West Ham Left Frustrated As Arsenal Are Finally On Song
Arsenal 1 – 0 West Ham United
1 – 0 Song (88)
An afternoon where Arsene may have learnt more about his team than a humdinging win. Little doubt that the performance was not at the level of those achieved against Manchester City, Shaktar and Newcastle; West Ham set out to frustrate, waste time and generally make life as difficult as possible. Allied to those tactics, Robert Green stood proud, determined to deny Arsenal in the process of proving his critics wrong.
Despite this, a win was ground out. The players would not have known it but the pressure had cranked up on them five minutes before Song’s late goal; events at Ewood Park had extended Chelsea’s lead at the top to seven points, essentially undoing the good work of wins since Arsenal’s defeat at Stamford Bridge. Criticism of the performance whilst not misplaced is founded on a false assumption. Clubs lower down the division set out to deny Arsenal space and stop them dominating the rhythm of the match; West Ham succeeded to a certain extent, not attacking as they might in the reverse fixture.
Arsenal showed one change from the team which started at Eastlands, Laurent Koscielny had proven his fitness in the win at Newcastle and was restored to the centre of the defence. The weather reflected the changing seasons, an autumnal shower reflected West Ham’s season so far. A promise of brighter things dampened in the end.
The match started evenly, Arsenal dominating possession, the scurrying Arshavin amply involved but there was little end product. West Ham traded punches but found the fist of Fabianski more than a match for anything they had to offer. Much effort by both sides but Arsenal gradually asserted themselves, creating real opportunities giving Green the opportunity to prove his reputation from his younger years might have been built on solid foundations.
The first clear opening fell to Fabregas. Song released Sagna on the right, the full back putting the first of several decent passes into the box. The Arsenal captain launched his effort goalwards but Green collected the ball comfortably. Post match, it transpired that a hamstring problem was besetting the Spaniard, restricting mobility under some half time repair work assisted his movement. The midweek trip to the Ukraine is surely one the captain will miss. At the other end, Noble found Fabianski’s midrift.
The end of the half threatened a breakthrough. Song’s drive was blocked by Green, the chance fashioned following a neat interchange of passes with his captain. Squillaci found space from the resultant corner but Green found the strength in his fingertips to push the ball to safety.
The second half started in a similar vein. Arsenal were barely able to get into second gear but Samir Nasri came closest to breaking the deadlock with a thunderous free kick that rattled the bar before disappearing into the crowd and safety from the visitor’s perspective. The introduction of Theo Walcott with an hour passed gave the attack an injection of pace and urgency. He almost broke the deadlock, racing onto a Fabregas through ball, cracking a shot against the post, the rebound falling into the grateful clasp of Green. With time running out, Green would once more deny Walcott and Fabregas whilst Chamakh will feel he should have scored with a clear opportunity but a poor header denied him the chance to continue his excellent home scoring record.
The breakthrough when it came was from an unlikely source. Clichy found space on the left, strolled into the area and dinked a cross with his right foot. Having sprayed the ball wide with the outside of his boot to start the move, Song continued his run to the far post and guided his header into the net. The relief was tangible, an afternoon’s frustration erupted for this that had not left early.
Three vital points, a credible title challenge emerging on the back of three straight Premier League wins. More importantly, a oft-stated criticism of the squad not being able to win when they play badly was shown to be fallacy.
There were some bright spots for Wenger, most notably Lukasz Fabianski’s continued good form. Whilst Green is being lauded for his saves, the Pole deserves credit for excellent positional sense. Everything West Ham threw at him was comfortably handled, his awareness of where he was making it seem as if shots and headers were straight at him.
Alex Song’s goalscoring form is important; he is enjoying more licence to go forward and displaying confidence in front of goal, releasing some of the pressure on others by scoring. The threat from Arsenal’s midfield has increased as a result. Equally, there was some intelligent supporting play in the second half particularly, from the full backs. It seemed they made better choices with their delivery and whilst it was not always perfect, it seemed they thought more about where their targets were and concentrated rather than peppering the crowd and photographers.
A welcome win that indicates staying power; a win that shows the determination of the players that this time they will walk the walk as they talk the talk.