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Arsenal go fourth as Martinelli and Smith Rowe sink 10-man West Ham

If Arsenal were pining for a glimpse of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at his peak, they were given it by a youngster who has patently learned from the best. Gabriel Martinelli’s form has been fitful since he returned from injury a year ago but this was his best all-round performance under Mikel Arteta and he crowned it in a fashion that felt eerily familiar. When Alexandre Lacazette threaded a cutely weighted pass through the inside-left channel three minutes into the second half, Martinelli took a touch before wrapping his right foot around the ball and snaking it past Lukasz Fabianski.

Remind you of anyone? Such finishes have been Aubameyang’s stock in trade but here Arsenal looked more than capable of moving on from their deposed captain, dropped for the second successive game. Once proceedings had settled down they outclassed a disappointingly muted West Ham and showed that life does not begin and end with conjecture over Mikel Arteta’s iron fist. It puts them fourth, having leapfrogged their visitors, and while games in hand for Spurs and Manchester United mean they occupy that spot with an asterisk there is no doubt that displays of this quality are the key to a long-term stay.

Arsenal have struggled to turn possession into opportunities at times this season but managed 21 shots here, many of them genuinely threatening, and would not have blushed at a higher margin of victory. They might have achieved that if Fabianski had not saved Lacazette’s penalty, after a sequence that included Vladimir Coufal’s sending off, in the 69th minute, but it was to their credit that the stand-in skipper’s aberration did not knock them off course. Emile Smith Rowe, on as a substitute, spoke eloquently of their youthful vibrancy with a storming run and finish late on. As markers go, this showing had the same conviction as their demolitions of Spurs, Aston Villa and Leicester.

Only a run of such offerings will keep them in Champions League contention but there is little doubt that, one way or another, at least half this team will end up on that stage. Bukayo Saka had the time of his life against Arthur Masuaku and, even allowing for his opponent’s frailties, looks close to his best form. Ben White gave an often isolated Michail Antonio little change and Aaron Ramsdale excelled when called upon behind him. The fact Martin Ødegaard, who pulled the strings beautifully, could be replaced by Smith Rowe to no detrimental effect demonstrated the polyvalence Arteta’s squad is developing.

Now they must find a thus-far elusive consistency but Arteta was delighted by the “pride and energy” that brought a sustained, insistent final 70 minutes. West Ham arrived with three of their first-choice backline missing, a situation that will not quickly be resolved given Angelo Ogbonna and Kurt Zouma are long-term absentees, but their centre-backs Craig Dawson and Issa Diop were hardly callow reserves.

Only last-ditch blocks from Dawson kept Arsenal at bay as they scented blood midway through the opening period; as the tempo ramped up they came closer, Kieran Tierney forcing Fabianski to tip a dipping volley against the bar. Just before half-time the keeper saved from Lacazette and Dawson, virtually a one-man backline by this point, put Martinelli off snaffling the loose ball. The equation seemed simple when the teams re-emerged: if Arsenal could replicate their performance of the previous 20 minutes, it was overwhelmingly likely they would win.

Martinelli confirmed that impression with a goal his output richly deserved. The 20-year-old earned applause from Arteta before the interval when, after initially misjudging a crossfield ball to Coufal, he chased back to dispossess the Czech. After scoring he began to enjoy himself, earning rapturous cheers with a spin and nutmeg on Tomas Soucek. “His overall understanding of the game is getting much better,” Arteta said. “He is able to put some gears into his play instead of doing everything at 100mph.”

Regardless, Arsenal kept up a brisk pace even if Ramsdale had to save smartly from Manuel Lanzini. They should have wrapped things up when Coufal, winning the ball from Lacazette but following through over it, received his second yellow card from Anthony Taylor and the double punishment of a spot-kick. David Moyes, whose 600th Premier League game offered little cheer, was clearly frustrated with his right-back but had temporary relief when Fabianski parried the striker’s effort.

It was Arsenal’s third straight penalty miss but no reflection on Lacazette, who has embraced the captaincy in the two games since it was taken from his good friend and was richly praised by Arteta afterwards. West Ham briefly suggested 10 men might operate more effectively than 11 but were put to the sword when Smith Rowe surged inside before cutting a clever shot inside a static Fabianski’s near post. Suddenly the vision for Arsenal’s future looks considerably clearer.