That was fun. Those ten minutes in the second half are up there with anything Arsenal have produced this season. Fast tempo, delightful combination play, precision in the final third, clinical finishing, it was all there.
Wenger’s starting line-up was interesting. Without Arteta and Diaby the midfield did lack some physical and defensive qualities. West Ham could have used this to their advantage but I was really surprised by Big Sam’s team selection and tactics. Indeed, for all talk of aggression and an ‘in-your-face’ tactics, I felt the former Bolton manager was very timid in his approach. Leaving the likes of Diame and Alou Diarra on the bench while starting the likes of Matt Taylor, Collison, and Vaz Te was baffling.
It could be that he wanted some pace on the counter-attack but I don’t see why it should have come at the cost of physical and technical qualities. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes there so I’ll leave it at that, they probably have their reasons.
West Ham have a terrible record on the road and their recent form must be disappointing for many fans. This team selection meant they would have little chance of getting anything from this visit to the Emirates.
Nevertheless, the first half was quite close. Both sides scored a goal from distance, albeit under different circumstances. Both also went close with a chance that was cleared off the line. Arsenal had 8 shots in total to West Ham’s 9.
The game was level partly due to Arsenal’s tentativeness in possession and in the vital attacking areas. The Gunners had created some very promising moments and showed excellent link play in the build up but they weren’t finding the final ball. The visitors defended diligently even when they weren’t well organized. A number of crucial interceptions and tackles kept their goal relatively safe. Andre Marriner’s role in levelling play must be noted but I don’t really wish to dwell on it.
In attack, Big Sam’s side were about as one dimensional as you can imagine. Vermaelen’s tussle with Carlton Cole minimized the chances they had of gaining territory but their tendency to put the ball in the box from any free kick – even if it was in the centre of the pitch – did put Arsenal under some pressure.
The teams went in level at half time. The game was there for Arsenal to take but we’ve see the Gunners slip up under such circumstances before, particularly when the ref is extremely lenient with the calls.
The start to the second half took care of everything. Straight from kick-off Arsenal played some sublime football. I doubt West Ham got a touch before that last gasp intervention from Tomkins prevented Wilshere from tapping a Walcott cross in. Pressure was sustained and lead taken through a clever corner routine.
It appeared as though Walcott’s corner was under-hit – it very well might have been – but the way Mertesacker pulled his marker in to make space for Giroud was appreciable. The German also did just enough to get in the way of Tomkins, which earned the Frenchman the opportunity to strike the ball unchallenged. Giroud connected well and Jaaskelainen had no chance even though the ball was straight at him.
Then in a space of four minutes or so Podolski picked up three assists. Many players made excellent contributions in the build up of these goals. It was truly a team effort.
The game was over at 5-1. After the injury to Potts it was just about running the clock down.
Before the game I’d mentioned this as one of the eminently winnable games. After the match it’s easy to see why. West Ham have a very vertical style of play. They like to play in the opposition penalty box or just in front of their own, at least against the big teams. With the game stretched in that dimension, Arsenal found plenty of space in the middle to build their attacks. Big Sam’s team selection meant the visitors had very little ability to challenge the Gunners in the central areas of the pitch. When they tried chasing the game they just didn’t have the quality to retain possession. Their high line was exposed quite easily.
Arsenal obviously have potential. There are some genuinely talented players in the side. However, unless they can produce this kind of performance on a very consistent basis and against the bigger clubs, the quality of the opposition has to be deemed the major factor behind the result.
The upcoming fixture list does provide the Gunners a chance to prove they can produce these performances consistently. It doesn’t have to be a big win every time. Scoring five goals in every game is not going to happen. But the players have to produce the kind of dynamic football that actually asks serious questions and threatens the opponents. Too often the Gunners haven’t even registered meaningful shots on target. This has to happen soon or the race for the Champions League spots will become a lost cause.
Szczesny: Had another fairly easy game. Good distribution in the build up to the fifth goal. Could he have gotten closer to the ball for the goal conceded? I doubt it.
Sagna: Won a number of useful headers, was reliable on the ball, a solid game from the full back.
Mertesacker: Could maybe have done better to block the shot? A fairly comfortable game otherwise.
Vermaelen: His tussle with Cole was interesting. Didn’t always come near the ball but often did enough to unsettle the striker. Made one very good block. Passing was efficient.
Gibbs: Had a very effective game in attack and defence, although West Ham didn’t test him as much as some other teams have done and will do. Timing of the runs has been excellent throughout the season and he’s now gaining composure on the ball. Promising.
The defence had a fairly easy game apart from set-pieces where they didn’t look entirely convincing. But West Ham do trouble all teams with their free kicks and corners.
Ramsey: I think he deserves great credit for his performance in this game, in a difficult role. It wasn’t just about the number (123) or accuracy (95%) of passing – which showed he kept things simple and effective – but the overall nature of the challenge. He is by instinct an attacking player used to making runs and always looking for penetrating passes. That makes the discipline of this effort all the more commendable. Made a vital clearance off the line as well. But I wouldn’t say this is the role for him in the long run. There were times when a presence in front of the defence was missing.
Cazorla: Had a bit of a mixed bag. That cross-field pass to Walcott just before the third goal was possibly the best I’ve seen from him, which is saying something. Took his goal really well as well and was almost always involved. But I also thought he took too many shots and some of his passing in the final third was not at the level of precision he is capable of.
Wilshere: Really made the most of all the space available between the lines, particularly after he skipped past the initial challenge. A very dominant display from the youngster with numerous delightful passes.
The midfield had an enjoyable outing. In the first half they did have players getting tight on them but there was still plenty of time and space to create and work the angles. In the second half there was no battle.
Walcott: Another one who had a mixed performance. Some of his runs were sensational, goal was superbly taken, picked up a useful assist as well. But there were time when his touch, finish, or decision making let him down. He can do better.
Giroud: His first half effort frustrated me often as he kept losing the ball, often to attempted first-touch passes that just didn’t come off. Second half was much better. Crisp finishes for both goals, good contribution for the third, and in general his link play came off.
Podolski: Easily the MotM. As we’ve discussed before, he’s a completely different player when he gets some space to run into and/or time on the ball. Demel had a disastrous outing but that doesn’t take away from his vision and precision of execution. The nature of his goal and the timing had a big impact on the game as it lifted everyone.
The front three had some chances in the first half but it was a tad frustrating. Then it all clicked in the second period. Although towards the end it again got a bit frustrating but by then Giroud and Podolski had left the pitch.
Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain disappointed with his choices and execution, Santos looked rusty, Koscielny had a relatively comfortable time at the back. They came on when the game was over so it didn’t really matter.
Wenger: We’ve seen his teams carve opponents apart often enough this season yet they’ve been lacking in consistency. It’s a bit of a conundrum that isn’t easy to solve because defining the problem itself is proving to be a challenge. Can his players find this level of precision and tempo when the opponents are better organized and get tight? More work is needed in defending the set-pieces. It’s odd that Arsenal have 11 players back but still can’t get close enough to a man shooting from the edge of the box!Follow @goonerdesi