West Ham United 0 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 van Persie (13)
0 – 2 Walcott (41)
0 – 3 van Persie (77 pen)
Arsenal returned to winning ways with a comfortable win at Upton Park yesterday. Amid the Last Rites being administered to Avram Grant’s reign, Robin van Persie took the headlines with a brace of goals but Theo Walcott’s contribution should not go unnoticed; a goal, an assist and winning the penalty to seal victory. Wayne Bridge was baffled, bemused and eventually substituted, a strain caused by the misery heaped on him by the England youngster.
Following the criticism of performances against Leeds and Ipswich – useful advanced scouting for West Ham for next season – Wenger resorted to his in-form and strongest starting line-up. It was more balanced than the two previous fixtures where the squad rotation took ill-effect.
It took Arsenal thirteen minutes to break the deadlock. Nasri had given West Ham a warning, his shot saved comfortably by Green but that message went unheeded. Wilshere slid a pass to Walcott, who found himself in acres of space on the right. Bridge ambled to meet him but the England international was not waiting and calmly passed the ball into the middle, Nasri ran to the near post and dummied, van Persie applied the clinical finish. It was all too easy.
Six minutes later, the contest should have been over. Walcott chased with Tomlinson, the defender doing enough to send Walcott off balance, his tame effort going straight into the arms of Green. Song has been reading from the Fat Frank book of Shooting, the Cameroonean almost found the net with the help of a sizeable deflection.
But this is Arsenal and things are never easy. Djourou, under pressure from Carlton Cole, underhit his backpass. The West Ham forward pounced but found Szczesny blocking his path. The rebound fell to Boa Morte before Hines took over, his shot narrowly clearing the crossbar.
Yet this was a sporadic attack. Normal service was resumed as Nasri gambolled through the West Ham midfield, feeding van Persie whose shot struck the base of the post before cannoning to safety. How many times has that happened for the Dutchman? Sufficient in quantity to have put Thierry Henry’s scoring record under threat had they found the net instead.
Nasri then missed having been sent into space by Cesc, dragging his shot wide. With each attack, the West Ham deliquesced and the second Arsenal goal would follow with four minutes to half-time. Fabregas freed van Persie, the Dutchman got to the by-line before pulling the ball back into the centre where Theo Walcott stole a march on the hapless Bridge, his shot hitting the roof of the net.
The second half found Arsenal playing within themselves, ready to repel any West Ham attacks whilst prepared to hit on the counter whenever an opportunity presented itself.
The only opportunity of note for the hosts was Sears cross which looked as though it may sneak into the far corner, Szczesny tipping over the bar instead. The rout was completed when Theo Walcott forced Bridge into yet another error. Walcott nipped forward chasing a ball into the area but away from goal. Bridge lunged, missed the ball and took Walcott instead. van Persie drilled the ball past Green.
Three points were taken comfortably. Wilshere might have made it more emphatic but the headlines were taken by the lugubrious Grant and his shambolic employers. And I doubt Arsene is complaining; third still, two points off the top and hoping for a belated Christmas Miracle with Spurs taking points off Manchester United this afternoon.
Arsenal head off to Upton Park having given West Ham a scouting trip of their own for next season’s opponents in the recent cup ties. It will not have escaped the ‘Appy ‘Ammers notice that Arsenal have had trouble breaking down opponents who have placed five across the midfield.
Despite the protestations of Cesc Fabregas about how bad such tactics are, West Ham will do the same, seeking to frustrate as they did at The Emirates not so long ago. The absence of Scott Parker might make it a less congested area of the pitch but even so, Arsenal has to learn how to deal with such tactics and bring about a positive result. Even Manchester United employ such ploys against Arsenal; it says it all, this is the way to get results against The Gunners.
