Arsenal came from behind to end their nine-match winless streak as Freddie Ljungberg enjoyed his first victory as interim manager at the expense of his former club West Ham.
Eighteen-year-old Gabriel Martinelli marked his full Premier League debut by side-footing an equaliser which cancelled out Angelo Ogbonna’s deflected first-half opener at London Stadium.
Within nine minutes, Nicolas Pepe had curled a magnificent second into the top corner and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired in a third.
The salvo turned the game on its head and piled the pressure on West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini, whose side have taken four points from their past nine league games and conceded three times in three successive home games.
The Hammers remain a point above the relegation zone in 16th and face a trip to third-bottom Southampton on Saturday. Arsenal move up two places to ninth.
Arsenal recover from dismal start
Arsenal’s victory was all the more remarkable because until Martinelli added to the seven goals he has scored in cup competitions this season, the visitors had been utterly woeful.
Club officials had spoken before kick-off about the improved atmosphere triggered by Ljungberg’s appointment as Unai Emery’s replacement but it appeared this game would end in frustration, just as the previous two had done under the Swede.
The visitors were bereft of confidence and mild boos from the travelling support accompanied the end of a first half in which their side failed to have a shot on target and went behind when Ogbonna’s header bounced in off Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
True, they did not have much luck. Hector Bellerin was injured in the warm-up and when Kieran Tierney was helped off in obvious pain with a shoulder injury sustained in a seemingly innocuous tangle with Michail Antonio, Ljungberg had lost both his first-choice full-backs in the space of half an hour.
Nevertheless, it was pitiful stuff and when Aubameyang surged down the right wing and sent over a cross that flew over everyone and straight out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch, it was symptomatic of a club apparently heading nowhere fast.
‘Nerveless’ Martinelli rewards Ljungberg’s faith
It was 1977 when Arsenal last went 10 matches without a win. With an away Europa League game against Standard Liege followed by a home encounter with Manchester City to come, at the interval it was not beyond the realms of possibility that the 12-game barren sequence from 1974 was going to be threatened.
With Alexandre Lacazette and David Luiz on the bench, it was two of Arsenal’s most inexperienced players who sparked the change in fortune.
Ljungberg had obviously seen enough of Martinelli in two substitute appearances to trust the Brazilian with his first league start. The reward was a nerveless finish when his side needed it most. Sead Kolasinac provided the cross but there was still a lot to do for the Brazilian, who steered a first-time effort into the corner.
Emery paid a club record £72m for Pepe in August. With one league goal all season, the Frenchman has not really lived up to his billing but his goal here, a curling shot into the right-hand corner of David Martin’s net, was perfect in its execution.
Aubameyang made certain of a win few would have anticipated 10 minutes earlier when his clinical finish took his tally for the season to 13. It disguised the fact he had been a virtual spectator for the first hour.
At the final whistle, Ljungberg ran to applaud the visiting fans, knowing he had given his own chances of replacing Emery a significant boost.
What now for the unhappy Hammers?
When they beat Chelsea 1-0 nine days ago to end their own winless sequence, it appeared West Ham were on an upward curve.
The combination of boos and thousands of empty seats that accompanied the final whistle on Monday underlined the truth of the matter.
West Ham are perilously close to dropping into the relegation zone, something the club cannot countenance after moving to the 60,000-capacity London Stadium.
Even if Pellegrini survives this defeat, if West Ham lose again at Southampton on Saturday the calls for his dismissal will become piercingly loud.
This was the third home game running in which they had conceded three goals.
The Hammers were not particularly convincing when they were in front. Once they lost the advantage, the lack of confidence so clear in Arsenal’s play transferred to theirs.
Record signing Sebastien Haller was left on the bench and even when he was introduced 20 minutes from time, he made no noticeable impact.
Man of the match: Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal)
‘Like a Duracell battery’ – what they said
Arsenal interim boss Freddie Ljungberg told BBC Sport: “The players have belief and tried to move the ball with more tempo. West Ham got tired.
“The players ran their socks off and fought. I believe in them. When I could see them put their shift in, I could see the quality. I thought ‘it is here for the taking’.
“Martinelli did amazingly. He is like a Duracell battery, he keeps going. Laca [Alexandre Lacazette] is a tremendous player but I had to make a tough decision.”
West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini told BBC Sport: “For 60 minutes there was just one team on the pitch. But football can be like this.
“We made mistakes in moments of defending. The problem was a lack of patience and quality to decide the game with a second goal and we made important mistakes in defence.
“The pressure for me is exactly the same if we win or lose. When you don’t have results things are more difficult. If I had not seen the team play the way they did in the first 65 minutes, I might have doubts [about his ability to turn things around].
“After Southampton at the weekend we have a break. We must try to recover as quickly as we can and we must try to win those three points.”
Rare Arsenal recovery away from home – the stats
- West Ham have lost three in a row at home in the Premier League for the first time since August 2015.
- Arsenal came from a half-time losing position to win a Premier League away game for the first time since October 2011 (5-3 v Chelsea).
