London: Arsenal responded to Arsene Wenger’s decision to bring his 22-year reign as manager to a close at the end of the season by thumping West Ham 4-1 in a subdued atmosphere at the Emirates on Sunday.
Wenger, 68, had come under growing pressure to go from disgruntled supporters having failed to win the Premier League for 14 years before announcing his decision to leave on Friday.
And despite players and the club’s hierarchy promising that Wenger would be given a grand send-off, there was little sign of tributes to a man, who is by a distance Arsenal’s most successful ever manager with three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups to his name.
However, four second-half goals from Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey and two late strikes from Alexandre Lacazette ensured Wenger was able to celebrate a comfortable victory on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon in the British capital.
In his programme notes Wenger reiterated his plea for the fans to get behind the team for the rest of the season with Arsenal still in with a chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League via the Europa League.
But there were only sporadic chants of “there’s only one Arsene Wenger” from the home support, while, continuing a trend in recent home games, empty seats could be seen around the Emirates.
Arsenal are on course to finish lower than ever under Wenger in the Premier League as they remain in sixth, six points adrift of Chelsea.
However, Wenger can still sign off leaving the club in the Champions League by winning the Europa League, where Arsenal host Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their semi-final on Thursday.
“My love and support for Arsenal will last forever and I urge our fans to stand behind the team so we can finish on a high,” said Wenger in his programme notes.
Wenger had named a strong side with only Petr Cech, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil missing from the expected XI to face Atletico in midweek.
However, amid a surprisingly low-key atmosphere in the circumstances, West Ham’s greater need for the points shone through with a bright start.
Marko Arnautovic was denied from a narrow angle by David Ospina before Cheikhou Kouyate’s looping header came back off the top of the crossbar.
The hosts were dealt a blow before half-time when Mohammad Elneny was stretchered off with a nasty looking ankle injury.
However, Arsenal appeared a different side after the break to the one that laboured in the first half and Monreal put them ahead on 51 minutes by guiding Granit Xhaka’s corner into the bottom corner to punish some awful West Ham marking.
West Ham manager David Moyes reacted by sending on Manuel Lanzini and Javier Hernandez from the bench and was rewarded almost instantly as the former’s cute through ball was smashed home by Arnautovic.
Joe Hart did his chances of making England’s World Cup squad no harm with stunning saves from Xhaka and Danny Welbeck.
However, he was caught flat-footed when Declan Rice ducked out the way of Aaron Ramsey’s cross eight minutes from time and the ball floated into the far corner.
And Arsenal piled on more misery for the Hammers as Lacazette twice fired home from close range in the final five minutes.
Defeat leaves West Ham still seven points above the relegation zone, but their chances of survival were boosted as Stoke failed to beat Burnley in a 1-1 draw to remain four points off safety.
Badou Ndiaye had given the hosts the lead in the Potteries, but Ashley Barnes’s leveller just after the hour mark means Paul Lambert’s men need to win at least two of their remaining three fixtures to have any chance of beating the drop.