Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday October 27 2008
Following the serial experience of watching Arsenal on television on Tuesday night, it was back into the thick of the action for a Sunday London derby at our neighbours in the East End. Having spent my Saturday afternoon/ evening undertaking Dick Whittington`s Ale Trail through central London, I began to wonder if our decision to arrive at the Duke of Edinburgh pub for 13.30 to watch the Chelsea game had been such a wise idea. But two jugs of Guinness and a Chelsea defeat later, such doubts were vanquished as piffle. Arriving in the stadium around fifteen minutes before kick off, the mood was of mutual mockery as several choice songs about Harry Redknapp rung out from both sets of supporters. (You remember Harry? The one so appalled at the Spurs chants against Campbell that he corrected his moral compass by deciding to work for the perpetrators). Cracking renditions of "oh when the Spurs go marching down" (even adopting Spurs fans annoying habit of slowing the chant right down so as to build it to a crescendo) and "it`s a circus at the Lane" had everybody smiling. Wenger`s team selection did not surprise me greatly and I thought it made sense in most instances. The inclusion of Silvestre did trouble me slightly after his abject display in Turkey, but he showed a marked improvement.
The game began quite slowly, Zola`s pre match promise for his side to go for the jugular and "gamble on victory" had proved to be hollow as West Ham got large numbers back and looked to rely on Bellamy`s pace on the break. Heavy legs meant Arsenal did not quite have the ingenuity to break through. The first shot in anger fell to the home side after ten minutes, van Persie carelessly surrendered possession to the vibrant Bowyer, the ball fell to di Michele, whose dipping shot was tipped over by Almunia. The momentary flutter stirred Arsenal into life; Walcott slalomed between three West Ham defenders before placing his shot against the bar. Bendtner was in space on the back post and would have been a wiser option. Walcott again would be at the centre of an Arsenal opportunity, Fabregas, who appeared somewhere close to his buoyant best, chipped a measured ball into the area, van Persie demonstrated excellent awareness to chest it into the path of the onrushing Walcott, who took a touch and shot only to be foiled at close range by Green`s low, diving save. The game was beginning to spark into life and Arsenal had a bit of a spring in their step, yet they overcommitted to an unsuccessful attack, one touch from Parker sent Bellamy racing clear on goal, pursued by Clichy and Silvestre, the Welshman sized up the angle and sent a low finish towards the bottom corner, only for the imposing figure of Almunia to spread himself brilliantly and deny Bellamy with his feet. It seems to be a sign that Almunia`s stock is swelling by the game.
With Song tucked securely in behind him, Fabregas looked free to burst from his shackles and spun another arcing ball out to the industrious Bendtner on the left, the Dane cut in past Collins and hit a low shot towards the bottom corner which Green sprawled to save. The half time whistle sounded and I was confident of victory, I did not feel particularly threatened by West Ham, who were not as expansive as their manager said they would be and with the options available on our bench, I was confident we would score. I am always confident we will score. The only threat from West Ham is the entirely unsafe away end, we were marooned in a corner next to West Ham fans in the Centenary Stand with no exits for miles and a concourse in the away end that would struggle to accommodate Frank Lampard. How Upton Park has a safety certificate I do not know, as emergency evacuation would be 100% impossible for around 60% of the away end. Upon moving towards the concourse at half time for bladder relief, a West Ham steward tried to motion myself and Lord Lowe to use the exit to our right. That would be the exit in the home supporters section. This may come across as a pedantic whinge, particularly to those of you who remember having your pockets urinated in on the terraces, but if you`re going to charge £45 a ticket in the modern age, I should at least feel safe. Ironically, at the end of the game as the home fans poured towards the exits, the Arsenal fans chanted "is there a fire drill?"
West Ham`s last real threat of the game came on the hour mark, Craig Bellamy motored past Eboue all too easily, Bellamy`s cutback was half intercepted by Gallas, who then had to throw himself in the path of the onrushing Lee Bowyer. From there it was all Arsenal; Walcott had hit a dangerous low cross into the Hammers area which Collins had to hack away from under his own crossbar. Another Walcott cross was met by Collins, his clearance fell to van Persie, whose shot deflected into the body of Robert Green. Then Wenger made his change, substituting the guile and slight craft of Walcott and Nasri for the brute power of Diaby and Adebayor. I must confess to being surprised that Theo was replaced as I thought he was beginning to pose a persistent threat. However, the change would prove to be inspired, with van Persie and Bendtner moving out to the flanks effectively. The Gunners were coming ever closer and when Parker fouled Fabregas on the edge of the area and van Persie`s thumping free kick hit the post, you knew the goal was coming. And arrive it did a couple of minutes later. Van Persie jockeyed for position on the edge of the area, unable to gain an angle for the shot, he slipped in Adebayor in a crowded area, Adebayor made room for himself before unleashing a low shot which was drifting wide, only for Julien Faubert`s panic stricken limb to put the ball into his own net.
Thereafter, the home side did not appear to have the heart or the energy to mount a sustained comeback, though they may have had a claim for a penalty for a Diaby handball. I`m going to have to go all Arsene Wenger on your asses and plead poor vision, I was at the other end of the ground. But Arsenal were able to sit back and hit on the counter attack, a tactic that nearly bore fruit when Bendtner when surging down the left, cut the ball back for the onrushing Adebayor, his toe poke was saved by Green, Ade rushed onto the rebound but skied badly from a skewed angle. Bendtner would again be at the heart of the final fatal move of the game, picking the ball up on the left hand side deep into his own half, the impressive young Dane hit a wonderful through ball for Adebayor, amazingly onside, to run onto, touching the ball past Robert Green before slotting into an empty net. Ade was quick to acknowledge Bendtner`s assist as he had been minutes earlier. If there is any lingering resentment between the two, they are currently hiding it well behind a mask of bonhomie. The final flourish came in the shape of a poor challenge from Carlton Cole, commentators may claim the red was harsh, but the studs were showing and it was a lunge. There seems to have been a crackdown on this in recent weeks and I for one welcome that. There`s nothing wrong with a good, sturdy challenge, but there is absolutely no need to lunge with studs showing and to do so is premeditated and dangerous, even of the guilty party does not necessarily intend to savage limbs. Anyway it was a slightly sour way to end a good game and a very pleasing victory. I felt we were resolute, not duly troubled by the home side and as the match wore on, we flexed our muscles and always looked likely to score. Song was very pleasing in the centre of midfield, though I am not sure if he contributed towards Cesc`s improved display or whether it was simply a case of Cesc inevitably hitting the sort of form we know he is capable of. Wenger made the right changes at the right time, vanquishing this fictitious idea that we have no Plan B. Adebayor showed us everything he brings to the table too. I thought Bendtner showed plenty of promise again upfront. Van Persie has been much more altruistic in recent weeks, though I still believe he drifts in and out of games too much. We were a great deal more solid at the back, though West Ham offered little going forward in truth bar honest endeavour. With United and Chelsea both dropping points, I hope this game gives the team some much needed belief, particularly as Wednesday`s game now looks a more enticing and tricky proposition than it did a fortnight ago.LD.
Date:Monday October 27 2008
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