Post Match View – West Ham United F.C.

There’s a movie out with a plot about time travel. The mode of transportation is unconventional to say the least – a hot tub. Yes, a hot tub.

Let’s jump into our own hot tub and go back nine months. What would your reaction have been if I told you then that we’d be playing in a London derby in mid March, with a chance to go top of the table? And what if I added that Alex Song would be the outstanding player in said match, with Eboue being a major headache for the opposition? Here’s a last one; that Almunia would make a HUGE difference in the result.

Chances are that most people would have felt that I’d been out in the sun too long or maybe that I should stop smoking. With the inept Champions League and FA Cup displays behind us, most Gooners were contemplating new signings and demanding a rethink of our transfer policy. The general consensus was that we couldn’t improve on fourth place.

I’ve always felt that we were not far away. My questions about the level of focus and commitment surfaced earlier this season, but I believed that we’d have a chance if we solved those two issues. We’ve seen plenty of focus and commitment lately.

Going top of the league and staying there is what really matters. We’ve reached the summit after defeating West Ham at the Emirates but Liverpool’s defeat at Old Trafford makes that academic. Chelsea have dropped points away to Blackburn however, to add more drama.

With Thomas Vermaelen set to miss a match through suspension, Gooners are fearful that all the good work we’ve done recently will be wasted. The Gallas/Vermaelen axis has been tremendous this season, but we’ll just have to cope without them. The combination of Campbell and Song is solid enough but it weakens our midfield when Song has to fill in at center-half. Mikael Silvestre is very experienced but clearly does not provide enough of what we need.

I cannot stress over it. Winning titles is about overcoming obstacles. Nobody will deny that we haven’t had obstacles.

Cesc and Alex Song returned to the side after injury and suspension. Denilson was retained in place of Diaby. As early as the second minute, Denilson began to grate the nerves by losing the ball and facilitating a West Ham attack.

On 4, Alex Song took the ball off Guillermo Franco as cleanly as you could. The big striker was left on his backside as the man who has quickly become one of the game’s best at his position strode away. It was a slick move that shows how you can be efficient without being a thug about it.

Much has been made of the fact that we don’t score many early goals. Well, Denilson has shown his good and bad sides in the space of five minutes. His one-two with Bendtner at the top of West Ham’s area ended with a very well placed shot inside Robert Green’s left hand post.

1-0 AFC

We would have loved to open the floodgates and put at least few more behind Green but it wasn’t meant to be. I look for Andrey Arshavin to apply his genius in every game but that didn’t happen. There were some very slick Arsenal moves that made spectators of West Ham but no goals resulted.

On 8, Campbell fouled Franco. Diamanti came close with the free kick. One minute later, Song picked up a loose ball from deep and poked it to feed Eboue. After a speedy run down the right side, he lofted a nice ball to Bendtner. Nik nodded it down for Cesc who had moved into a central position inside the D atop West Ham’s area. He touched it back to Denilson who exchanged passes with Nasri before hitting a weak shot.

Shame! That would have been as good a goal as you will see anywhere. The move deserved better.

On 16, Clichy pressured the ball high but failed to get back in position. Diamanti’s excellent pass gave Stanislas space and time where Clichy would normally be. Fortunately, the resulting cross was beyond Mido at the far post.

Cesc was hauled down from behind on 18. The captain has been targeted for a little more than his fair share of attention lately. Kovacs and Behrami continued the trend.

Song was at it again on 20. This time Mido lost out. Again, the ball was taken cleanly, efficiently, with the opponent left on his backside, and without any thuggery. He even won a free kick and a hand slap from the vanquished striker.

On 21, Song picked up another stray pass and played it to Cesc. The captain fed Eboue who used Song as a decoy to get himself a free shot on goal. The shot was free but on goal it was not. The move deserved better.

Another good move came on 22. A thirteen pass build up resulted in a poor layoff by Bendtner to Cesc. It was a terribly lazy pass. The move deserved better.

