The starting line-ups didn’t have any surprises. Mertesacker came in for Koscielny and Ramsey started over Coquelin.
There was a surprise in the way West Ham set up to play as the hosts sat off initially and invited pressure. Big Sam generally likes his teams to get at Arsenal when playing at home but it seemed he wasn’t confident enough of his side’s ability to defend if they pushed up, a concern that was justified in the second the half. The hosts were also uncharacteristically restrained in their tackles throughout the game, which worked in Arsenal’s favour.
The Gunners had complete control over territory and possession but West Ham remained compact, deep, and disciplined. The visitors did create a number of half-chances but there wasn’t any that stood out as glaring missed opportunity in the opening period.
Carroll was a constant menace at the other end as the Gunners had no answer to his aerial prowess. Neither Mertesacker, not Vermaelen succeeded in containing the big striker. This meant West Ham were able to gain territory easily to get to Arsenal’s final third. It’s interesting to note that the hosts attempted only 91 passes in their own half completing 85 of those for a success rate of 93 percent in contrast to the 142 they tried in the final third with only 84 successful for an accuracy of 59 percent.
The Hammers, it seemed, were getting carried away by Carroll’s prowess and forgot they could also play on the ground. This limited their chances to direct headers and attempts off the second ball as there were few, if any, attempts to work combinations in the final third. While their direct style relying on strength and size did evoke many oohs and aahs from the crowd and a degree of concern amongst the Gooner faithful, it was an inherently inefficient tactic and proved fruitless as the Gunners got sufficient bodies to crowd out the openings.
Their goal came, ironically, through a good move on the ground although Diame’s power did play it’s part. Arsenal paid the price of dropping too deep but not getting compact. Newcastle had a 2-v-2 on the flank but there was a massive gap between Ramsey and Mertesacker. Theoretically, the German should have been closer to the Welshman to cover the possibility of Diame going past but, presumably, he got sucked to the centre of the box to deny space to Carroll.
Ramsey also made the mistake of attacking the ball. In that position it’s important to hold and force the opponent to produce a quality moment to get past you. But the Welshman’s inherently attacking instincts meant that he lunged towards the ball. Diame was alert and clever as he simply flicked the ball to nutmeg Ramsey and get into the box. The angle was tight but he has a lot of time since the Gunners had no cover whatsoever. The West Ham hard man generated good power and kept it on target. That was enough.
Arsenal, as we’ve come to expect, responded with greater desire and the move for the equalizer started when Arteta stole the ball from the feet of an opponent midway inside the West Ham half. Giroud received it deep and spread it wide to Podolski. The German’s low cross was into a dangerous area between the defence and the ‘Keeper. The Frenchman’s run was purposeful and his long strides proved decisive as he guided it home.
As we’ve seen throughout the season, the Gunners are more potent when creating down the left. It’s difficult to be sure whether this was a conscious effort but Podolski stayed wide a lot more than he usually does and that helped the team.
I got a feeling West Ham came out believing they could win the game. Allardyce’s men pushed up as a unit and put pressure on the Arsenal midfield and defence. They also sustained some spells of pressure winning a number of threatening free-kicks. But their combination play was still ineffective which reduced the quality of chances in many instances. On the whole they seemed to have created more in the first half than they did in second.
Arsenal struggled for the first fifteen minutes or so. I don’t think they had a shot on goal during that period. Walcott was introduced for Gervinho just after the hour mark. Some might say that was an early substitution by Wenger’s standards but it was to prove decisive.
Theo brought a better understanding of the right wing role than Gervinho had shown. This included cleverly timed runs to go with his uncatchable pace. It brought Arsenal back into the game as an attacking threat before decisively turning it into their favour.
It was a quick break from West Ham with Diame once again powering down the left. But this time Arsenal had more bodies in the box and his cross went straight at Mertesacker who did a good job of blocking it without conceding a handball.
Walcott recovered the loose ball deep inside the Arsenal half and charged forward after playing it to Cazorla. The Spaniard found Giroud who’d popped up in a pocket in front of the defence. His through ball put Walcott clean through and the Englishman’s touch and finish showed a lot of effort has gone in training.
After the second goal it seemed West Ham lost their sting and instead of coming hard at Arsenal they became a touch disjointed. The Gunners didn’t make the mistake of taking their foot off the gas and kept pushing for the third.
