Premier League Review: West Ham Shocks Arsenal

Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

The opening game of the 2015/16 Premier League season lacked the goals and drama that usually defines the English game. Manchester United and Tottenham finished last year in the fourth and fifth positions, respectively, and both of them are expected to compete for the Champions League spots again this campaign. For United fans, the opening 20 minutes at Old Trafford seemed to dash all of the preseason optimism they had, as Spurs clearly looked the better side. Christian Eriksen nearly put the visitors ahead just five minutes into the match with a lobbed effort that beat an onrushing Sergio Romero, but fell harmlessly on top of the net. The lack of a lethal touch from the Dane would quickly come back to bite the visitors.

15 minutes after Eriksen’s near finish, an errant pass from Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb was intercepted by Juan Mata and the Spaniard quickly sparked the counter attack. A quick interchange of passing found Ashley Young, who singed a contract extension just before the weekend, on the wing and the Englishman placed a pin pointed cross to his compatriot Wayne Rooney unmarked in the box. The opening goal of the Premier League season seemed seconds away for Rooney, but Kyle Walker had other plans. Walker managed to sprint his way back to the box and nip the ball away from Rooney, but his touch was too heavy and he could only watch as the ball rolled past Michel Vorm and into the net. The goal marked the first time in Premier League history that an own goal was the first strike to start a season, and this piece of history was enough to sink Spurs on the day.

Other than the random spurts of brightness from United, this match was all Tottenham from start to finish. Despite the apparent dominance on the pitch, Spurs were unable to materialize any real chances for the majority of the second half. It wasn’t until the final ten minutes of the match that the visitors truly looked like they would beat United’s new number one Romero. Twice the Argentine was forced to deny Eriksen’s shots in the closing stages, and perhaps his most dramatic save came with a flapping stop from a deflected Harry Kane header. Romero stood tall in the flurry of late pressure and his effort saved an opening three points for the Red Devils. Spurs fans will be happy at how their team performed, but will hope next match will provide a more deadly finishing touch from their squad.

Chelsea 2-2 Swansea City

This was the first time since 2010 that Chelsea were opening their season as the defending Premier League champions, and many believe that they have a great chance to win it again this year. Swansea City, who finished eighth last season, were the heavy underdogs going into this match and had never claimed a Premier League point at Stamford Bridge before the fixture. The stage seemed to be set for a typical Chelsea victory, but the team from Wales had other ideas.

Things looked bright for the hosts early on in the match, and they finally received a reward for their pressure in the 22nd minute. An Oscar free kick near the corner of the penalty area narrowly avoided two shot attempts from his teammates and found the side netting to beat Lukasz Fabianski to put Chelsea up 1-0. Less than ten minutes later, however, Swansea managed to pull one back courtesy of their new signing Andre Ayew. It was nearly Bafetembi Gomis who leveled the scores with an amazing header, but an equally amazing save from Thibault Courtois denied the Frenchman only for Ayew to bury home the second rebound with a calm, composed finish. The scores remained level for just 92 seconds when a crazy deflection from Federico Fernández on a Willian cross sent the ball looping over a helpless Fabianski to give Chelsea the lead once more.

The major drama came in the second half. In the 52nd minute, a long ball from Jonjo Shelvey put Gomis through on goal and an errant challenge from Courtois in the box brought the streaking forward to the ground. The official made no hesitation with his call and promptly sent the Chelsea keeper off and gave Asmir Begovic and unexpected debut with the club. The former Stoke City keeper’s first touch of the ball was picking up Gomis’ penalty from the back of the net with the scores leveled. It looked as if Swansea could pull of the historic upset for much of the second half, and it was nearly Gomis who scored the winner only to be called offside after burying the ball in the net. 10-man Chelsea managed to hold on and rescue a point, but will have to face life without Courtois for their next match against Manchester City.

Arsenal 0-2 West Ham United

The biggest upset of the weekend belonged to West Ham United. The Irons travelled to the Emirates for their season opener to take on an Arsenal team that are expected to contend for the title. When these teams met last year, it was the Gunners that emerged victorious on both occasions, and the game at the Emirates ended 3-0 in favor of the hosts. The match served as a trial by fire for new West Ham boss Slaven Bilic, and the Croatian passed with flying colors.

An upset didn’t look on the cards in the opening stages of the match as the Gunners controlled possession of the ball. A lobbed attempt from Santi Carzola in the 28th minute signaled the first real chance for the hosts, and just minutes later Aaron Ramsey nearly put Arsenal ahead only to see his deflected shot hit the top of the crossbar and fall out of bounds. West Ham’s bend, but don’t break defense kept things level and just before half time they took the surprise lead. A long set piece from new singing Dimitri Payet found the head of Cheikou Kouyaté at the penalty spot and the defender powered his effort into an empty net. Arsenal’s blockbuster summer addition, Petr Cech, left his net to challenge for the cross but was left flapping at thin air, giving West Ham a slim 1-0 lead going into the second 45 minutes.

Arsenal continued to struggle in front of net in the second half, and seconds after Adrián denied Olivier Giroud on one end, Mauro Zárate beat Cech on the other. The Argentine made space for himself on the edge of the 18-yard-box and smartly finessed his effort into the near post. This would be the final strike of the match, and West Ham would leave with an unexpected three points added to their record. The Gunners’ looked disappointing in the final third of the pitch, but perhaps the biggest let down was the play of Petr Cech in net. On both goals, you could argue that the former Chelsea keeper should’ve kept the ball out of the back of the net. Poor aerial judgement led to the opener, and a misstep before Zárate’s effort allowed the second. Surely, Cech will regain his form in the coming matches, but will Arsenal be able to score on the other end?

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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