The Arsenal starting XI though will pretty much be back to full strength. Bacary Sagna is definitely missing as he serves the last of his three match suspension whilst Lukasz Fabianski is missing through injury. That would mean a starting XI of:
Szczesny; Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Wilshere; Walcott, van Persie, Nasri
Fabianski was confirmed by Wenger as the Arsenal Number One, with Almunia relegated to Number Three. The Spaniard’s departure, should it happen, would not even require a new goalkeeper to be brought in, sufficient reserves are deemed to exist at the club with Vito Mannone available in the event of a severe injury crisis. When the manager says that he is not going to replace you when you leave, it is an instructive comment as to how far down the pecking order you have fallen.
Arsene shed no new light on Vermaelen’s injury yesterday, save to say that surgery was unlikely. No new signing either with the club refusing to comment on Oxlade-Chamberlain or any immediate requirement for a central defender. It was business as usual, denying interest in players although claiming that Koscielny’s signing had been unexpected was accompanied by the sound of the truth being stretched out of all recognisable shape, the Frenchman’s arrival trumpeted from all corners of the globe several months before the actual event.
Whilst Arsene signalled the end of one Arsenal career, he was at great pains to emphasise that another was nowhere near over. Andrey Arshavin is the current target for witty put-downs. Arsene does not want the Russian to leave, perhaps paying too much attention to the words of Arshavin’s former agent than he should.
On the subject of the Russian’s form, Wenger said,
As soon as a player doesn’t play fantastically well, he is criticised. We all know that.
I personally believe he is a great player – he is going through a period where it is more difficult at the moment. But he works very hard in training – his attitude is fantastic and I am desperate to keep him.
He has played almost every single game since the start of the season – he has played for his national team as well and he is physically a bit less fresh. But he will come back stronger than ever because he works very hard in training.
The Russian is capable of turning matches. Indeed had Theo Walcott provided a better finish, no replay would have been necessary against Leeds, such was the exquisite nature of Arshavin’s through ball. His confidence in front of goal is missing but could return as easily as it was lost. If, as Wenger hinted at, he is knackered then a rest is surely in order?
Either way, I would not expect him to start this afternoon. This is a fixture that Champions traditionally win. With Manchester United at Tottenham tomorrow, this is the opportunity to close the gap to a point and then to hope that Stratford Hotspur deem the occasion big enough to prove that they are a top four club. For this weekend at least.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
West Ham United arrive at The Emirates this afternoon rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, a solitary win all season with three 1-1 draws to accompany it in the paltry six points from nine games. The sort of home banker which Arsene has been careful to warn his charges about, stopping the complacency which cost dear against West Brom recently.
West Ham seem to enjoy visiting Arsenal in October; the nine matches previously played in this month at Highbury ended with five draws and the sides emerging victorious in equal measure in the remaining four matches. If they need straws to clutch at, this is a pretty decent one to hold onto. That the last fixture was in 1982 makes that straw bend significantly.
Having seen his squad win four consecutive matches, Wenger noted that this sort of sequence must be maintained if the title is to be delivered,
It is very tight at the top and two conclusions come out of that. The consistency will be rewarded in the end and that everybody can drop points against everybody.
I believe that the League is very difficult and you have to be focused for every single game or you will drop points. But realistically seven teams could win the League.
Whilst the seven could win the league, realistically anyone outside of four would be a surprise. Even then, there is some debate as to whether or not the four are in with a chance, many content to proclaim the title already at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal needs a good run to put that suggestion to bed and the matches between now and the end of November are a good chance to test their title credentials, wins essential.
It is this focus which has been evident in the past fortnight and needs to be maintained. Wenger has undoubtedly been aided by the return of fitness to the majority of his walking wounded, Robin van Persie aiming for the derby against Tottenham as a comeback game is further good news.
For Wenger, the biggest boost has been the return of Nicklas Bendtner and his confidence in front of goal. Two goals in less than a game and a half is devastating form, difficult to maintain but enough to make those ahead of him think about their own game and realise that their place in the starting line-up is not as secure as they might believe. Likewise, Theo Walcott’s brace at St James’ Park puts him firmly in the manager’s mind for a starting place this afternoon. Maybe two games in three days might be too much, too soon but nonetheless Wenger will be relishing the options available.
