Arsenal’s title hopes hit as old boy Mavropanos seals West Ham win

<span>Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters

This was not the reunion that Arsenal envisaged. On a night when West Ham’s discipline and tremendous work ethic turned the Emirates Stadium into a pit of frustration, Declan Rice found himself powerless to resist as the narrative shifted to the goal from Konstantinos Mavropanos that raises further doubts over his old side’s staying power in the title race.

Mikel Arteta has every reason to be concerned after a defeat that dashed Arsenal’s hopes of returning to the top of the Premier League. Statistics showing his side had 74% possession and finished a taut encounter with 30 shots to West Ham’s five spoke less of their dominance and more to their toothlessness and indecision in the final third. As Arteta acknowledged, supremacy in the middle hardly feels relevant when it is accompanied by such a lack of conviction in both boxes.

Related: Arsenal 0-2 West Ham: Premier League – live reaction

By full-time Arsenal, who remain two points behind Liverpool and three ahead of Manchester City, had managed 77 touches in West Ham’s area. Two went to Gabriel Jesus, only for the hard-running No 9 to spurn a couple of glorious headed chances midway through the second half.

They were pivotal moments, the kind that might have turned the game on its head, but there is a reason why City let Jesus go. Their view was that the striker was not potent enough and, for all the Brazilian’s excellent work off the ball, it is easy to understand the argument about Arsenal needing more firepower in January.

At the moment they look reliant on Bukayo Saka, a weakness that West Ham exploited by crowding the winger out. Gabriel Martinelli, who was marked out of the game by the outstanding Vladimir Coufal, is simply not offering any threat on the opposite flank. Martinelli has only two league goals this season and, with Kai Havertz missing through suspension, the use of Leandro Trossard in midfield was not enough to break West Ham down.

This was a solid, committed performance from West Ham, who rose to sixth after consecutive 2-0 wins against Arsenal and Manchester United. For David Moyes, who celebrated his first league win in 73 attempts away against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and United, it was a tactical triumph.

Time to give him a new deal? The evidence is compelling. West Ham may lack glamour but nobody can accuse them of being a soft touch under Moyes. They fought for everything after snatching the lead through Tomas Soucek and, having survived a storm before half-time, were in the clear when Mavropanos, a centre-back who made little impact before leaving Arsenal in 2022, headed in James Ward-Prowse’s corner early in the second half.

Mavropanos’s first goal since joining West Ham from Stuttgart hit Arsenal hard. They were under pressure after wins for City and Liverpool earlier in the week. They were desperate for an early goal. Martin Ødegaard linked with Saka, who tested Alphonse Areola. Emerson Palmieri, West Ham’s adventurous left-back, would have to dig deep against Saka.

West Ham had conceded five in each of their previous two away outings and were without Nayef Aguerd and Kurt Zouma in central defence. Deputising for Aguerd and Zouma were Mavropanos and Angelo Ogbonna, the pairing that started when West Ham were demolished by Liverpool in the Carabao Cup.

A notable feature, though, was the tenacious Edson Álvarez dropping back to help West Ham’s defence. They soon tiptoed forward. Lucas Paquetá, who had started despite injuring a knee during the warm-up, took over, spinning cleverly before finding Emerson’s overlapping run.

The left-back’s cross caught Arsenal out. Jarrod Bowen missed it at the near post but Gabriel Magalhães and Oleksandr Zinchenko were in a muddle. The ball came back to Bowen, who pulled it back from the byline for Soucek to score from close range.

There would be no reprieve from VAR for Arsenal, no replay to show the ball had gone behind before being funnelled to Soucek, and the anxiety rose. It grew further when Areola tipped Saka’s header over and Martinelli shot wide.

West Ham were hit when Paquetá went down again, depriving the visitors of their most accomplished player on the ball. Retaining possession was harder with Saïd Benrahma on. Arsenal upped the pace. Saka hit woodwork after wriggling through. Soucek and Ogbonna made vital blocks.

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It had been 45 minutes of pure Moyesball. Mohammed Kudus worked tirelessly on West Ham’s right, tracking back and occasionally relieving pressure with neat footwork. Arsenal struggled to find space. Rice shot over from 20 yards but openings were rare after half-time and the angst grew when Mavropanos, running across Magalhães, met Ward-Prowse’s delivery with a header that went in off the bar.

Arsenal’s response came from Jesus wasting headers and Trossard firing at Areola’s legs. There was time for Rice to concede a penalty for fouling Emerson. David Raya’s save from Benrahma was of little consolation to Arsenal.