West Ham 1 Arsenal 5: ALEXIS SANCHEZ is either playing for a move, or a new Arsenal contract.
Whichever, he is doing it increasingly well as his hat-trick in this match propelled Arsene Wenger’s side firmly back into Premier League title contention and left West Ham in a Christmas relegation battle.
Wenger has been doing everything in his power to make the Chilean striker feel loved in London and all he needs to do now is to authorise the dusting down of his old cheque book and pen and the growing feeling is a deal will be done.
With a move back to Spain or Italy unlikely, only Manchester City offer a genuinely viable alternative for Sanchez in the Premier League.
But Pep Guardiola was happy to sell him to Arsenal when he was in charge at Barcelona.
Even nursing an injury, Sanchez was unstoppable for a West Ham defence low in confidence and ability, compared to the South American player.
With the help of a brilliant Francis Coquelin interception, Sanchez showed great touch and skill to set-up fellow contract rebel Mesut Ozil for a 24th minute opening goal.
The German, who is also expected to sign under the weight of a new deal in excess of £200,000-a-week, believes the match represents the return of Arsenal as genuine title contenders.
He said: “We are in a good position in the title race now and survived our annual ’Arsenovember’ without a defeat in the Premier League and are confident for the next matches. We took our chances and didn’t ease off. But we must keep on winning and the lads must stay fit and healthy to stay at the top.”
West Ham did offer some resistance and goalkeeper Petr Cech had to remain alert as the likes of Manuel Lanzini posed the occasional threat on his goal.
Cech said afterwards it was a match Arsenal simply HAD to win.
He explained: “It became a kind of must win game for us when Chelsea won [at Man City] and obviously the gap opened to six points. We knew what we had to do and we did it in a very professional way, so we are happy.
"We a lot of opportunities in the first half but it wouldn’t go in. In the second half at 1-0 their keeper made some fantastic saves and you think it could still be a dangerous scoreline.
"I know a lot of people would have been a bit anxious, but we showed the maturity not to panic and we kept going. We thoroughly deserved the goals for our performance."
Sanchez embarked on his 13 minute hat-trick with 18 minutes of the match remaining. The first started with a breath-taking touch and turn before a swirling low drive. The second was a clinical low shot from distance.
But his third and Arsenal’s fifth, after West Ham substitute Andy Carroll had pulled one back for West Ham and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had scored the visitors’ fourth in style, had all the hallmarks of a world class player at the top of his game as a step-over sent Darren Randolph to the ground before he was beaten with the deftest of chips.
The once-packed London Stadium was virtually empty by then as disgruntled West Ham supporters could not bare to watch. ’You’re not West Ham anymore’ taunted the Arsenal following before breaking into ’We’ll never play here again.’
It left manager Slaven Bilic feeling the need to apologise to the club’s supporters and his employers, but he vowed they would rise from their lowly position - just one point and one place above the relegation zone.
He said: “I feel positive and brave as a person and I feel like I can change it. We can not have excuses like the stadium or injuries, but the only thing we can control is to work hard. I can change the team around and the tactics to provoke something new, but it is all about work and attitude.
“I have never been in a relegation battle, but I have been in in bad places in seasons before and have come back. I am positive will not be in this situation in one, two or three months and definitely not in May.
“But it is better to be honest now and say we are in this relegation situation now and tell ourselves, team-mates, journalists, friends, wives and dogs – then we know what we have to get out of.”
WEST HAM (3-4-2-1)
: Randolph 7 ; Collins 6 (Arbeloa, 5), Ogbonna 5, Reid; Fernandes 5 (Ayew 63, 6), Noble 6 (Carroll 73, 6), Obiang, Masuaku; Fletcher, Payet; Lanzini.
Subs not used
: Adrian, Nordtveit, Feghouli, Zaza.
Cech; Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin 8 (Elneny 87, 6), Xhaka 7; Walcott 5 (Ramsey 66, ), Ozil 8 (Iwobi 88, 6), Oxlade-Chamberlain 7; Alexis 9.
Subs not used
: Ospina, Holding, Lucas.
: Craig Pawson
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