In particular, Andrey Arshavin will be thinking hardest. The versatility of the returning strike force might induce more consistency from the Russian. He has the ability to be an automatic choice in the starting line-up but at times drifts out of games, infuriatingly. It seems to me unlikely though that Chamakh and Bendtner would start the same match unless the Dane was played on the right hand side of the attack. Even then that would surely be if injuries arose in others? It is van Persie’s return which may spark the Russian into action, the Dutchman more than capable of asserting his right to a place with goals on a regular basis.
Younger players though are occupying Wenger’s mind. Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny are being offered new deals, the young goalkeeper gave a hint that the hype surrounding him might have some substance, on Wednesday at Newcastle. A nervous start was followed by an excellent contribution, notable for his concentration through to the final minutes. Wenger seemed confident that a deal could be negotiated and is revelling in the choices he has for his main custodian.
It is a little early to be crowing that the problem is solved but the form of Lukasz Fabianski has clouded the issue. He needs time to prove that his erratic previous is down to a lack of match action but Wenger believes that he is going to prove his doubters wrong,
He always felt that if he could get a run of games, then he could show how good he is. He always felt it [his reputation] was only on one game and he felt under pressure to show how good he is in one game. Now he is a bit more relaxed.
He is what I call a natural goalkeeper, the rhythm of the game runs through his body. He smells what will happen. He is technically very gifted, after that every goalkeeper progresses and they blossom at 28 until 38.
Having seen how confidence, or lack of it, destroyed the Arsenal career of Philippe Senderos, little wonder that Wenger is sensitive to the subject,
Of course [the mistakes he made last season] affected him. The Porto game was very bad for him. The confidence problem is a very interesting subject in top-level sport. You feel it goes quickly and comes back slowly. If you are an established name and you make a mistake, then people say ‘you have had a bad day’. If you come into the team and you make a mistake people say you are not good enough. That’s a massive difference.
There is undoutebly a chance for him to prove people wrong and Wenger has to contribute to that. Replace Fabianski with Almunia and that confidence will once more ebb away. Yet the feeling is that the Pole is still as good as his last mistake. That he has so far come back and played well is testament to his ability and mental strength. Long may that continue.
This afternoon’s team is more likely to be that which took the pitch at Eastlands last weekend. Wenger will no doubt be keen to avoid muscular injuries following various injury lay-offs although Laurent Koscielny’s performance at Newcastle suggests he will return to the starting line-up at the expense of Johan Djourou. I would expect the starting XI to be:
Fabianski; Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Denilson; Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin
The key is a win. The only tough fixture this afternoon for any of the top five is Tottenham v Manchester United. Chelsea ought to win at Blackburn, Manchester City likewise at Wolves. It is important that Arsenal focus on winning first, presuming that the gap will not widen this weekend. Any reduction in the five points between first and second is a bonus.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
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.
The ‘Appy ‘Ammers struggle with the Crosstown Traffic this evening, in media eyes sacrificial lambs brought to the altar of The Emirates for a ritual slaughter. The sides meet for the third time with eyes drawn back to the Premier League following yesterday’s Champions League draw for the Quarter and Semi-Finals.
If Arsenal wanted to test themselves against the best in Europe, the route to The Bernabeu in May certainly presents those opportunities. I suspect Arsene might have preferred the first leg to have been in the Catalan capital but either way, Barcelona represents the sternest of tests. Arsene noted in his press conference that Arsenal will be ‘billed’ as underdogs. Suits me down to the ground, there will be a plethora of stories about how the squad is not good enough to compete with Barca and some will no doubt comment we should not even be in the same stadium (bring it on, Collymore!) but who cares what the media think?
Arsene does as he vainly hoped that the build-up would not be dominated by stories surrounding Cesc. Of course they will. Every press conference between now and then will be 20 minutes of transfer gossip and speculation, 30 seconds about the match. In a masochistic way, the coverage will be captivating; the English press will blame the Spanish media for the stories and the vicious circle will be completed as the roles are reversed. Supporters will be left in the middle wondering how an innocent comment can be twisted into so many different meanings, enough to make the Chinese wish that they had never whispered in the first place.
