Match Report: West Ham 1 – 3 Arsenal

Premier League:  26th December 2013

By Zedie

walcott goal v adrianYet to win a game in December, we travelled to Upton Park coming off a run of games that would make even the most confident wince.  A struggling West Ham were a very good opportunity to stay in the title mix heading into the New Year and stake a claim to the top of the table depending on other results.

The opening 14 minutes saw a pattern of play that would be expected between the two teams at the opposite ends of the table.  West Ham concentrated on staying defensively solid, Arsenal pushed forward in waves searching for the early opener.

The first real chance fell to Olivier Giroud, who’s shot was parried out to the lurking Santi Cazorla, who some how managed a thumping header that was again saved by Adrian.  It was a sign of things to come and at that moment, it was clear that the game was going to be a lot more frantic than the stifling defensive setup that faced us in the Chelsea match.

The 25th minute saw Aaron Ramsey scooping a peach of a pass over the hapless West Ham defence, to be met by the perfectly timed run of Theo Walcott.  He flashed an instinctive shot wide of the near post, when it would have been a guaranteed goal if he had gone across the keeper.  It took me a few minutes to even process how we weren’t in front.

Arsenal pushed on and the 32nd minute saw Cazorla pick the ball up in the centre of the park, advance and release a howitzer that just scraped over the bar.  It was so unlucky for him not to hit the target, but it definitely raised hope that the pint sized magician may be nearing his best form again, something that we are going to need in the second half of the season.

With the game turning into attack versus defence, Giroud had a second chance to break the deadlock when he received a decent pass just outside the left hand side of West Ham’s box.  He advanced with their defenders struggling to close the space and got a well struck shot off that went half a yard wide of the Adrian’s post.  Chances like that you would expect him to get on target, but as with his general form of late, it just wasn’t enough.

Arsenal’s complete territorial domination continued as we kept a staggering 85% of possession for long periods of the half.  This possession allowed Ozil to break free on the right hand side on 41 minutes and square a ball into the danger zone for the on rushing Giroud.  It only needed the slightest of touches, but again Giroud was inches away from the ball crashing in.

With the final moments of the first half ebbing away, Kieran Gibbs got himself clear of everyone on the left hand side and squared a perfect ball into the 6 yard box.  Yet again, Giroud was an inch away from converting with his left, when swinging with his right foot could have certainly buried the chance.  It was symptomatic of a striker has been struggling to recapture that killer instinct.

Going in at half time at 0-0 seemed almost impossible given the chances we had.

45 seconds of the first half had passed before Arsenal hearts sank into the pits of their stomachs.  A hopeful shot by the quiet Kevin Nolan flew straight down the throat of Wojciech Szczesny.  What should have been a standard catch by Chezzer, bounced off his chest, to the feet of the unmarked Carlton Cole, who could not miss from point blank range.

With West Ham so under the kosh for the whole game, it was difficult to understand why we were staring down the barrel of a Big Sam two banks of five second half special.

The goal shocked Arsenal into a state of urgency, as we took the ball straight down to the other end and bombarded their goal with a number of shots.  One in particular fell to Per Mertesacker of all people, who fired a decent shot towards goal.  The ball travelled as far as Tomkins, who deflected the path of the ball with his trailing hand, prompting huge penalty shouts from the Arsenal.Pod thumbs up

Per in particular seemed convinced, managing to execute a perfect Rock n Roll knee slide towards Phil Dowd, pleading for the spot kick.  Straight away, I thought no pen and the replay confirmed it for me.  Tomkins made no attempt to bring hand to ball, was turning his back to the shot in order to block and was too close to the shot to do anything else.  Good call by Dowd.

The goal galvanised West Ham, who twice went close to compounding Arsenals issues with neat counter attacking play, culminating in Carlton Cole failing to convert.  Per’s earlier knee slide may have been pure metal, but at that moment, Arsenal were living on a prayer defensively.

The 60th minute saw another great strike from Cazorla, only for a great block to fall to the feet of Mesut Ozil.  with the goal at his mercy, Mesut only managed to hit a tame effort straight back to the keeper to the disappointment of the now, quite tense away support.

The talismanic Aaron Ramsey pulled up with what was later identified as a thigh strain in the 65th minute, with Lukas Podolski making his long awaited return to first team football, wasting no time jumping into the frey with a range finding shot on goal.

