Football has a very different take on the Theory Of Relativity than Albert did. For example, Arsenal.
The last time they finished outside of the top four The Right Honourable John Major MP for Huntingdon was the Prime Minister of England, and Bill Clinton was finishing his first term as President. They have also advanced to the group stage of the Champions League for 15 consecutive years. Or, in a more contemporary context, since Taylor Swift was ten years old. Those facts, to my way of thinking, lead me to conclude that Arsenal are indeed very good at playing football and have been for quite some time. Yet some Arsenal supporters see things differently. Relatively speaking, or maybe just relative to a few other teams, they are crap. Awful. And their manager is to blame.
I, however, would gladly take their level of perceived crappiness for our Happy Hammers. Relatively speaking, we are having an outstanding campaign so far. Yes, Boxing Day was a bit of a reality check. But that didn’t stop me from genuinely thinking we should get something from today’s game. My last trip to Upton Park saw us beat them 1-0 on a late Harewood strike from Etherington, followed by a near strike to Pardew’s jaw from a livid Wenger. Dinner that night at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze finished off a pretty spectacular day. I wanted, and even somewhat expected, another good day today.
Sam had spoken of the need to rotate the squad with two games in 48 hours, and that’s the reason he gave for not starting Song or Sakho on Friday. I had no problem with that, and by extension I didn’t see how Carroll would start today. I fully expected to see Sakho and Valencia up front with AC ready to enter in the second half. Sam had other ideas and big Andy stayed in the starting eleven.
A lot has been made of Andy Carroll’s overall game. In one corner, you have those that say without his aerial game he doesn’t offer much. The other argument states he’s much better with the ball at his feet than he is given credit for. In the 4th minute, Carroll won the game’s first corner when Monreal conceded after some good hold up play by our number nine. Szczesny came out to get the ensuing corner, a theme replayed many times during the game, but West Ham attacked the clearance and won another corner.
It was that second corner, only five minutes in, that will be the talking point of the match. Downing’s delivery came out to Song who rifled in a volley into the bottom corner. The crowd roared. The scoreboard on TV showed a 1-0 West Ham lead. Even the app on my IPhone that alerts me of goals dinged. And then it all went away. The linesman’s flag was up or offside. Replays showed that Kouyate was in an offside position. But he wasn’t in the line of site for the shot, didn’t seem to interfere with Szczesny at all, and regardless of all that it didn’t look like the keeper had a hope in hell of getting there. Maybe if we all knew exactly what was and what was not offside it would have been easier to take the decision. But nobody seems to know, and I will go to my grave thinking a good goal was unjustly taken away.
In life, timing can be everything. Today, Alex Song was not blessed with a good version of it. Suffice it to say he had his worst game for West Ham. In the 9th minute our most trusted midfielder for many a year lost possession for what would be the first of many times on the day. And if there is one guy on Arsenal you don’t want to see bursting into your penalty area on the break it’s Alexis Sanchez. Thankfully for West Ham Joey O’Brien was there to break it up. A minute later history repeated itself with another run by Sanchez, only this time Reid was there to stop it.
I thought Arsenal picking up Danny Welbeck in the summer was a very cunning move by Wenger, adding both pace and strength to the Gunners attack. In the 15th minute he won a fifty-fifty ball from O’Brien, started forward and was brought down by Song, resulting in the first free kick of the game for Arsenal. Cazorla’s ball found Sanchez running into the box but his header went wide for a goal kick.
West Ham went back on the attack in the 19th minute, and it could have been more dangerous than it ended up being. Kouyate intercepted an errant pass by Mertesacker. But with time on the ball, and help coming into the box, he elected to shoot instead and it was easily handled by Szczesny. A minute later, O’Brien sent a high cross towards Carroll who easily beat Mertesacker near Szczesny’s right post. However, Carroll’s shot…or pass…went out for a corner. It was cleared as far as Reid, whose shot went wide. It was a promising spell for the Hammers, especially in terms of Carroll beating his man to a cross.
Arsenal won three quick corners a few minutes later when their dangerous quartet of Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla and Welbeck turned up the pressure. They won their first when Sanchez had a shot deflected out by O’Brien, their second when Cresswell cleared Ox’s (easier to type that if you don’t mind) cross behind the goal, and the third when Cazorla found Ox with space on the right hand side. No matter how well we might think we’ve played this season, as we would soon find out those are players not to be trifled with.
After his fifteen minute spell against Chelsea, West Ham supporters were pretty unanimous in their desire to see Amalfitano get more time. I think he showed on many occasions why we were correct, one of which was in the 30th minute when he left Monreal completely off balance and won a corner. When others immediately look to cross, Amalfitano will first see if he can do something on his own, run at the defenders to make them commit, and then put a cross in if that’s the best option. Szczesny came out again and gathered it, but the buildup was what he offers.
Oh, a quick note to Debuchy. If you’re going to try and get Carroll booked, as he did in the 35th minute for being nothing more than smaller than Andy, maybe you should watch a film of Chico from last season. I mean, if acting is something you want to try after your football career is done and dusted, you’d better work on your final product.
The 37th minute saw West Ham waste a golden opportunity to take the lead, or should I say take the lead AGAIN, when Downing sent a looping ball into the box that found James Tomkins. Alone. Onside. With time. But instead of controlling the ball and finding a spot in what could have been a wide open net he tried a one time volley that flew high over the bar. And like so many times in so many games, a close chance on one end was quickly followed by converted chance on the other when Cazorla retrieved a deflection off of Reid right inside the West Ham penalty area. Reid fell backwards, and when Cazorla tried to go past him to get to the ball he went over Reid’s right leg. The referee pointed to the spot, and Arsenal’s first shot on target became Arsenal’s first goal.
