Arsenal hosted West Ham in the day’s early kick-off, hoping to get the season off to a winning start at the Emirates, however, it was the bitter opposite.
A goal in either half, from Cheikhou Kouyaté and Mauro Zaraté settled the fixture despite Arsenal enjoying their fair share of goal-scoring opportunities as well as plenty of possession too.
It was Arséne Wenger’s men who started brightly, with referee Martin Atkinson brandishing two yellow cards in quick succession to Mark Noble and Angelo Ogbonna, who could not handle the attacking speed at which Arsenal accelerated forward.
Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud both came close with chances in the box, and you could feel Arsenal were just flexing their muscles as the Hammers were being dominated in the early exchanges.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who enjoyed an impressive pre-season campaign, enjoyed some neat link-up play with Mesut Özil on the right before watching on in disappointment as his sweet volleyed strike flashed inches above the crossbar. Although it was an audacious effort, and a very close one at that, it was the sign of a player with confidence – something we have seen in patches from the talented forward.
Aaron Ramsey saw his venomous strike crash off the crossbar on the half-hour mark, having taken a wicked deflection off Aaron Cresswell as the full-back attempted to block it with his body. Adrían made an acrobatic attempt to try and save the effort, but it swerved away from him and was goal-bound, if it was not for the woodwork to save him.
West Ham were forced into making the most of half-chances they’d created, but they’d made one count from a dubious free-kick decision from the official. Ramsey was penalized for a high boot, despite winning the ball in the air, and summer signing Dimitri Payet; who was lively throughout and arguably the team’s best player on the afternoon, stepped up to deliver.
The cross was an inviting one, but poorly defended nonetheless. Organisation at the back was messy and a leaping header from midfielder Cheikhou Kouyaté punished a limp attempt to defend the set-piece in itself. Cech rushed off his line to try and parry to safety, but he was too far out and the Senegalese international picked his spot with composure.
At the half-time interval, Arsenal felt hard done by. Having dominated their fair share of opportunities, they had nothing to show for it – and were a goal behind against an effective Hammers side.
Mauro Zaraté had a golden opportunity to create something for himself as he advanced past Mertesacker and Koscielny towards the box. However, he hesitated, and Koscielny was alert to the impending danger and made an important interception, recovering in good time as the threat was quelled.
Giroud had chance-after-chance, but the Frenchman couldn’t find the back of the net. A snapshot hit the side netting, before a well-worked move found him in space to strike, which Adrían was equal to in the end.
Then, it went from bad to worse. Zaraté took everyone by surprise, Cech included as he turned and within a flash – struck low goalwards. The former Chelsea goalkeeper took a step to his left, mis-judging the path of the ball, and was wrong-footed as the effort nestled into the bottom corner of the net.
The deficit had doubled, and you could hear groans and frustration etching across supporters’ faces. At one-nil, there was hope. At two with the clock ticking, not so much.
Theo Walcott and Alexis Sánchez were introduced into the fray in quick succession in place of Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Debuchy respectively, as we needed more attacking impetus with Giroud cutting a forlorn figure up-top.
A nervy attempted back pass, in the form of a header by Koscielny almost set through Diafra Sakho on-goal, but for the reactions of Cech to rush out and claim the ball.
You could tell that Arsenal were rattled, and needed something to calm their nerves as they drove forward. But alas, a nasty-looking aerial collision between Olivier Giroud and James Tomkins had the game at a standstill; killing any momentum we had.
Thankfully both players were able to continue after a few minutes, before Kevin Nolan was introduced with time running out – in place of 16-year-old talent Reece Oxford, who’d enjoyed an impressive Premier League debut.
Walcott, The Ox and Ramsey all had opportunities to give the side late hope, but their efforts were in vain; much to the discontent of the home supporters who were leaving in their droves ahead of the inevitable full-time whistle.
Despite some promising link-up play between Özil and Sánchez in stoppage time, Adrían was equal to a low effort from the latter, making the stop with an outstretched leg as he kept a well-earned clean sheet at the Emirates.
The full-time whistle blew, and that was that. Arsenal falter in the opening fixture of the new season, despite dominating. Well then.