Wenger also noted that the venues for the two legs were not important in terms of their sequence:
Statistically it is not proven. We like to think in our job that to play at home in the second leg is an advantage, but it is not proven at all in the statistics. It is 50:50. These are ties where the quality of your concentration for 180 minutes and the form of the day is very important. We have to go into these games with the right focus
Sorry Arsene but being at home in the second leg is statistically proven to be advantageous. Since the Quarter Final stage was reintroduced in 1994/95, there have been 90 quarter and semi final ties; 49 teams who played the first leg away from home have progressed, 41 home sides have done so. Indeed, on two occasions – 2001/02 and 2007/08 – teams who played the first leg away from home progressed. No such clean sweep has been achieved by the home sides in the first leg of each tie. Statistically proven but not as emphatically as football folklore likes to believe. Of course, his point was that it will take two excellent performances to progress. No argument there.
Reading comments around the web yesterday, I am stunned that people are nervous of this tie, entirely negative in some circumstances. Honestly, I do not understand that mentality. If you cannot look forward to matches such as these, then why bother following football at all. There are precious few big matches in a season; this will be the biggest that The Emirates has ever hosted, including last season’s semi-final. Perhaps it was the sense of anti-climax due to the performance on the night but this one seems bigger, possibly because United are a ‘routine’ domestic opponent.
Barcelona’s form over the last two seasons has been nothing less than outstanding. Anyone who is not impressed by them is blind or stupid, quite possibly both. Arsene will no doubt have spotted weaknesses and there have been occasions from those matches that I have seen, where Barca have appeared vulnerable. Even so, a team which has lost once in the League, once in the Champions League and once in the Copa del Rey cannot under any circumstances being treated lightly. The manager and players will leave the bravado to us in the stands.
Focus is drawn sharply back to this evening’s match. A win puts Arsenal top until tomorrow at least. A win is all that is required this afternoon. A resounding victory which adds substantially to the goal difference would be a bonus. With West Ham struggling, it is a match Arsenal should be confident of ending with maximum points. Hull gave an indication that those teams down at the bottom will be resolute in their defending, Arsenal will not take the outcome as a foregone conclusion.
Team news is mixed. The returns of Song, Fabregas and Rosicky are most welcome. Tinging that news with some disappointment were Arsene’s comment that Robin van Persie, although progressing well, is unlikely to play before mid-May. Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue on his part – and Wenger made the comment before the Champions League draw – but the Premier League season ends in early May.
The returning trio strengthens the squad. Whether all three will start is another matter although I would like to think that they are fit enough to do so. Fabregas will no doubt slot straight into his central role which is hard on Samir Nasri as his form in that position has been sparkling. I hope that he can continue this from a wide position, the fate he resigned himself to a while ago when he commented that although he knew playing on the flanks hurt his World Cup chances, he wanted to play for Arsenal and if Arsene put him on the wing, that is where he was happy to play.
That attitude is one that seems to pervade the whole of the squad with square pegs in round holes as the injury situation dictated. It is also the reason why English players rarely come to Wenger’s attention. Few are technically adept at playing the game in the style he demands, even fewer have the versatility to do so in a variety of positions.
Were I to pick the starting line-up, it would be as follows:
Almunia; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Diaby; Nasri, Bendtner, Arshavin
with a bench of:
Fabianski, Eboue, Silvestre, Denilson, Rosicky, Walcott, Vela
A reminder of how good it is to see Arsenal at the top? This is the Premier League table from six years ago today (courtesy of When Saturday Comes):
A repeat of those top 3 positions come Monday morning would be most welcome. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.