- Gabriel Martinelli is Arsenal’s fourth-youngest scorer in the Premier League (18 years 174 days), after Cesc Fabregas, Serge Gnabry and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
- Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been involved in 12 goals in his past 11 Premier League London derbies (nine goals, three assists).
- Since his Premier League debut in February 2018, Aubameyang has scored 43 goals in the competition, a joint-high along with Jamie Vardy.
Arsenal conclude their Europa League group phase campaign at Standard Liege on Thursday (17:55 GMT), still needing a draw to be sure of qualification before entertaining Manchester City at Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Sunday (16:30). West Ham visit Southampton on Saturday (17:30).
Freddie Ljungberg is not the right man to manage Arsenal on a long-term basis, said former Blackburn striker Chris Sutton.
Ex-Gunners midfielder Ljungberg, 42, is in interim charge of the club after they sacked Unai Emery last month.
“Freddie said he was 100% sure they would get into the top four but based on what? It’s fantasy,” said Sutton on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club.
“They need to get someone in place that they are going to get a reaction from.”
Ljungberg, who played for Arsenal between 1998 and 2007, had been Emery’s assistant after working with their under-23 side but has no previous managerial experience.
In his only game in charge so far, the Gunners twice fell behind to a Norwich City side in the bottom three before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang twice equalised in a 2-2 draw.
That result left Arsenal eighth in the Premier League, 21 points behind leaders Liverpool and seven behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
“Did you expect them to be much different?” added Sutton, a Premier League title winner with Blackburn in 1994-95. “It has been the same for the last decade and it’s still the same problem.
“They need to change the model, the recruitment. Over the summer they brought in [winger] Nicolas Pepe [for £72m] but the issues were at the back.”
Former Aston Villa and Chelsea midfielder Andy Townsend agreed with Sutton and said: “I don’t think it’s the right time for Freddie to take over, not the right time for someone who is inexperienced at this level.
“Arsenal need someone to come in and teach them about defending.
“Calum Chambers has been around long enough to see if there’s been an improvement but there hasn’t been. I don’t think he’s good enough to be an Arsenal regular.
“Sokratis is nowhere near good enough. I don’t think he would get into any Premier League side.”
‘If you rely on Sokratis you will be changing manager every six months’
Emery’s sacking by Arsenal came 10 days after Tottenham dismissed Mauricio Pochettino, although Spurs acted decisively by bringing in Jose Mourinho the next day.
“At Tottenham they sacked the manager, it was a bit harsh but the time had come, and they had a manager six hours later, that’s how Arsenal should’ve done it,” said former Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam.
“Whoever comes in, it’s a short-term fix and in January he will need two centre-halves but there’s no money.”
Townsend added: “Jose Mourinho, when he looked at the Spurs team and the players he was working with, he has Son Heung-min, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and thought ‘we have half a chance’.
“With Arsenal you will think ‘I can win games with these players but I’ve got to sort out a team’. You will never stop Sokratis making mistakes. If you rely on him you will be changing manager every six months.”
Rodgers the ‘perfect fit’ for Arsenal – Adam
On Monday, Brendan Rodgers, manager of second-placed Leicester, dismissed speculation linking him with the Arsenal job, although on Sunday he had revealed there was a release clause in his Foxes contract.
“If Arsenal make the phone call and offer whatever that buy-out clause is, £15-£20m, that’s nothing to Arsenal. That sort of money they should find in a heartbeat,” added Townsend.
“They would spend it on a player and throw it away in 10 games. They spent £72m on Pepe and he does not get a game. To spend £25m on Brendan Rodgers, if he is the one they want then why wait?
“We’ve all enjoyed the Leicester story. It has been one of incredible highs and they are a great watch but they’re not on the same level globally as Arsenal are – to be back at Arsenal would be him back up among the elite.”
Adam described Rodgers as “the perfect fit” for Arsenal but doubted whether it would be the best decision from the former Liverpool and Celtic boss to leave Leicester for Arsenal.
“I don’t think it would be a good move for Rodgers,” said Adam. “At Leicester you have a new £100m training ground, four or five players at the top of their game – players like Youri Tielemans, Jamie Vardy, James Maddison.
“I would want my manager to say ‘I’m not interested in any other job’. If you don’t want to get it out there you don’t admit you have a buy-out clause. I think he wants the job.”
What about the other contenders?
Townsend believes Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, who won the Championship in 2017-18 and guided them to seventh in the Premier League last season, is the right man at Emirates Stadium.
“When I see the job he’s done at Wolves, getting them promoted, making them a seriously good team to watch, Nuno would be great,” said Townsend.
“He looks like a coach who wants to get into a player’s head and turn them around and some of the Arsenal players need that.”
Townsend also mentioned former Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez as another strong contender, but did not think Pochettino would move and join Tottenham’s fiercest rivals after more than five years in charge of Spurs.
“I wonder what the Arsenal fans would think of Benitez,” added Townsend. “He has been successful and managed at big clubs and has a history of trying to organise a team – and Arsenal need that.
“It’s too early for Mauricio Pochettino, he needs a breather instead of bouncing out of one job and into another.
“He was gone at the end. Have Christmas off at home and enjoy time with his family and friends. Pochettino can get a better job than Arsenal.”