Nevertheless it was good to watch. Clichy, Cesc, Denilson, Song, Eboue, Nasri, Arshavin, and Bendtner were all involved. It reminded me of when a West Ham supporter said that he doesn’t like all the short passing we do because the football is not direct enough. The man is entitled to feel that way I suppose but when a move involves 8 of the 11 players and ends in the opposition’s penalty area, it is well worth the price of admission. Bendtner made a mess of the final ball but the movement and quick passing was superb.

We were reminded on 23 that our keeper can still have communication problems with his back four. Sol thumped a ball into touch when there was no immediate pressure. The look on his face after a brief discussion with the keeper was noteworthy.

Behrami kicked Cesc on 26. West Ham beat the off-side trap on 28 but failed to punish us. Song cleaned up (again) with ease on 29 to close the first half hour.

Jonathan Spector was not being abused by Arshavin the way I would expect him to be. The gulf in class of the two players is frightening. Nothing less than a demoralizing experience for the West Ham RB will do when those two are matched up.

The remaining 15 minutes saw Eboue cross dangerously but Arshavin was late arriving. Sol got away with a two-footed tackle at the top of our area but then got a yellow at the other end for a rough challenge on Stanislas. The same West Ham man was later allowed to shoot from distance but it caused Almunia little trouble. Song started a move that ended with Cesc crossing dangerously but nobody arrived to finish. The captain had an uncharacteristically bad first touch on a precise and very well weighted ball from Arshavin on 42.

The next significant action happened three minutes later. Alex Song lost the ball in midfield. West Ham played a couple of quick passes before Diamanti sent it long over the top to Franco. Vermaelen raced back with him. As the ball landed, the two crossed the Arsenal 18. Vermaelen’s arm made contact with the striker but it was the contact their legs made that caused Franco to go down. Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot and pulled out a red card.

No arguments from Vermaelen as he walked off. The history of matches played with ten men under Wenger is positive. I don’t have the numbers but I did not feel we would suffer being down a man.

The Second Half started with a spell of pressure from West Ham as a steadier rain began to fall. The referee’s assistant flagged Franco offsides on 54. He was not. Sol played him on. After initially winning the ball near the midfield stripe, Denilson received a pass back from Cesc. He shot from distance to win a deflected corner. The crowd began to make themselves heard.

I felt confident that we could prevent West Ham from scoring. I also felt confident that we could score ourselves. That wouldn’t be helped however by the kind of sloppy, possession gifting kicks Almunia has made in the past and here on 55.

Substitutions were bound to happen. Zola swapped Franco for Cole on 57. Wenger swapped Nik for Abou Diaby. Another good Eboue run was ended by Upson’s foul on 62. Cesc wasted the free kick shooting wide. There was a good spell of pressure from Arsenal. You could see that being down a man hadn’t made them less an attacking force.

Stanislas and Diamanti threatened on 68 and 69 but Sol and Song were equal to their efforts. Sol would threaten Green with a header on 74 but it wasn’t very well struck to be honest. Sagna was introduced for Nasri on 75. A trademark Diaby turn on 77 set him off on a run. His layoff to Arshavin ended with a deflected shot. Carlton Cole could have leveled for West Ham shortly after. His left foot shot beat Almunia but failed to beat the post.

Clichy made a good run on 79 to win a free kick deep in West Ham territory. Would this be the chance? No! Cesc wasted the free kick. On 82, Diamanti played a dangerous square ball to Jonathan Spector with Cesc lurking. The RB failed to control the pass. It got away from him. Cesc beat him to the loose ball and poked it to Eboue. He dribbled forward, changed direction and then squared to the onrushing captain. Cesc’s first touch was handled by Matthew Upson. Penalty!

Francesc Fabregas stepped up to send Green the wrong way and score his 18th goal of the season (15th in the league).

2-0 AFC

A third for Arsenal looked more likely than West Ham getting a consolation goal in the remaining minutes. That makes a run of six league victories since losing to Chelsea. There’s no telling how we’ll do the rest of the way but the belief is strong and continues to get stronger.

Keep the Faith.


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