After 46 days, nine games & 19 goals conceded – The smiles are finally back on Arsenal faces

The Gunners ended their worst slump for 42 years when they came from behind to beat West Ham on Monday thanks to some big calls from Freddie Ljungberg

It was a run that stretched 46 days but Arsenal’s win at West Ham on Monday night finally brought an end to the club’s worst slump in 42 years.

Since beating Vitoria 3-2 on October 24, there had been nine attempts at victory in three different competitions – but all had ended in failure.

Unai Emery lost his job after attempt number seven and Freddie Ljungberg had already seen two opportunities pass him by after being named as interim boss following the Spaniard’s dismissal on November 29.

However, on Monday night, a victory finally arrived and it was somewhat ironic that after nine games without a win – it was nine thrilling second-half minutes at West Ham that got Arsenal back on track.

For an hour, it had looked like a case of the same old story for Arsenal. They were lethargic, they were lacking in quality and they were behind.

But then, Gabriel Martinelli – the Brazilian teenager who had been boldly handed his first ever Premier League start by Ljungberg at the expense of Alexandre Lacazette – turned the game on its head.

Out of nowhere, he popped up to haul Arsenal level with a clinical finish from Sead Kolasinac’s cut-back and Arsenal suddenly looked reborn.

Within six minutes they were ahead and it was Nicolas Pepe – another player brought into the starting XI by Ljungberg – who struck, curling a wonderful finish into the top corner to score his first goal from open play following his £72 million ($95m) summer move from Lille.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then added a third from a Pepe cross to kill off West Ham and allow Arsenal the luxury to cruise through the remainder of the game at the London Stadium in second gear.

When the full-time whistle went, the relief was palpable. Since that win against Vitoria way back in October, Arsenal had suffered three defeats and been held to six draws.

During that time, they had scored 15 goals while conceding 19. It’s been as painful a run as large parts of the fanbase can remember. Ljungberg himself was just a month old the last time the Gunners had gone nine games without a win.

So, it was no surprise to see the Swede march onto the pitch at full-time. Sokratis headed over and buried his face in Ljungberg’s shoulder as they embraced, thumping his back in celebration.

Lucas Torreira, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Bernd Leno and Pepe all made a beeline for the temporary boss. This was a big night for Ljungberg, not that he would let you know it.

“It means so much for the players and I’m delighted for them,” he said. “They’ve been playing under immense pressure. I could feel West Ham getting tired and our passing was getting crisper. We sliced through them and the result is amazing.

“Football throws a curve ball at you all the time but the players responded. They worked so hard, and in the Premier League you have to. It’s all down to the players – I’m just there to guide them a little bit.”

The key for Arsenal now is kicking on from Monday night. They now head to Belgium to take on Standard Liege on Thursday and will book their spot in the Europa League knockout rounds providing they avoid a five-goal defeat.

The Gunners will then face Manchester City, Everton, Bournemouth, Chelsea and Manchester United during the hectic festive period.

It’s a rough set of fixtures, which is why victory on Monday night was so important. The winless run had decimated confidence levels throughout the squad, but in those nine second-half minutes you could visibly see the players being lifted.

And although Ljungberg was keen to give all the credit to his players, he deserves a fair share of it himself. Benching a player of Lacazette’s stature in favour of a teenager can’t have been easy, especially for an interim boss, but it was the right decision.

With Martinelli on one wing and Pepe on the other, Arsenal began to play with real pace once they had equalised, something that has been lacking throughout the past couple of months.

They carried a threat, with Mesut Ozil dropping deep to get on the ball to provide them with the ammunition to attack – just as he did in the build up to Pepe’s fabulous strike.

This has to be the blueprint for Arsenal over the coming weeks. Manchester United showed at the weekend how to hurt City and you feel Pepe, Martinelli and Aubameyang can do what Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial did at the Etihad.

Belief is a funny thing. For 60 minutes it was obviously lacking at the London Stadium, but half an hour later things were very different.

The smiles at the end said it all. For the first time in a long time, the squad looked united as they celebrated in front of the joyous away fans.

“I don’t think any of us can really imagine [how hard it has been],” said Ljungberg. “They’ve been low but you could see in the dressing room how relieved they are.

“I try to not get carried away because I still feel that there are things we need to work on and we’re not near to where I want us to be.

“But, of course, I hope that the happiness the players could feel, and that spirit and belief in themselves, will have a positive effect.”

Time will tell if that’s the case, but there is no doubt Arsenal now head into the Christmas period in much better shape thanks to the turnaround at West Ham.

Tougher tests lie ahead but Ljungberg’s men can at least approach them with a victory to fall back on.

“That winning feeling is back,” Ozil tweeted after Monday night’s win. “How I’ve missed you!”

Never have nine words captured the mood of a fanbase more.

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