By FRANK GRIFFITHS -Japan Today
Arsenal quickly forgot about the team’s off-field distractions with forward Gabriel Martinelli and substitute Emile Smith Rowe scoring in a 2-0 win over 10-man West Ham on Wednesday that put the Gunners in the top four in the Premier League.
Martinelli latched onto a throughball from stand-in captain Alexandre Lacazette that sliced past three defenders and set the Brazilian clear on goal from the left. Martinelli made up for a miss late in the first half by curling the ball into the far corner in the 48th minute at Emirates Stadium.
Smith Rowe sealed the victory with a clever run and a fine strike from the edge of the area in the 87th that wrong-footed West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski. The players ran to a corner to celebrate as manager Mikel Arteta could finally be allowed to break into a smile on the sidelines.
The win came a day after Arsenal stripped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy and was exactly what the Gunners needed to put the tumult at the club behind them. Arsenal is now in fourth place with 29 points, leapfrogging the Hammers, which are in fifth with 28.
The visitors had a chance to equalize in the 53rd when Arsenal midfielder Martin Odegaard lost possession and the ball fell to West Ham forward Jarrod Bowen. But his effort from just inside the box was pushed over the crossbar by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
The Gunners failed to convert a penalty after West Ham right back Vladimir Coufal kicked Lacazette in the shin in the 66th. Coufal was sent off after being shown a second yellow card. Lacazette’s spot kick was pushed away by Fabianski.
Arsenal named an unchanged team for the third consecutive match, with Arteta trying to project a semblance of stability in the face of all the negative attention on the eve of the derby.
Aubameyang was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy on Tuesday after another disciplinary breach, with Arteta saying the striker hadn’t worked “to the rules and standards” set by the club. Aubameyang reportedly was allowed by the club to travel to France for a family matter last week, after the 2-1 loss at Everton on Dec. 6 which he started as a substitute, but he returned a day later than agreed upon.
The focus in Arsenal’s matchday program was about unity, with no mention of Aubameyang’s troubles.
The Arsenal armband has been a bit of curse in recent years. The Gabon international was named captain by Arteta’s predecessor, Unai Emery, after Granit Xhaka had the honor taken away in November 2019 following his angry reaction to being booed by Arsenal fans after being substituted in a league game.
Aubameyang was nowhere to be seen at Emirates Stadium after he was dropped for the match.