Everything was going so well for Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as the Hammers were level and on top early in the second half of their Premier League clash with Unai Emery’s Arsenal.
However, then, a major injury blow hit them for six and they could never really recover, going on to be beaten by the Gunners 3-1 and falling to a third consecutive defeat to start the season.
This injury, injuries being a prominent Achilles Heel to the Irons in recent times, was to star man Marko Arnautovic as he hobbled off just before the hour-mark with what looked to be a knee problem.
Moments earlier, the 2017/2018 Hammer of the Year had attempted a shot with his weaker foot on the move which went straight at Petr Cech, feeling his knee area straight after.
He went off to receive treatment, re-entering the field and looking fine to continue soon after, before going down once more and requesting to be substituted, being replaced by Javier Hernandez.
Not only have West Ham lost their star man and scorer of all of their two goals so far this campaign, but they also lost a great advantage in the game, one which contributed greatly to their loss.
Arnautovic had been a livewire all afternoon-long, opening the scoring for the Hammers in the first period and creating countless chances for them to extend and regain their advantage.
The Austria star’s breakthrough in North London came on 25 minutes when he netted his second of 2018/2019, off the back of scoring a penalty in last weekend’s London Stadium defeat to AFC Bournemouth.
A counter-attack, characteristic of the club’s best performance yet under Pellegrini, saw club-record signing Felipe Anderson fed by a combination of Ryan Fredericks and Jack Wilshere.
The Brazilian embarked on a swift and clever run before finding Arnautovic and being given the ball back instantly, on the edge of the box, Anderson simply laid the ball back into the path of the ex-Stoke City star.
Without taking a touch, last year’s top PL scorer in Claret & Blue with 10, drilled a low shot into the left bottom corner, Cech unable to get down to it quick enough and beaten all ends up.
The strike signalled Arnautovic’s second consecutive goal in trips to the Emirates Stadium and he was buoyed by the memory of scoring a sumptuous volley in a 4-1 loss back in April.
While it was a huge moment for the East Londoners and the former club-record signing, the feeling heading into half-time was one of immense frustration for Pellegrini’s men.
Just five minutes later, the hosts drew level benefiting from yet more poor defending from the visitors, despite the fact that two changes had been made at the back, Fredericks and Issa Diop coming on for Pablo Zabaleta and Angelo Ogbonna.
Hector Bellerin was easily able to get in behind Arthur Masuaku and deliver a dangerous delivery from the by-line, just inside the box, one that flashed across the face of goal and reached Nacho Monreal.
With Lukas Fabianski on the other side of the goal, the Spaniard only had to finish into a half-empty net, something he had no trouble in doing to notch his second strike on the spin against West Ham.
But, it wasn’t so much the fact that Emery’s men had equalised on their way to their first victory under the ex-Sevilla manager, it was the opportunities that they had spurned.
Arnautovic always seemed to be at the forefront of things, the visitors wasted all manner of chance, whether it be a needless offside or gilt-edged opportunity, a theme that would continue on throughout the 90 minutes.
Two vivid first-half examples, both of which heavily involved the Austrian, stood out, the first coming midway through the half and from another quick-fire break.
A quick turnaround in play saw Robert Snodgrass have the chance to slip Arnautovic clean through, which he did, though the flag was up as he beat Cech from a one-on-one.
Had he held his run just a little longer with so much space around him, it would have been a goal, the shoe was very much on the other foot for the other standout miss.
The cleverness of “Arnie” to leave a short pass from Michail Antonio in the box when he was in an offside position, allowed the Scot to run onto the ball and get a free effort off at Cech from point-blank range, shooting directly at the Czech Republic legend, giving him an easy save.
Having sent a couple more chances by the wayside straight after the break, Arnautovic’s afternoon would end, a proud afternoon when he wore the captain’s armband in Mark Noble’s absence.
The worry for the Claret & Blue Army will be the way that the team’s attacking threat decimated after this, suddenly, they could no longer create the chances they were so frequently passing up.
Chicharito was sparsely given the service of Arnautovic, with a strange tactical decision to replace Antonio with Lucas Perez not helping the cause either, waiting until it was too late to introduce Andriy Yarmolenko.
Ultimately, the biggest threat that the away team had to offer being obliterated offered a platform for Emery’s men to claim all three points on home soil.
They made it 2-1 on the 70-minute mark via a Diop own-goal, a very unfortunate one for the France U21 star as Alexandre Lacazette’s volley cannoned off his chest and past Fabianski into the bottom corner.
The Gunners made sure of their win in the second minute of stoppage time, substitute Danny Welbeck being fed by a wonderful cross to turn and finish emphatically into the roof of the net.
It would turn out to be a day of great mixed fortunes for the Hammers and Arnautovic, in particular, one to take so many positives and so many negatives from.
Although, one clear negative is the knock of the stand-in captain after Pellegrini confirmed in his post-match media briefing that the striker felt something in the muscle behind his knee.
The Chilean also stated that the injury will be monitored over the next few days, the Austria International having not gone down the tunnel after coming off and looked to be moving freely after full-time.
This almost definitely means he will miss the Carabao Cup clash with AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday but everyone associated with West Ham will be desperately hoping that he can make back in time for the last shot at bouncing back and getting some points on board before the International break, Saturday’s visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers to London Stadium.