Arsenal go into the international break as league leaders, after a staggering 9-1 win against West Ham United in-front of an animated and electric 1,000-strong crowd, part of the UK government’s pilot scheme for the return of spectators to elite sporting events.
It was certainly a landmark appearance to forget for Gilly Flaherty, with the West Ham United skipper being sent-off less than halfway through her 50th outing in claret and blue. In only the 34th minute she received a second yellow for dissent in a moment that became the catalyst for a complete West Ham United collapse, with Arsenal scoring a further seven goals to triumph 9-1 in The Hammers first game at their new home ground in Dagenham.
What began as an end-to-end thriller, with both sides finding the back of the net early on, soon morphed into an utterly ruthless and dominant Arsenal display following Flaherty’s sending off. The one player advantage allowed Arsenal to take full control, dwarfing West Ham United in every area of the pitch and completely overwhelming their defence. Jill Roord, hat-trick hero for the second match running, was once again the star, but the whole team played their part in what was another emphatic victory for the Gunners.
Both teams began the game on the front foot, in what was a fast paced and physical opening in Dagenham. It looked set to be an intense end-to-end clash, with early chances for both sides; Manuela Zinsberger denying Adriana Leon with a fantastic save and Vivianne Miedema skimming the post minutes later.
The breakthrough came from Arsenal in the 23rd minute, slightly against the run of play after a strong spell of pressure from West Ham United. It was a wonderful team move from The Gunners, originating from a perfectly placed through ball from Miedema into Katie McCabe. McCabe, who had only entered the game minutes earlier due to an injury to Steph Catley, pulled it back towards Jill Roord, who used her momentum to guide the ball into the back of the net.
However, unsurprisingly, West Ham United bounced back with an instant response; a fantastic solo effort from their top scorer last season, Kenza Dali. The ball fell to her on the edge of the box following Arsenal’s struggle to clear it, and she took full advantage, striking it sweetly on the half-volley into the bottom left corner. Not a single Arsenal defender was anywhere near her.
With the two teams back on level terms, the game continued at the same exhilarating pace it began with, and both sides continued to pile on the pressure. Before long there was yet another twist, as Miedema put Arsenal ahead once more, getting on the end of a Beth Mead cross to slot the ball past Hammers goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold from close range. Immediately, the West Ham United players had their arms in the air appealing for an offside in vain, with captain Flaherty being handed a second yellow card in the process, presumably protesting the decision. A chorus of boos rang out amongst the confused claret and blue crowd as their skipper left the pitch whilst The Gunners celebrated their lead.
The red card marked the turning point in what had been an exhilarating match-up, with Joe Montemurro’s side quickly able to take advantage, slowing the game down and taking control. The player advantage afforded The Gunners the time and space to pass the ball intricately and create chance after chance, and it wasn’t long before they had netted a further two goals to cap off a thrilling and unpredictable first 45 minutes. Skipper Kim Little got their third, the result of another superb team move, and Mead soon added a fourth, thundering the ball home after Grace Fisk’s clearance fell right into her path.
The second half saw Arsenal pick up right where they had left off, notching their fifth of the evening just five minutes after the restart. It was a familiar pattern as once again the ball was sent across the face of goal, this time by McCabe, with the late run of Jill Roord the target. She made no mistake, poking it home to extend Arsenal’s lead, but strayed far offside in the process, not picked up by the linesman once again.
The goals kept coming for The Gunners as they grabbed a further two in quick succession, taking their total to an astounding seven before the 60-minute mark. Miedema got her brace in the 54th minute, hammering the ball into the top corner after a surging run into the box, it was a goal that looked to be born out of frustration towards earlier misses. Two minutes later, Jill Roord got Arsenal’s third in four minutes and her hat-trick on the night to put West Ham United far out of sight.
The game quietened in the final 20 minutes but Arsenal weren’t done yet, capping off their evening with late goals from Leah Williamson and substitute Caitlin Foord as The Gunners proved they were capable of all kinds of goals, in a versatile team performance of the highest calibre. Williamson mad the most of the ball rebounding off Arnold into her path as she drove it into the back of the net for Arsenal’s eighth, whilst five minutes from time a sublime long-ball from Miedema found Lisa Evans, who unselfishly squared it to Foord who couldn’t miss, tapping it home for nine. Had it not been for some impressive goalkeeping from Arnold The Gunners could have hit double figures, but there is no doubt they will have headed back to North London a very pleased bunch.
It was another sensational performance from the high-flying Gunners, who now go into the international break as league leaders, with a goal difference of 13. Joe Montemurro’s side certainly put on a show for West Ham United’s 1,000 pilot fans, though they likely to be left wondering what could have been, had their skipper not been dismissed so early on. The Hammers certainly have some work to do, though they will rightfully feel hard done by after some questionable officiating.