From 32 minutes on, Arsenal’s Sunday afternoon went downhill, letting a 2-0 lead slide in a crucial game where three points were seen as a given before kick-off.
While the players on the pitch did themselves no favours, the subs made by Mikel Arteta confused many and they failed to impact the game in the way they should have.
Mikel Arteta’s in-game management cost Arsenal against West Ham
The first of his head-scratching decisions came when Leandro Trossard and Jorginho lined up to come on. Considering how poor Thomas Partey was playing, the Jorginho one seemed sensible, and bringing on Trossard was an obvious one too.
What was not obvious was his decision to bring off Gabriel Jesus, and he looked as surprised as anyone when his number was shown.
During the first 45 minutes, he was the best player on the park. He was popping up everywhere and he continued to make a nuisance of himself in the second half, even if things weren’t always going his way.
By contrast, things weren’t happening for Bukayo Saka. Penalty miss aside, it just wasn’t his day. He had a chance not long after West Ham scored, and could have shifted it onto his right foot to at least trouble Lukas Fabianski, but elected to cut in on his left, where there was no space, and a limp effort went straight to the West Ham keeper.
Again, when Reiss Nelson readied himself to come on, Saka seemed like the most obvious option to go off, but it was Gabriel Martinelli who departed. Despite a great first half, Arsenal’s top scorer also struggled to get into the game. Although, he looked more likely to do something than Saka.
An Arsenal fan would rarely ask for Saka to be the first sub when chasing a win, but that was the nature of his performance. It wasn’t for lack of effort, it just simply wasn’t happening for him. Every player has those days, even Arsenal’s star boy.
But the biggest shock came in the 85th minute when after winning a free kick, Arteta elected to hook Martin Odegaard. The Arsenal skipper went on to win the man of the match award, and was the one, along with Trossard, who was taking responsibility and willing his side on.
Without Odegaard, a goal looked remote as West Ham flooded their own box, and a Bournemouth-type comeback seemed less likely with each passing moment.
After the game, Arteta rightfully questioned his team’s performance and said that “after 2-0, we made that huge mistake and didn’t understand what the game required in that moment”. While his comments were fair, he will also be looking at his subs and asking what he could have done better.
He has got it right on numerous occasions this season, and like his young team, is learning at a rapid rate, but Sunday wasn’t a good day for him in that department.