West Ham 0, Arsenal 1.
It’s hard enough to go into Halftime down a goal when you have been the better side. It’s harder still when you feel a perfectly good goal was disallowed. It’s almost unbearable when, out of nowhere, that deficit is doubled. After a quick throw in, Oxlade-Chamberlain ran towards the byline and sent a low cross through Reid’s legs. Tomkins was there, and I think he should have cleared it, but instead he stopped and the pass rolled onto the sliding leg of Welbeck.
West Ham 0, Arsenal 2.
West Ham had a good chance to bring one back a minute into added time when Downing got on the end of a poor Arsenal clearance at the top of their area. But his shot went wide by more than a few inches.
The second half began calmly when compared to the first half, but that calm was broken in the 52nd minute. Debuchy found some space on the right to send in a cross that Adrian gathered and threw out to start a counter. Sakho got behind the Arsenal line and sent in a cross that Mertesacker cleared for a corner. From that corner, Tomkins dinked a cross that Kouyate won over Debuchy and headed it past Szczesny.
West Ham 1, Arsenal 2.
The Hammers were lucky not to go down by two goals again a few moments after getting themselves back in the game when Oxlade-Chamberlain ran at the West Ham defense before pulling it back for the onrushing Cazorla. His shot was blocked out by Adrian for a corner, which offered Debuchy a chance to restore the two goal lead but his shot went over the bar.
The difference between going on a goal scoring streak and goal scoring drought can be a matter of inches. Or millimeters if the metric system is your thing. In the beginning of the season, every ball that came close to Diafra Sakho ended up in the back of the net. Some will say it’s because he was paired with Valencia. Others will say it’s because defenders didn’t know how to play him. The past couple of games those bits of fate have not gone his way. In the 60th minute Kouyate got the ball on the left and sent in a cross that Sakho just missed. A minute later, Carroll showed a bit of skill on the floor before sending another cross that Sakho came close to before he was taken off for Enner Valencia. I’m sure the tide will turn in his favor again. I only wish it had been today.
As kids, in all sports, we are taught not to stop playing until the official tells you to. That basic lesson almost cost West Ham in the 67th minute. Carroll lost the ball near the sideline, and thought he was fouled. Other Hammers agreed. While they stopped to look at the referee in disgust, Cazorla kept playing and fed Sanchez. His shot was blocked by Reid for a corner, and Koscielny was called for a foul when in the box trying to attack the delivery. If that had gone in Sam would have burst more than one blood vessel.
Arsenal came at West Ham again five minutes later when Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain combined for a quick one-two that ended with the latter’s header flying towards the net. But Adrian got his right leg out and against all odds, and maybe even a few laws of physics, kept the ball out. Two minutes later Sanchez drove in alone after beating Song but his low shot was also stopped by an Adrian leg. How ironic that the one guy that can use his arms….blah blah blah.
I hope the 76th minute of this game will be the worst moment of Stuart Downing’s season. It could have been a lot worse when his weak crossfield pass towards Song was intercepted by Welbeck, and he had nothing between him and Adrian. Maybe after Adrian’s terrific saves, Welbeck though he’d better aim high. He did, but it was way over the bar and Downing was let off the hook.
West Ham made their final two substitutions a moment later when Guy Demel and Kevin Nolan came on for O’Brien and Kouyate. One could only hope for better crossing from Demel or a poachers moment from Nolan.
The vast majority of West Ham’s crosses today ended up comfortably in the arms of Szczesny. While the deliveries were sometimes poor, particularly from O’Brien, nobody can say that Szczesny’s positioning inside the box wasn’t excellent. In the 80th minute, Valencia tried a new approach with a low ball whipped in after beating Debuchy. That didn’t work, either. A few minutes later Demel tried his luck with a cross from the right side that Carroll won but couldn’t get a shot away. Demel had another chance in the 89th only to see his wasted cross sail into the crowd.
Five minutes of added time gave the home side and it’s supporters a bit of hope, and it was the most predictable of combinations that got the extra time going when Carroll flicked a pass from a long ball to Nolan, and his low drive dipped and swerved a bit before Szczesny gathered it up. West Ham had one final chance on a free kick in the 95th minute. Szczesny came out to punch it away, but for the first time all afternoon didn’t get to the ball cleanly. Carroll headed it back into the box towards Valencia at the far post. Time stood still as the ball arked….onto the top of the net.
Final score. West Ham 1, Arsenal 2.
As the song says, “don’t it always seems to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”. And when the choice is Joey O’Brien or Guy Demel you realize how incredibly valuable the fullback position is in the modern game. If Jenkinson had been the one attempting all of the crosses that went nowhere off the foot of O’Brien, we might have seen a very different outcome. And maybe if Song had not chosen today to be off his game, I’d be writing a happy report instead of a mildly down one.
The last two games, in my opinion, have told us that in order to be a top club you can’t have any weak links at all. All of your full backs have to be able to overlap and deliver quality into the box. You can’t have only one or two midfielders who are comfortable with the ball on their feet. Your forwards have to be able to dribble, see spaces to run into, and not only finish chances but create them as well. I’m over simplifying things, I know. And you all know these things. But it’s cathartic to say it, and I’ll sleep better because I did.
I still believe we are going in the right direction, and if I were to choose one club that will be the next big party crasher I certainly like our chances.
But there is still work to do.