Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Saturday September 29 2007
Well we're probably not 'under the radar' anymore in terms of title race. Those who wrote us off in the summer are backtracking in unison (Spurs are backtracking all the way to the relegation zone). But Chelsea's current predicament is a poignant reminder that things can go wrong as quickly as they can go right. Every single game has been a test of sorts, so another tough London derby against our new bogey team West Ham was always going to be a good indicator for this side's ambition and belief. I arrived in the ground just in time to see the teams emerge from the tunnel, I happened to turn my eyes to the screen to watch the customary pre game handhsakes between the players. When you watch the highlights, watch out for the most insincere handshake ever between Ljungberg and van Persie. Around twenty minutes into the game RVP put a crunching challenge on Ljungberg which suggested that, for once, Ashley Cole wasn't talking out of his cellular phone free posterior when he suggested the pair did not get on!
The confidence in the side was clear to see as Arsenal popped the ball around with unerring swagger. West Ham, the so called 'Academy Club' had one plan and one plan only, to launch the ball long to Ashton. In fairness, Ashton caused problems all day and looked the only Hammers' player even close to capable of creating any danger for the Gunners' backline. Though I found his strike partner Henri Camara's comparitive inertia worrying, Camara is exactly the type of player who will do sweet F.A for 89 minutes, but win a game with a moment of genius. The home side had the first attempt on goal, Ashton collecting an Upson punt forward, turning Toure on the edge of the area, but firing his shot harmlessly over. West Ham appeared to be playing Camara in the withdrawn striker role, with Ashton advanced up top, which confused me greatly. I felt they had a much better chance letting Camara's electric pace trouble Arsenal's back four as he fed on Ashton's flick ons. Therein lay the difference between our front pairings, Adebayor and van Persie make a good pairing because both are equally comfortable dropping off into 'the hole', or playing the target man. Their constant swapping into the aforementioned pigeon holes caused the home side problems all afternoon.
Arsenal charged into an early lead. Emmanuel Adebayor collected the ball on the right and shielded it cleverly, awaiting the arrival of Alex Hleb. Adebayor fed the Belarussian on the right, who clipped in a precise cross, van Persie rose above a statuesque Lucas Neill to head the ball in via Green's despairing fingertips. A Hleb cross met with a van Persie header. That's a sentence that would not have troubled my keyboard last season. Arsenal assumed cruise control for most of the half, with only brief cameos from Ashton causing the raucous away support to mop their collective brow. The travelling Gooners' tongues were laced with silver, mocking the Boleyn ground with 'sing us your one song,' and lauding the coach with 'we've got the special one.' Even Bacary 'Banger' Sagna was serenaded with 'Bacary Sagna, dodgy hair but we don't care, Bacary Sagna.' The home support watched in contemplative hush with Flamini and Fabregas boxing clever against Scott Parker and Mark Noble.
I was about to write that Noble was ineffectual, sadly that isn't true. An horrific challenge on Alex Hleb saw Hleb leave the match on a stretcher. It was a spiteful studs up lunge, pre disposed and designed to injure. But thanks to another barmy, non existent rule handed down to us and regurgitated with sheep like bleating by entity of all foootballing Gods sky sports, such malice is not deserving of a red card as Noble only committed the challenge with one foot, not two. I don't give two shits what Andy Gray's interpretation is, violent conduct is violent conduct. Is an assassin any less culpable for a shooting if he only puts one bullet in his victim's head? Unfortunately, Andy Gray and Sky Sports wield more power of referee's and supporters than our shoddy football association ever will. It really annoys me that Sky Sports seem to be making up these rules that everybody abides by, even though there is no sign of them in the official rule book.
The half ended with the Gunners' well in control, and the second half began that way as well, with West Ham desperately in need of inspiration. Seven minutes into the second half, van Persie received the ball from Sagna on the edge of the area, checked onto his right foot, but his curling shot cannoned back off the post. Emmanuel Eboue could not quite arc his neck muscles sufficiently to head in the rebound when a professional break dancer might have scored. Another inch to my right as I looked on from behind the goal, and it would have been game over and quite possibly a rout. However, just minutes later, a Lucas Neill corss found Dean Ashton unmarked from eight yards out, but he planted a weak header straight at Almunia. West Ham became buoyed by the opportunity as the supporters raored on, enthused with new vigour. West Ham put Arsenal under the cosh, but Senderos and Toure managed to repeltheir every long ball. It was a five minute stint of pressure and the only time of the game that Arsenal were not in complete control.
As West Ham pushed on, Fabregas began to revel in the space and the Gunners' looked to take advantage on the counter attack. Robin van Persie controlled Fabregas' pass and slid the ball through to Emmanuel Adebayor, who left three Hammers' defenders in his wake, but Robert Green spread his big frame to thwart Adebayor one on one. Adebayor opened his body out very early to swerve the ball around Green in Henryesque fashion, I wondered for a split second with Green sprawling whether he might attempt a much aired trick of his idol Kanu and feint to go round him. Alas, he didn't and it stayed 1-0. It was a miss that nearly cost us dearly when Ashton produced a delightful back heel which put the familiar figure of Freddie Ljungberg through on goal and he beat Almunia with a cool finish. Fortunately, the offside flag had long since been erected. Amusingly, most of the home contingent did not see it and celebrated with brief delight. Oh how we mocked!
Ashton dropped deeper and deeper in an attempt to play every position on the pitch, but his team mates did not share his inspiration and West Ham offered no further threat. Arsenal carved out another opportunity on the ocunter attack when Diaby and Clichy linked up well on the left, culminating in Clichy's right foot shot from outside the area being tipped just wide by Green. Yes, Clichy on his right foot from outside the area! Next you'll be telling me van Persie is heading a Hleb cross! Adebayor's tame shot was nearly diverted in by the pouncing Emmanuel Eboue in the box, before Ade went off with what looks like a pulled thigh muscle. The Gunners' saw out the game and finished with a deserved and hard earned 1-0 victory. It's another indication of Arsenal's increasing maturity, we controlled the game and put in the requisite elbow grease where necessary. No player emphasises this more than Mathieu Flamini, who had another marvellous game today. If you'd have told me four months ago that Flamini would be picked ahead of Gilberto and I would have been in full agreement with the decision, I might have shot you a funny look. But full credit to the man and full credit to the manager for sticking with him. News of Chelsea's 0-0 draw together with Drogba's sending off lightened the mood further as the travelling choir greeted the players with 'we shall not be moved.' Some might chance that it's too early for such a chant, but reading mojo magazine on my way home I read an interview with the ever quotable Liam Gallagher who offered, 'if you're embarassed by your dreams, then God f*****g help you.' Amen to that.LD.
Date:Saturday September 29 2007
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