Determined and disciplined West Ham. Inspired Robert Green. Atrocious refereeing. Lacklustre Arsenal. 0-0, game heading towards a lame draw.
Arsenal hit the turbo boost in the final stretch. 1-0, 3 points on the table. Good enough.
I know many fans expected a big win in this game. A run of good results can have that effect as it raises expectations. I was not that gung ho because West Ham have a habit of making things difficult for the opposition when they look down and out.
I’m really happy with this result because it showed we can raise our game by a couple of notches when required. The strength we had on the bench also made a big difference at it gave us better variety just when the visitors were tiring. It’s also good to see that the mentality we had last year when we won a number of games late on is still there.
As I said about some of the earlier games as well, this wasn’t a perfect game. We were a bit slow off the blocks, the movement up front wasn’t at the level we’ve come to expect, and consequently the final ball was difficult to find. For their part, the Hammers were extremely disciplined and worked hard in the defensive third, credit to them for making a game out of this one.
In total, Arsenal had 23 shots on goal with 10 on target. Two rattled the woodwork, Green made 4-5 excellent saves, and the rest were snapshots or off target. I thought in this game we lacked a little bit of composure and took too many shots, especially in the first hour.
Our best chance of the first half came in the 24th minute when Song found the run of Sagna with a perfectly weighted ball just inside the right side of the West Ham box. The full-back squared it towards Cesc who was unmarked and El Capitan bent it towards the far corner. Green saved it with a full length dive; I was a bit disappointed that Chamakh wasn’t anticipating a rebound.
Apart from some half chances and plenty of possession, Arsenal created two good chances in the first half. First Song forced a good save as he burst into the box after a one-two with Cesc. Then Squillaci came close with a header from a corner.
There was no doubt Wenger was going to motivate and send the team out for a better second half. Arsenal played the second half at a faster tempo. Nasri rattled the crossbar with a phenomenal, Alex like, free-kick. I thought this matter of a few inches is just where luck plays a big part. Alex was able to put it in against us but Nasri was unlucky as his strike just skimmed the bar. Nonetheless, it was a very pleasant surprise and it was great to see the Frenchman had the confidence to have a go. The power he generated with just a couple of steps was astounding.
Arsene made The change on 66 minutes as Theo came on for Denilson. Many would say this should have been our starting line-up but let’s not focus on that right now.
Soon after, Walcott was in behind as Fabregas found him with a perfect ball. Once again the woodwork came to Green’s rescue.
There were plenty of other chances in the second half but Green was keeping everything out. Arsene made the second change with just 10 minutes to go when Bendtner was introduced for Arshavin.
The goal when it came was a thing of real beauty. Arsenal were passing it around, trying to force an opening. Song spread the ball from the centre to the left with an outside the boot pass. Clichy did well to control the ball and beat the defender with a neat dummy. The left-back put in a measured ball with his right foot and Song arrived just on cue to head it home.
Heart-break for the Irons but a deserved goal for Arsenal.
After that it was just a matter of seeing out the remaining minutes and I thought we did a decent job of defending. In fact, I don’t remember any serious chances created by the visitors who were happy to rely solely on set-pieces during the entire game.
Fabianski: Dominated his area well. Communicated with the defenders – I remember on one occasion he dragged Cesc to a spot while defending a corner and Fabregas was the one who headed it clear. Punched well and swept behind the defenders. Excellent distribution.
Sagna: Solid defending. Good work rate down the right channel. Some high quality crosses (but we rarely had enough players in the box). One excellent pass to set up Cesc.
Squillaci: Read the game well, had a good understanding with Koscielny. Kept it simple and effective. Almost scored from a corner.
Koscielny: Similar to Squillaci. Did well on set-pieces. Once again excellent in tackling.
Clichy: mirrored Sagna in many ways. Excellent work for the goal. Looked like the Clichy of old.
Song: My MotM. Was involved with almost everything offensively and defensively. Classic box-to-box display. Excellent timing of the run and good finish. His passing in the final third is also getting better.
Denilson: Did the simple things effectively. Was weak when put under pressure. Has to do more, at least defensively and in terms of holding his own under pressure.
Cesc: Off-colour by his standards but a decent game nonetheless. Had a couple of good attempts on goal. Created the chance for Walcott. Dropped deep often to collect the ball and free up Song. Was fouled far too often.
Nasri: Took him a while to get in the game but was impressive every time he drifted in. Linked up well with the others. Surprisingly, he took most of the free-kicks and corners and it was good to see he did well on most. Amazing strike that rattled the bar.
Chamakh: Once again his work rate was top class but I’d like to see him attack the ball a bit more once in the box. He should have attacked the back post when Arshavin created a cross out of nothing, should also have followed up on the Cesc strike. I’m sure he’ll learn as he plays more.
Arshavin: Much better work rate than before. Probably our most threatening player in the first half. His shooting has been a bit off this season and let him down on a couple of occasions.
Subs: Theo looked dangerous whenever he got on the ball. Excellent run and strike but was unlucky. Bendtner made his presence felt in the box. Eboue didn’t have much to do.