With an ever more advancing West Ham pushing on, the game was turned on its head in the 67th minute, when Theo Walcott picked up the ball in the right channel, cut inside and released a tame shot towards the centre of goal.  It travelled past a few players before it reached Adrian, who somehow completely missed the ball only to see it nestle into the back of the net.  This was my queue to dutifully inform my neighbours of who exactly had scored, while Arsenal fans breathed a sigh of relief.

The livewire Podolski took another hammer strike on goal on the next attack, seemingly determined to make a difference in his first game back after such a long lay off.  He was playing with the freedom and love for his game like a 1o year old on his first day in Disney World.

It was this massive force that drove Podolski down the left flank in the 71st minute, which resulted in a perfect driven cross into the danger area.  Like a big cat in the Serengeti, Theo Walcott stole in between the two static West Ham Wildebeest, to smash a pildriver of a header into  the back of the net to make it 2-1.  It was perfection, one of the best headers ive seen in a while and completely unstoppable. Im not even sure Podolski could kick a ball as hard as that.  Adrian was lucky to not have been in the way of it, it could have seriously wounded him.

The goal pretty much killed off any lingering hopes for a scrape to victory for Sam Allardyce’s team, as the reunited Arsenal wing forwards began to really turn the screw.

Podolski continued his dream return by beating the offside trap to receive a perfectly weighted Cazorla pass, only for his shot to be smartly saved by the on rushing Adrian on 73 minutes.

Arsenal pretty much wrapped the game up on 79 minutes, when a clipped ball into traffic on the penalty spot was expertly taken down by Olivier Giroud with his back to goal, who rolled the ball into the path of the lurking Podolski.  His vicious strike from the 16 yard box flew into the bottom corner, giving the overworked Adrian no chance to stop the score line from expanding.

There were 10 minutes left on the clock, but the game was over and Arsenal seized their first 3 points in a quite demanding December, to take us back up to the summit of the table.

 

Match Ratings

Szczesny – 6 –Has to take responsibility for West Ham’s goal, it was a save he knows he should make.  Did little else wrong, but didn’t have that much to do.  Needs to move on and get back to his form thus far in the season.

Sagna – 7 – Was always a danger going forward, did his job well to keep the Hammers penned in for the majority of the game.

Mertesacker – 7 – Wasn’t too busy, but dealt with most things that came to him.  Was a bit shaky along with Vermaelen when things got hairy after West Ham scored.

Vermaelen – 7 – Again, not too busy, but what danger there was, he just about handled.

Gibbs – 7 –Probed down the left and made some great crosses into the danger area.  Could have had an assist on another day.

Arteta- 7 –  Played a steady game today, but again, wasn’t really needed too much defensively due to our territorial domination.  A few good strikes.  Tied up well.

Ramsey – 7 – (off 65th min)– Played a steady game, will be disappointed that he couldn’t get into more shooting positions, but that comes with playing a deeper defence while at CM position.  Made some great passes as always.  Real worry that he limped off with a strain.  Hopefully we have enough in the squad to cover what he’s been providing for the 4-6 weeks he’s out.

Walcott – 9 – Took the reigns when others couldn’t.  Scored a brace to take us into a winning position and caused problems all game.  Another great display.

Ozil – 7(off 81st min) He’s looking like he’s feeling the effect of playing in every League and Champions League game thus far.  Needs a rest soon.  Generally played well, could have done better for his clear cut chance.

Cazorla – 8Reminded some why he was so highly regarded last season.  Was a half yard off with a number of excellent strikes, but that wont be for much longer if he keeps this form up.

Giroud – 5(off 84th min)  Inches and half yards made a difference between a hatrick and what he ended up with today.  Margins are fine, but at the sharp end of the table, those margins mean a lot.  He needs some relief in the form of a striker joining in January.

Subs

Podolski – 9 – (on 65th min) – Game changer.  The moment he stepped on was the moment Arsenal looked the most dangerous.  Him and Walcott on either side finished West Ham off and their directness and pace is what we’ve been missing when the chips have been down against the harder teams.  Podolski could have a massive say in our fortunes come the end of the season.

Flamini – 6 – (on 81st min) – Came on to shore up the team and did just that.  Helped snuff out any chance of a West Ham comeback, but we weren’t really troubled after the 3rd had hit home.

Bendner -6 – (on 84th min) – The human victory cigar came on and nearly made something, but shot wide.  Played his part in shepherding the 3 points Arsenal’s way.

 

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