The short trip to Upton Park heralds the FA Cup, a competition which is rapidly acquiring the same status as the League Cup in its various guises. Rotation is the order of the day for Arsenal and it would be little surprise to see substantial changes from the team which wiped the floor with Aston Villa. For both sides, today’s encounter could be considered an unwelcome distraction to their Premier League aspirations, victory and survival more important in the longer term for both clubs.
Alex Song is likely to be one of the few who retain the place although depending upon injuries, he may be required to form a partnership at the centre of the Arsenal defence with Mikael Silvestre. The question mark arises with Philippe Senderos who is apparently ready to return although Arsene’s phraseology left some doubt as to whether or not the Swiss international is entirely fit. Assuming he is, he and Silvestre ought to be the main pairing. At left back, Traore may well be rested for Cruise to be initiated into the FA Cup following a decent debut at Eastlands in the Carling Cup.
The only defensive position where the should any question mark is right back. Does Wenger want to risk an entirely new back five by including Gilbert there – assuming Fabianski is custodian – or is he is going to put Sagna in to give some experience on the right hand side of the team? With Eboue’s absence, the choice is Sagna or Gilbert. If the midfield contains Song, Gilbert will play; if not, Sagna will slot into the right side to bring a touch of solidity.
The opportunity presents itself for a number of players in midfield and attack. Ramsey was outstanding against Portsmouth and should continue in Cesc’s absence alongside Diaby and Song in the first choice. The only change to that trio would be the inclusion of Merida to compensate for the Cameroonean playing defensively. Rosicky was slated a week ago to start today and on the opposite side, I would like to Wilshere given 90 minutes before he seemingly disappears off on loan to Burnley although with Owen Coyle the current favourite to replace Gary Megson, some doubt must be arising with no guarantee of first team action in a footballing side under new management.
The final choice Arsene has to make is central striker. Watt is the apparent understudy of choice but Eduardo got a confidence boosting goal at Fratton Park and could be preferred to start at least. The count against Watt is the lack of experience in the side further back. Is it too much for the XI to have a youngster?
A possible starting line-up would be:
Fabianksi; Gilbert (Sagna), Senderos (Song), Silvestre, Cruise; Ramsey, Diaby, Song (Merida); Rosicky, Eduardo, Wilshere
FA Cup history is part of football folklore in this country. The numerous upsets have woven a rich tapestry through time but some of the sheen has been dulled by the revisionism of Murdoch’s Empire and Uefas degredation of domestic cups to Europa League places. A competition purely for cup winners was not rated at the time, considered lesser than the Uefa Cup by general consensus. Now that is happening to the Uefa Cup, rebranding it the Europa League does not enhance, merely confirms its subserviance to the Champions League.
With that background, it is hardly surprising that in the early rounds for Premier League teams, rotation is applied. The public’s answer was given in part yesterday at Wigan where barely 5,000 hardy souls turned out to witness the 3rd round encounter. Does that mean we care less about it or merely a sign that the EPL is being served notice that supporters are not the bottomless pit they are assumed to be?
Personally, I love the FA Cup but I do not feel cheated if a “second string” side is put out. Facing 80 or so teams, the XI fielded has a decent chance of progress. As the tournament reaches its latter stages, Wenger will put out stronger teams. I do not subscribe to the theory that defeat today could derail a title challenge since not many starters are regulars in Arsenal’s strongest line-up.
I do think, however, that winning the first trophy is going to be crucial to this squad, helping make the transition to champions; history has proven that cup wins are a good stepping stone for title winners. It is not essential though; it is not necessary to follow that path. It is, if you win, an enjoyable afternoon.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.
West Ham United 2 – 2 Arsenal
0 – 1 van Persie (16)
0 – 2 Gallas (37)
1 – 2 Cole (74)
2 – 2 Diamanti (80 pen)
Parker sent off (84)
The shovels rest in the mud, sweat wiped from brows. In the main drag, tumbleweed flicks through the dust, brushing the surface as it weaves merry patterns aimlessly. In the distance, the church bells crush the silence with the death knell, the words of Padre Hansen hanging in the wind, “You cannae win anything with kids”, the coffin of Arsenal’s title challenge lowered solomnly into the earth for another season.
