London: Arsenal’s composure to rally from 1-0 down to beat West Ham 3-1 impressed manager Mikel Arteta as the Gunners opened up a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Monday.
Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli turned the game around in the space of five second half minutes before Eddie Nketiah stepped up in the absence of Gabriel Jesus to seal all three points.
Said Benrahma’s first half penalty had given the Hammers the lead, but David Moyes’ men remain just one point above the relegation zone in 16th.
“We showed composure and never panicked and did what we had to do to earn the right to win the game,” said Arteta.
“We scored at the perfect time and the crowd was incredible, also in the moment we conceded the goal. They kept on believing. When we scored it got loud and we generated the momentum we needed.”
Arsenal’s momentum towards a first league title since 2004 could have been halted by a six-week break for the World Cup.
Arteta made no allowances for his stars that have been away in Qatar as William Saliba started just eight days after being part of the French squad that lost the final on penalties to Argentina.
However, that decision backfired when Saliba hesitated to allow Michail Antonio latch onto a ball over the top and then dived in on Jarrod Bowen.
Despite Bowen not going to ground immediately, referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot and Benrahma confidently dispatched the penalty.
Arsenal thought they had a spot-kick of their own in first half stoppage time but Oliver reversed his initial decision after seeing a replay of Martin Odegaard’s shot come off Aaron Cresswell’s head rather than the left-back’s arm.
The Gunners got the break they needed to turn the tide eight minutes after the break when Odegaard’s mishit shot fell perfectly into the path of Saka to sidefoot home.
Martinelli added the second goal moments later with the help of West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who was far too easily beaten at his near post.
A prolonged injury layoff for Jesus had raised doubts over Arsenal’s ability to maintain their title challenge in the coming months with games against Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United to come in January alone.
But Nketiah grabbed his opportunity on his first Premier League start of the season with a brilliant spin and low finish into the far corner from Odegaard’s pass 21 minutes from time.
“They smothered us all over the pitch,” said West Ham captain Declan Rice.
“They are a top team, you can see they are coached incredibly well. They have a young squad with attacking talent and can go the whole way, that is for sure.”
Manchester City can reduce the gap at the top to five points and move back above Newcastle into second place with victory when they travel to Leeds on Wednesday night.
However, another show of resilience from Arsenal showed the fight that lies ahead of the defending champions if they are to retain the title once more in the second half of the season.