Arsenal need late show, but Arsene Wenger's long goodbye begins with a win
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts on Arsenal's 4-1 win over West Ham as fans got their first chance to say goodbye to Arsene Wenger.
1. Wenger's long goodbye begins with a win
It took a while to come to life, with the shock of Arsene Wenger's impending departure perhaps stunning the Arsenal fans into silence, but the first game in the Frenchman's long goodbye as manager ended in victory as West Ham's survival hopes suffered a dent at the Emirates.
The 4-1 winning scoreline flattered Arsenal, with three goals in the final eight minutes ensuring victory over David Moyes's team. But with Wenger confirming on Friday that he will leave his post as Arsenal manager after 22 years at the helm, the eventual victory lifted the mood and gave renewed hope of a successful end to the Frenchman's reign.
During a tense first half, the lack of fanfare for Wenger -- which was not helped by banks of empty seats -- threatened to overshadow his announcement with a cloud of apathy. There were few chants in support of Wenger and a surprising absence of banners or tributes to the 68-year-old.
But once Nacho Monreal put Arsenal ahead with a 51st minute volley, the tension lifted and the Emirates became a happy place once again -- especially when Marko Arnautovic's equaliser was cancelled out by Aaron Ramsey's cross (which poor Declan Rice misread and ducked under) and two powerful efforts from Alexandre Lacazette had the fans singing once more.
Beating West Ham will count for little, though, if Arsenal fail to overcome Atletico Madrid in their Europa League semifinal, with the first-leg due to be played at the Emirates on Thursday.
Success in that competition would give Wenger the perfect send-off and hand his successor a Champions League passport. The challenge now is to make sure that the feelgood factor at the end of this game can be carried forward into the Atletico tie and beyond.
2. Wenger's successor must build from the back
Wenger's successor, whomever it proves to be, will walk into a big job at the Emirates, but he could do worse than turn the clock back to George Graham's time in charge and rebuild from the back.
One of the biggest issues in recent seasons that Wenger has failed to correct has been the lack of quality and organisation in defence. The Frenchman inherited the legendary Arsenal back four of Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn which was assembled by Graham, and the principles that the Scot instilled provided the bedrock of Wenger's early successes at the club.
But Wenger has been unable to recruit a top class defender since signing the likes of Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure more than 15 years ago and the new manager will have to build a brand new back four if Arsenal are to compete for the biggest honours again.
Against West Ham, Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin once again proved to be liabilities defensively and they will be two of the first names on the new manager's hit-list. Laurent Koscielny is no longer the player he was and Nacho Monreal is another who is defensively suspect at full-back.
There are other problems further up the pitch, with the lack of protection in midfield also an issue, but all great teams are built from the back and Arsenal must do what they did in the past and start from scratch in defence.
3. Arnautovic repays David Moyes' faith
Arnautovic was on course to become the flop of the season during a miserable first-half of the campaign at West Ham following his £24 million move from Stoke last summer. The Austria forward had been Slaven Bilic's star signing, but his woeful performances contributed to Bilic losing his job and being replaced by David Moyes last November.
With Moyes rarely gambling on maverick flair players in the past, Arnautovic's prospects appeared bleak when the Scot walked in to take charge. But Moyes has taken a chance on Arnautovic's undoubted talents and the forward has repaid his manager with 10 Premier League goals.
His strike at the Emirates gave West Ham hope of snatching a draw and crucial point in their relegation battle, but those hopes were dashed by Arsenal's late show.
Despite the blow of conceding and losing once again, though, Moyes and West Ham know that they have a potential match-winner in Arnautovic who could be the difference between the club staying up and going down. His goals under Moyes have given West Ham a strong chance of survival, but he needs to deliver over the final four games of the season to ensure the club pull clear of the drop zone.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_