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West Ham 1-3 Arsenal: difficult but deserved

Match ReportBy the numbersVideo

So, three points to go into the Interlull, a win from behind, a first Premier League goal for Olivier Giroud, a magical hit from Santi Cazorla, all in all a pretty good day at the office, but West Ham did make us work hard for it.

With Giroud starting up front, Gervinho pushed wide and Mertesacker back in the centre of the defence we dominated the opening stages of the game, with early shots on goal from the Frenchman and Santi Cazorla. In fact, Arsenal had 5 shots before West Ham scored with their first (via @Orbinho). Aaron Ramsey was turned by Mohamed Diame, I thought Per Mertesacker could have closed him down more quickly, but he curled a fine shot past Mannone to make it 1-0.

I have to admit that I think yellow cards for celebrating, whether it’s shirt off or going to fans, are ridiculous, and maybe refs do too, but there was no excuse for Phil Dowd not to show Diame a second yellow after a crude challenge on Arteta a couple of minutes after his goal. I can’t ever remember Dowd being that lenient when it came to one of our players. Also, while I’m not advocating the dismissal of players for nothing, if he’s already got a yellow card and is stupid enough to make a tackle like that he pretty much deserves red.

The momentum in the game changed slightly, we were set back a bit by their goal, and kept busy by Andy Carroll who was incredible in the air, at both ends of the pitch. But we kept at it and forced a great equaliser. Giroud fed Podolski out wide, his cross was curled to perfection as the Frenchman kept running to poke it home at the near post. It was brilliant movement and no less than he’s deserved for the hard work in this, and previous performances.

In the cold light of day the scoreline doesn’t flatter Arsenal but Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould ought to be concerned that West Ham could have gone ahead, twice, before we scored again. Just after we equalised Carroll won a header in our box, it fell for the normally reliable Kevin Nolan and he put his shot wide. Then, there was almost a repeat of the goal Carroll scored for Newcastle at the Emirates a couple of seasons ago. Mannone came out to claim a cross, Carroll beat him to it and saw his header go wide of an empty net. They were moments of real danger and while we’re unlikely to face an aerial threat quite like that again until the return fixture, it shouldn’t be overlooked when analysing the game.

On the other hand, Arsenal should have had a penalty when Aaron Ramsey was clearly tripped in the box, but again Phil Dowd was his usual self and waved play on. There was also a nice bit of footballing karma when Ricardo vaz Te needlessly left his foot in on Vito Mannone, catching the Italian in the head as he came out to claim a ball, but in the aftermath fell and dislocated his shoulder. He could easily have hurdled Mannone, he wouldn’t have fallen and he wouldn’t now be facing a long spell on the sidelines. Idiot.

Arsene brought on Theo Walcott for Gervinho, having already been forced into a change when Gibbs was replaced by Santos, and the England international scored his 4th goal of the season to put us ahead. Giroud’s through ball was lovely, Walcott’s finish even better as he passed into the net at the near post. Considering he’s spent so much time on the bench he’s doing exactly what he should to force his way into the starting line-up and the manager’s pragmatism over his contract issue is a situation well handled thus far. Again, I think the playing up front thing is a smokescreen, Giroud’s progress almost precludes it too, but yesterday should show Walcott that in this team he can more than achieve his goalscoring ambitions from a wide position.

The third goal was the pick of the bunch, again Walcott was involved, Santi Cazorla picked the ball up from him 30 yards out, moved one way then whacked it over Jussi Jaaskelainen into the top corner. A moment of brilliance from a player who was outstanding again on the day and who had missed a much more presentable chance not long before. After that Arsenal simply killed the game. The way we kept the ball and played sensibly is a sign of the maturity of this team. There was no need to go after another goal, we simply didn’t let West Ham near it and in the end it was hard to argue that the best team hadn’t won, despite those moments of danger referenced earlier.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

We weakened a bit physically in the second half but overall it was a very important test for us today. We expected a difficult game. We were not disappointed – a game with a lot of pace, where both teams went for it in different styles. It was a good test mentally as well, because we went 1-0 down with their first shot on goal. We came back and won this game. You could say that we had a good performance today overall.

The old going 1-0 down with the opposition’s first shot on goal thing is a bit boring now, I have to say, but I guess it’s also a consequence of how we play. If we dominate and have more chances we’re more likely to find ourselves with this particular stat than other teams, which isn’t to say we can’t do better from an defensive point of view. I do think we could have defended that better but if Cazorla, for example, had scored it we’d be talking about a magical goal and not crap defending, so some credit goes to Diame.

It was great to see Giroud get off the mark in the Premier League. It was obvious there was pressure on him and this will get that particular monkey off his back, but for those who lazily trot out stuff about his ‘poor’ start to the season, a couple of goals and three or four assists in his first six weeks isn’t bad at all. His hold up play was excellent yesterday, he really does give us an outlet up there, something different to what we have, and all the signs are encouraging as far as I’m concerned.

And it’s impossible not to mention the two Spaniards. West Ham gave Cazorla more space and time than I thought and he clearly enjoyed it, but man of the match for me was the metronomic Mikel Arteta. When I stop to think about what our midfield could have been like if we’d signed him to play alongside Cesc I do little tears, but we should be very glad to have him now. His passing is phenomenal, 106 of 111 passes completed yesterday and this is the platform on which we build our best football. I love him like a spicy pork burrito.

Overall, it’s a fantastic win and one we needed to cement our decent start to the season. We shouldn’t gloss over the moments which caused us problems but at the same time showing the required character to come back from behind to win away, and the sheer quality of the goals we scored, makes for a very enjoyable performance and a nice Sunday.

Till tomorrow.

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Fan of Arsenal, Robert Pires and most everything to do with rum and whiskey. Writer, podcaster, ace flintknapper, sluggish centre-half. Smiter of those that ought to be smote.