Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday November 6 2006
It was a pretty frustrating game all in all wasn't it? West Ham had a game plan which they executed to perfection, while we never really looked like we had the answers. In the concourse prior to the game I was mildly surprised to see that the self proclaimed 'academy club' had gone with five men in midfield. But a team replaces only Sheringham with Bowyer for one reason and we knew we'd be in for a tough game.
We started brightly enough, with some intricate passing and Tommy Gunn really should have done better with an early shot after a wonderful move. But something that is becoming increasingly concerning is that if we don't score in the first twenty minutes, the players heads appear to drop. Bowyer and Reo Coker restricted space and didn't allow Rosicky and Fabregas any room. Hleb's magnetic dribbling was key as he was able to create space, the only problem was that our lone striker was completely disinterested in making any runs or receiving the ball. Henry made some strong comments with regard to our home support this week, and I entirely concur with his sentiments, but this is a two way street. Not for the first time this season, his effort was attrocious. I understand as a lone striker his role is altered and that he was heavily marked. But there are things you see inside a stadium that a television camera cannot do justice to. Henry sauntered about the pitch with no interest in his team and wantonly gave away possession. I have taken a fair bit of flak in recent weeks for saying this, but I bear no vendetta, I call it as I see it and Henry's output was far below standard yesterday. I'm afraid he is doing little to assuage my suspicion that he does not turn up when the chips are down. Given his current poor form, I really do think it may be an idea to take him out of the side for the Liverpool game, if only to shake him up. I don't know Henry as a person, I don't know if he reacts to a verbal volley or an arm around the shoulder, but Wenger has to motivate him again, because he looks happy to play on reputation at the moment. Please prove me wrong Thierry.
It was not the greatest or most fluid performance, but I do not think we deserved to lose. What you do have to say is fair play to West Ham, they intended to frustrate and work hard, which they did magnificently. I think Arsenal settled on a point in the latter stages, and West Ham sensed that and threw on two strikers and jumped at the jugular. Overall, the two Arsenal players with the most credit were the centre halves, Toure and Gallas were magnificent, not only with their telepathic defending (Toure could surely challenge the land speed record), but with their cajoling. Another noticeable element was fatigue in Gilberto Silva. For 70 minutes he was excellent, picking up those loose balls in midfield. But in the last twenty minutes his legs deserted him and our midfield lost the plot as a result.
Now, there were a few incidents that are hogging the headlines. Firstly, Spector should have been sent off. It did not satisfy Math of the Day 2's agenda to show the incident, but a studs up lunge is a red card. There seems to be this notion that a tackle has to be two footed to yield red, when you think that Clichy suffered the same punishment for jumping for a header, there has to be a fundamental problem with the rules. The second incident was the coin throwing. I think it's important people know that the guilty party was allowed by West Ham stewards and police to watch the whole game. Not one steward or copper even pretended to patrol the area where the article was launched from. At half time I asked a policeman if he was being punished retrospectively, 'dunno.' I then asked if it was not a safety issue that someone who is prepared to launch objects onto the pitch is still in the stadium, 'dunno.' It's fun to learn!
The other thing to say is that there is not a man, woman, child or Spud who would deny we should have had a penalty. Now I was at the other end of the ground, with goalposts and Robert Green's arse blocking my view and I could tell it was a penalty. Two big clues for you Mr. Styles. Firstly, the ball did not change direction. This means the defender did not play the ball, therefore it is a foul. If Mr. Styles does not know this, you have to question why he is a Premiership official. The second clue was the collective intake of breath from the Bobby Moore Stand, who fell silent in deference to an impending whistle.
Of course it was the row between Wenger and Pardew that has attracted the most attention. I did not see Pardew's celebration at the time but I saw the ensuing melee and I've never seen Wenger so visibly upset. Having seen it back, I think both managers over reacted. Pardew's celebration was antagonistic towards Wenger and his unsporting triumphalism in Wenger's face was seriously uncalled for. But Wenger's refusal to shake hands was equally unsatisfactory. What happens in the game, stays in the game, and I know Wenger has history with Pardew, but I think you should always shake hands, I don't want to here any of this cultural, or English nonsense, it is a SPORTING convention which transcends all such barriers. Wenger correctly sought the moral high ground when Jol and Mourinho would not execute the courtesy last season and Wenger is deserving of the same castigation. Similarly, not speaking to the press just projected an image of a bad loser and I don't like that. I paid £40 to watch the game and was stood yards away from the West Ham fans, so when Harewood scored I was subjected to a lot more provocation than Wenger, but you take it on the chin and keep your cool. If myself and other Arsenal fans around me can react in that manner, our manager should be capable. Sheringham goaded Fabregas at the final whistle, which Cesc should not have reacted to. Teddy is a great footballer, but a piece of human garbage, he always has been. A part of me rejoices in the fact that Cesc cares so much. But the smart reaction from Cesc would be to lock that away and remember it when West Ham come to the Grove.
It was not the greatest performance but there is no need for over reaction. The problem with football supporters is that we are so involved that we lose perspective. When we were winning five matches in a row, I was always cautious because this side is new and still getting to know each other. I believe I said after the Reading match that we would probobly have to endure a frustrating result or two and this was certainly one. But we move on, the team learn a little about each other, gather strength and go into the next game. But Arsene should really come out and make some sort of conciliatory statement, because Pardew has apologised and Wenger should be big enough to do so. Henry demanded more from the fans last week, now it is us who demand more from him. The fact that he did not come over and acknowledge the travelling support was confirmation that his head was not in the game. If you didn't want to play Thierry, tell the manger before the game, don't put in insipid performances and leave younger team mates to lose their heads while you have a natter with Teddy. Captain and manager owe apologies to those of us that paid £40 to watch the game. Bloody November.
Date:Monday November 6 2006
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