Trailing 1-0 in a dreary London derby, what Arsenal manager Unai Emery needed was a creative spark to inspire a comeback at West Ham.
Mesut Ozil, perhaps? The playmaker wasn’t in the starting lineup, but he wasn’t on the bench either. And he was not injured.
Arsenal’s highest-paid player — reputedly earning 350,000 pounds a week — wasn’t in Emery’s tactical plans so didn’t make the trip across London to the Olympic stadium.
“I decided the idea of the players that I think are the best for this match,” Emery said. “Today the players who were here are the players who deserved to be in this match. We could’ve won or lost.”
But Arsenal lost — for the third time in six English Premier League matches — after Declan Rice’s first goal for West Ham three minutes into the second half earned the victory.
“We tried for the reaction after the goal, but could not be efficient to create a goal,” Emery said. “We need more, to recover our play.”
Recovering league positions is proving harder. Fifth-place Arsenal fell six points behind Chelsea, which extended its grip on the fourth and final Champions League place after labouring to a 2-1 victory over Newcastle.
Wining the Europa League — something Emery achieved three times at Sevilla — might be Arsenal’s only route back into the Champions League. In Emery’s first season in charge, Arsenal is only two points better off after 22 games than in Arsene Wenger’s final campaign.
Without a Premier League title since 2004, Arsenal looks far from being a contender anytime soon.
Liverpool, though, is well placed to end its 29-year league drought. After the leader’s unbeaten start was ended by Manchester City and then it was knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool beat Brighton 1-0 thanks to Mohamed Salah. The African player of the year netted a penalty four minutes into the second half after being brought down by Pascal Gross.
It put Liverpool seven points ahead of City ahead of the champion playing Wolves on Monday.
“It was not the best performance of the season in a few departments but from a maturity point of view, I would say it is the most mature performance in the season,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said. “We are not the Harlem Globetrotters. We have to deliver results.”
After being linked with a departure from Stamford Bridge, Willian insisted his “future is at Chelsea” after curling a winner into the top corner of the Newcastle goal in the 57th minute.
Chelsea should have completed the job far sooner against a struggling team after Pedro Rodriguez netted the opener in the ninth minute. But Ciaran Clark equalized in the 40th minute after leaping to reach Matt Ritchie’s corner and heading past goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
“It was difficult to kill the match,” Willian said. “We have to be more clinical, but we have the quality to do it.”
Newcastle dropped into the relegation zone, a point from safety.
ON THE RISE
Southampton is out of the bottom three after winning at Leicester 2-1. James Ward-Prowse’s penalty and Shane Long’s first goal in nine months earned Southampton a fourth win of the season — three of them coming in the month since Ralph Hasenhuettl replaced fired coach Mark Hughes.
Tom Cleverley scored from a volley as Watford came from behind to beat Crystal Palace 2-1 and rise to seventh place.
Last-place Huddersfield was initially awarded a penalty at Cardiff after Florent Hadergjonaj fell in the box. But it was overturned after protests by Cardiff players and the game ended 0-0.
Fulham remains three points ahead of Huddersfield in next-to-last place. The London club led at Burnley through Andre Schuerrle’s second-minute strike before conceding two own-goals in three minutes to hand Burnley a 2-1 victory. Jeff Hendrick’s strike went in off Joe Bryan and his cross was inadvertently headed in by Denis Odoi to lift Burnley three points clear of the relegation zone.
Third-place Tottenham on Sunday hosts a Manchester United side enjoying a five-game winning streak in all competitions since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho.
Bournemouth is at Everton.