Well, that was the expected response from this morning’s media but instead the reaction has been more measured. A season where the top three have already all lost two games is not going according to plans hatched pre-season where Manchester United and Chelsea would rampage away from the rest, Liverpool clinging to their coat-tails and Manchester City would usurp Arsenal from the top four.
Dropping a two-goal lead is never good. Under any circumstances. OK, it is not an issue if you then go and score another three or four and in truth that is exactly where Arsenal should have been before Chris Foy intervened. Blaming the official for the result is a shortcut to masking your own failings. A match in which Arsenal were comfortably in control swang away from them yet could still have resulted in a win but for more heroic intervention by the opposing goalkeeper. Nine times out of ten, Robert Green would have watched van Persie’s header leave the net bulging; this was the one time where his leg made decent contact to pull off an outstanding save.
Arsenal dominated from the off despite the hosts best efforts to disrupt their game. van Persie tried a backheel a la Henry against Charlton a few years back; the outcome was somewhat different as the ball bounced off the Dutchman for a goalkick. A sense of foreboding may have entered the proceedings when van Persie’s shot clearly struck an outstretched arm, preventing it from continuing its goalbound trajectory. A penalty? Absolutely. The reticence to give the spot kick would not last all afternoon.
The opener came in a typically flowing move. Diaby and Sagna exchanged passes and the full back delivered a decent centre. RObert Green flapped under pressure from one of his own defenders and van Persie watched the ball fall to his feet, despatching the simplest of tap-ins that other more seasoned centre forwards have made a habit of missing. Domination of the proceedings ensued and it was little surprise when the second goal came shortly before the interval.
Having seen van Persie thwarted by a timely Collinson intervention following Arshavin’s excellent release, Vermaelen’s threat was recognised by the Hammers defence at an Arsenal corner. They forgot about William Gallas, the Frenchman meeting van Persie’s setpiece to nod home. A comfortable and well-deserved lead that for all of West Ham’s hard work was never seriously threatened.
The second forty-five continued in much the same vein but without the same threat level from Arsenal, a suggestion that the two goals were deemed enough and that killing the game off was the order of the day. Fabregas came closest to doing so, a ferocious strike from the edge of the area curling agonisingly wide of Green’s upright. Clichy and Eboue vaguely threatened before Arshavin once more called Green into action, saving the Russian’s effort.
Chris Foy made his second telling contribution with barely fifteen minutes remaining. Hines wriggled and then wrestled with Diaby and it looked six of one and half-a-dozen of the other, impossible to decide who committed the first offence. Foy incorrectly assumed it was Diaby and West Ham’s diamond geezer stepped forward to strike an excellent freekick. The ball moved violently as it reached Mannone’s hand, rebounding invitingly for Carlton Cole to reduce the deficit. Mannone was not the only ‘keeper yesterday to suffer such movement in the air, Reina doing so. The difference being Reina’s deflected to safety despite an equally unsure touch.
The game turned entirely on its head with five minutes remaining. Parker dived in the area and should have been booked for his actions, the lack of clamouring for his head noticeable this morning. It did not matter for West Ham purposes as Song gave Cole a clip on the ankle. At the same time, the sniper in row Z shot Cole with more accuracy or so it seemed with the speed at which the Hammer hit the deck. It is a penalty that is infuriating to concede but produces even more agitation when they are not given. Diamanti duly buried the spot kick.
Parker’s dismissal minutes later was as inevitable as the penalty, falling on the ball and controlling it with your arms an act of stupidity. But for Green’s intervention, the word ‘costly’ would have immediately preceded the word ‘act’ in that sentence.
The problem for Arsene was that nobody played particularly badly yesterday, just some average performances over the course of the 90 minutes. Average is a subjective term since the average Arsenal player will still perform to a higher standard than even the best of players at 14 other Premier League clubs. The result is not to be glossed over but it is done. A point gained in the title race. Ultimately, May will decide whether it is two points dropped.