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West Ham 0 Arsenal 6: Rice’s stunning return, Saka’s 50th goal and Gabriel’s landmark

This was not so much a contest but a canter for Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta’s team had lost to West Ham United over Christmas despite having 30 shots on goal — revenge was clearly on their mind.

Even though it took until the 32nd minute for William Saliba to head in the opener, Arsenal were 4-0 up at half-time. Bukayo Saka’s penalty in the 41st minute made it two and was the first of three goals in six minutes, with Gabriel heading in a corner before Leandro Trossard curled a shot into the top corner for the 8,000th goal in Arsenal’s history.

Thousands of home fans were leaving by that point but Arsenal showed no mercy. Saka added his second before Declan Rice, who had been booed by his former fans, hammered home a sixth from 25 yards.

The Athletic’s Jordan Campbell analyses Arsenal’s biggest win of the season.

How many goals can Saka score for Arsenal?

When he sent Alphonse Areola the wrong way from the penalty spot, Saka became the youngest player to reach 50 goals for Arsenal since Frank Stapleton in 1978.

To reach that total in just 210 games, with another 49 assists, is extraordinary for a 22-year-old whose introduction to the first team came during a period of turmoil.

He has played left-back, left wing-back, right wing-back and central midfield before becoming a key figure on the right wing, which makes his numbers even more impressive.

Saka’s penalty doubled Arsenal’s lead (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

He now has 13 goals and 13 assists this season. The penalty was significant because he missed a penalty at the Olympic Stadium to put Arsenal 3-1 ahead last season when David Moyes’ side came back to draw 2-2.

It was the start of Arenal’s title demise but Saka was rampant as soon as they took the lead. He was taking up much more central areas from crosses and could have scored three times within five minutes before he ran in behind to win the penalty.

It was a ruthless period of football for Saka who, after playing his 159th Premier League game, moved to joint-31st on Arsenal’s list.

West Ham had no answer to him and he added a second after the interval when he cut inside to finish with his left foot. He was even given a rest once Rice scored the sixth.

How important has Gabriel become to Arteta?

Since joining Arsenal in 2020, Gabriel has played the most minutes for Arsenal of any player, bar Saka.

The Brazil centre-back’s improvement since joining forces with Saliba has been a major part of Arsenal’s progress but he has become a key player from an attacking perspective.

In his 150th game for the club, he became the leading goalscorer in the Premier League from set pieces (excluding penalties) in those three and a half years.

Gabriel celebrates a landmark game with a goal (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

He was level with West Ham’s James Ward-Prowse but his header before half-time took him one clear on 14.

Following his double against Crystal Palace last month, he scored another from a Rice free kick. He has become the main target in Nicolas Jover’s set-piece playbook but his maturity is helping Arsenal control games.

In the second half, he was still celebrating every duel won. It was so easy that at, one point, he lost his boot, had it retrieved by Trossard and returned to him, all in the time West Ham got exactly nowhere with the ball.

Will goal difference be crucial in title race?

Just as the title race enters the period when games can get nervous and tight, Arsenal recorded their biggest league victory in Arteta’s tenure.

They had reached five goals in a game six times under the Spaniard but this was the first time they had hit that number since beating Everton (managed by David Moyes) 6-1 in August 2009.

At 0-0, Arsenal had missed a few chances with Trossard twice going close but it was not a complete battering.

As soon as Saliba opened the scoring, though, Arsenal went for the jugular. There was no hint of them being content to shut down the game; they were here to fill their boots.

Six different scorers and six different types of goals, achieved with a third different No 9 in as many games, went some way to supporting Arteta’s belief that collective responsibility can carry them to the title.

The way they turned the key to go level with Manchester City on goal difference, and just one behind Liverpool, was a sign that Arsenal may have learned how to cope with the tension since the run-in last season.

What did Arteta say?

(On his biggest win as Arsenal manager) “Obviously, I’m really happy. Collectively and individually, we showed a lot of things we discussed before the match against an opponent who has made life very difficult for us in the last few games.

“The performance against them at the Emirates was really good — the efficiency that we showed was nowhere near enough to win in the Premier League and today we’ve done it.

“It was a very emotional day for Declan Rice — I know how much he loves West Ham and how grateful he was for his time here. He managed that with a lot of maturity and it was great for the crowd to give him the standing ovation.

“The goal difference is important but we have to go game by game, enjoy this and go again. On to Burnley.”

What next for Arsenal?

Saturday, February 17: Burnley (A), Premier League, 3pm GMT, 10am ET

It’s just two wins from their last five for Arsenal against Burnley but, crucially, this isn’t Sean Dyche’s Burnley.

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(Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

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