West Ham United 1 Arsenal 2
West Ham away was a very anti climatic draw for the 3rd Round of the Cup. As a travelling supporter you wish for one of two things. An away match at a lower league ground you have yet to visit in order to tick one more ground off of the illustrious 92 list, or else a home game against lower division opposition in order to increase your chances of smooth progress, you know, home to Leeds for example. The Irons were generous enough to discount ticket prices for visiting Arsenal fans who are season ticket holders, extending the courtesy they had afforded their own supporters. A courtesy that a good many did not take! It always irritates me that people declare with a cocksure grin that Arsenal has the highest season ticket prices without adding the caveat that we get 26 games on our season tickets compared to the 19 offered to most other clubs. As ever for West Ham away, we rocked up early in the Duke of Edinburgh pub to watch the early kick off. A few New Year hangovers must have been resonating as we got ourselves a table when normally the order of the day in the Duke is to stand cradling your jug of Guinness whilst constantly being buffeted by a sea of bodies. