Moyes rues VAR after Lacazette and Arsenal punish wasteful West Ham | Football

Arsenal could not afford to squander this opportunity so they will not care too much that, in giving their prospects of Champions League qualification genuine life, they committed something akin to daylight robbery. This was, from start to finish, a slog for Mikel Arteta’s side as they struggled to make their monopoly on possession pay and wobbled repeatedly when probed by an intelligent West Ham. Had Bernd Leno not burnished his status as one of the most underrated keepers around, or the visiting forwards not squandered a slew of clear openings, their claim to a top-four spot would now appear fantastical. However, the fine margins went in their favour and never more so than in the game’s deciding incident.

Alexandre Lacazette had been involved only sporadically since replacing Eddie Nketiah before the hour. The tide had largely been flowing in the opposite direction but in the 78th minute he applied the kind of finish that has defined his career. When Bukayo Saka darted inside and fed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the striker’s shot was deflected by Declan Rice and looped up towards Mesut Özil, who was stationed to the right of goal. Özil’s header across to Lacazette was precise and the first-time volley equally so. The celebrations were cut short by an offside flag and nobody, not even Arteta, initially sensed much cause for complaint. “When the goal was disallowed I thought: ‘OK, that’s fine,’” he said.

However, Arteta was soon informed by his staff that something was amiss and, by that point, the lines and vectors at Stockley Park had whirled into action too. Not even the most painstaking examination of toe and elbow positions could rule Özil had edged in front of Aaron Cresswell when Aubameyang struck the ball, while Lacazette had even less of a case to answer. It took several minutes but eventually Kevin Friend, the VAR official, made the right call and Arsenal’s celebrations left no doubt about the moment’s importance.

For David Moyes, whose setup could not be faulted, the frustration was clear. The West Ham manager professed not to hold an opinion about the overruled decision but did not require too much pressing to hint at his distaste. “A very good referee and linesman gave the offside but someone else chose to change their mind,” he said.

Aaron Cresswell hurdles the challenge of Reiss Nelson.

Aaron Cresswell hurdles the challenge of Reiss Nelson. Photograph: Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images

Given the number of times VAR operates, or is applied, in an entirely negative way for the sport it seems fair to give credit where it is due here. And in fairness to Moyes, his disappointment was channelled at far greater length towards his team’s inability to score. West Ham created “as many chances at Arsenal as I’ve [had] in a long time” and the close calls came from the very start.

Less than two minutes had been played when Jarrod Bowen, seizing on a loose Granit Xhaka pass, struck the base of Leno’s right post from 20 yards. Then Pablo Marí, making his Premier League debut, missed an interception but Michail Antonio and Sébastien Haller botched a golden chance. Shortly after that Haller overran the ball when played through and just before the interval Antonio turned it wide in front of goal after Issa Diop had nodded down a corner.

By the midway point Arsenal had, despite hogging the ball, made little use of it bar a Sokratis Papastathopoulos header that clipped the bar. A small improvement after the restart meant Lukasz Fabianski denied Nketiah after more good work from Saka, but Leno saved outstandingly from Antonio and Haller either side of the winner and nobody could deny Lacazette’s lethal contribution had been an outlier.

“I’m really happy with the result because big teams find a way,” Arteta said. “When they don’t have their best day they find a way to win it.” Arsenal will not get away with a showing such as this at Manchester City on Wednesday but their head coach is, at least, aware that an increasingly plausible top-four push still needs firmer ground. “[People] tell me I’ve turned the ship around,” he said. “That ship still has to turn a few times more to see what we want to see.” It listed here but, for now at least, they remain afloat.

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