Test Of Character Passed As Arsenal Overcome Ref & West Ham
Arsenal 2 – 0 West Ham United
1 – 0 Denilson (5)
2 – 0 Fabregas (83 pen)
Sent off: Vermaelen (45)
The win that was required to send Arsenal to the summit of the Premier League, arrived with a performance that summed up why the squad are serious contenders for that crown. A routine victory became hard fought, a testament to experience borne out of footballing hardship. Roundly condemned as lightweight throughout the season, the squad has pulled together, regrouped and ensured that no-one forget that the title is not won only by the results against those around you. First place may be surrendered this afternoon but no-one is doubting Arsenal are genuine challengers for the title.
Referees are routinely berated, unjustly cast as scapegoats when results reflect poor performances. On this occasion, Martin Atkinson finds his decision-making destroyed by the petard of inconsistency. Thomas Vermaelen’s red card was a poor decision by the officials. The Assistant flagged for the penalty kick but should have communicated with the referee that there was no clear goalscoring opportunity; he had a clear view that Franco did not have the ball under control in that instance. Atkinson was too far behind the play, Vermaelen and Franco obscuring any interpretation he may have had by their bodies. Replays show contact was minimal and on the edge of the area. There is no way the referee can judge the incident under those circumstances.
The spot kick was well struck but the initial save and collection of the parry were outstanding goalkeeping. Almunia has his detractors and would readily admit he is not the best goalkeeper in the world but as his career progresses, the Spaniard is improving, finding a consistency of performance that is often wilfully overlooked. Condemned as being incapable of winning matches with saves, he rammed that criticism back down the throats of those who call for him to be replaced.
Under normal circumstances, he would probably have won Man of the Match. That award surely went to Alex Song, an opportunity to prove himself as a central defender came when he would not have desired one. His performance alongside Campbell was assured, reading the game well, dogged in his determination to subdue a woeful West Ham forward line. Even with ten men, Arsenal restricted the visitors to few clear chances, bodies flung at crosses when Cole and McCarthy entered the fray, preventing them from gaining comfortable headers or shots. When the backline was breached, the woodwork came to Arsenal’s rescue – did Cole’s effort striking a post represent a pivotal moment in the season? Campbell’s exhalation reflected those in the stands.
It was an afternoon which had begun brightly. Denilson broke the deadlock, combining with Bendtner before striking home in a comfortably controlled manner, past Green with the match barely into its’ stride. The goal was the perfect start with the movement of the Arsenal midfield and forwards proving to be too spritely and alive for the West Ham defence. Yet too often the final ball was not delivered to the feet and when it was, Bendtner and Denilson were unable to find the finishes.
On Vermaelen’s departure, the tide might have been expected to turn in West Ham’s favour. Such is the paucity of their form that they did not try to capitalise on their numerical advantage, conscious of the fact that they may leave themselves open to a decisive counter-attack. Those moments came, notably as full-time approached, Arshavin broke clear following Cesc’s deft pass. The Russian though had his head down and the chance went with Eboue free on the right and Cesc following up.
Robert Green’s handling of crosses is an area for which he is roundly chastised. Yesterday proved no different although as a shotstopper, he is altogether more confident, Campbell and Arshavin in particular giving him to prove that the England shirt is not beyond him. He has a decent record when it comes to penalties as well, Upson gave him the opportunity to enhance that by carelessly handling the ball as Cesc flicked it through. The Spaniard though gave no truck to those thoughts, sending the ball into the opposite corner to Green’s dive, confirming the win and top spot.
Overall, it was a good performance, the ten men overshadowing the efforts of the eleven in the first half. Numerical disadvantage makes assessing individuals harder unless they have been outstanding. It such situations, midfield and defence will always outperform if a lead is to be preserved. Eboue and Clichy were excellent in the full back roles. The Frenchman is heading back towards his best form following his lay-off, stifling unwarranted criticism.
The forwards were not their sparkling best, Nasri was understandably not as influential on the right as he had been centrally, Arshavin and Bendtner worked hard but were fruitless in their endeavours. Yet whilst the end product was not there, swamped at times by defensive numbers, their abilities are such that they subdue defences by their threat on and off the ball. It is the whole in a match such as yesterday’s which matters; it was a whole that proved more than capable to the circumstances in which they found themselves.