Walcott’s tenacity created an opening for Cazorla who scored his second of the season with a thundering left-footed strike from distance that gave Jaaskelainen no chance.
By the end Arsenal were clear winners. West Ham were in it for a long while but the Gunners were able to raise the bar in the latter stages.
Mannone: Has problems judging the flight of the ball and with related decision making, but those aren’t going to go away overnight. Can’t fault him for the goal and did handle other balls that came his way well enough.
Jenkinson: Steady game from the youngster. Kept Jarvis well in control and even troubled him with his pace.
Mertesacker: Was partially at fault for the West Ham goal. Won 7/13 but couldn’t really control Carroll till late in the game when the striker started tiring. But he did generally take up good positions in the centre and helped clear the danger on numerous occasions. Overall a respectable effort but can’t really be considered commanding. Did have a couple of half-chances in the West Ham penalty box.
Vermaelen: Another one who struggled in the air but made up for it on the ground. Controlled his tackling urges and didn’t concede needless set-pieces.
Gibbs: Saw a lot of the ball for the time that he was on the pitch as Arsenal built a lot through their left. Again offered decent attacking threat without producing the final ball.
Santos: Didn’t venture forward as much as Gibbs even in the closing stages when playing as a wing back but concentrated on his defensive work. Completed all 3 tackles but passing and positioning wasn’t always up to scratch.
The back five had a good game when seen in totality. They really struggled against Carroll in the air and did concede a number of noteworthy chances but put sufficient pressure on the attacking players to force errors.
Arteta: There was a graphic on Fox Soccer before the game that showed Arteta had made the most passes thus far in the top 5 leagues (Xavi was third but has probably played fewer minutes). This was another classic Mr. Dependable performance. 5/5 on tackles, 8/12 on ground duels, 106/111 on passes. Was present everywhere, especially in support of the defence, and started the move that led to the first goal.
Cazorla: Another Spaniard who’s been on top form and carried it forward. 6 shots, 5 blocked, 1 emphatic goal. Tended to drift to the left in this game and that helped the Gunners create more chances. Was strong in duels and dealt with the physical moments without flinching.
Ramsey: You could see the risk in playing him deep in midfield as his defensive weakness was exploited for the goal but you could also see the qualities he brings to the side as he constantly endeavoured to make a difference. After the last game I mentioned how Coquelin shied away from responsibility but Ramsey was 84/93 on passes and made himself available all over the pitch. Work rate has always been good and in this game he limited the instinct to attempt something extraordinary.
Ramsey and Arteta completed a 190 passes between them, West Ham completed 199. That midfield dominance was the key to Arsenal’s win as it controlled the probabilities of producing decisive moments at either end of the pitch.
Gervinho: Struggled to get into the game on the right. It’s happened to him before as he seems more effective wide on the left or the left inside channel. This is difficult to explain because he was fairly strong on the right at Lille.
Giroud: Others might have seen more of the ball but Giroud was my MotM as he made two massive contributions when Arsenal needed it. The first goal was not just a tap in. He picked it deep, spread it out, followed through with a run, and then directed it towards goal at full stretch. The assist for the second was just as important. For all of Arsenal’s dominance, these were the two moment that sparked the comeback and sealed the win. On the whole he was a constant threat in the final third. Movement was typically good but he also hit the target more often than he’s in the past.
Podolski: Seemed like he’d been asked to stay wider in this game. Created six chances in total and was able to influence the game more than he does when he drifts centrally into a crowded area. Over time he’ll have to find a balance between the two.
Theo: Timed his run superbly; Gervinho was caught off-side in a similar situation earlier in the game. Good first touch and intelligent, composed finish. The assist wasn’t a great pass but a reward for keeping an eye on the ball and battling for possession.
The front three worked hard and even though Gervinho had an off day the other two compensated for it before Walcott came in and helped seal the game.
Subs: Koscielny was the only late sub and it was a good response to the introduction of Carlton Cole. Hopefully Arsenal will be open to 3 at the back more often.
Wenger: Trust in Ramsey was justified, introduction of Walcott was timely and effective, use of Koscielny could be a sign of things to come in the future.Follow @goonerdesi
Thanks for the feedback. Most people don’t seem to mind splitting the article into two. I’ll give the two post version a trial after the international break.