.
Emery’s side were painfully toothless for the majority of the game, struggling to leave their mark on the game without playmaker Mesut Ozil, who missed the lunchtime kick off due to the reoccurrence of a knee injury.
The lack of creativity from Arsenal was evident throughout, although they still forged half-chances for Alexandre Lacazette, who shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who fired high over the bar with what was the visitors’ best chance.
Emery had gone into the game never having won away to a side managed by Manuel Pellegrini and that run continued on Saturday as he was tactically outwitted by the Chilean.
West Ham’s organisation and dominance in possession forced Lacazette to come deep to win the ball, while the decision to bring on a full-back, Hector Bellerin, and defensive midfielder, Lucas Torreira, when Arsenal were 1-0 down will surely provoke questions.
Emery will also doubtless be asked as to why Aaron Ramsey was left on the bench until the 58th minute, given the Gunners’ lack of a goal threat.
Serious doubts remain over the defence too.
Indeed, the goal Arsenal conceded was symptomatic of their sloppiness over the past few seasons, as it was Granit Xhaka’s poor clearance which enabled Nasri to find Rice, who made no mistake with a calm and composed finish just after the break.
For the Frenchman, it was his first assist in the Premier League since 2016 and another example of the quality that he was known for in his final season at Arsenal and, more recently, Manchester City.
“Before, I used to say things about Arsenal because I was hurt by the treatment from the fans but there is nothing but love for Arsenal,” Nasri said ahead of the game.
Unsurprisingly, that sentiment was not reciprocated among the 2,987 away fans who witnessed the ex-Marseille man provide the game’s key pass.
By the end, they were also left bitterly frustrated by another limp display on the road, with Arsenal having now picked up just two points from their past five away games.
It’s important to mention the context of Arsenal’s defeat, though. They’ve scored more goals than Chelsea this season and have had some superb results but Emery is clearly still struggling to find his best line-up, with different formations still being used and substitutes failing to impact games.
Added to that, the defensive errors of the past are still present. Indeed, Xhaka has now made more errors leading to goals in the league than any other outfield player since the start of last season.
Off the pitch, Emery told reporters before the game that Arsenal can only sign loan players in the January transfer window, with Denis Suarez in advanced talks to join the club until the end of the season with a view to a permanent transfer in the summer.
Certainly, it’s clear that further ammunition is needed if the Gunners are to secure a return to the Champions League, especially with another huge London derby coming up against Chelsea next week.
Victory is imperative if the Gunners are to have any chance of forcing their way back into contention for a top-four finish.
Creativity will be required. The kind that Nasri offered West Ham on Saturday, and that a fully-fit Ozil is always capable of producing.
The hope, therefore, is that the German will be fit for the visit of Chelsea, and that he will be picked to play…
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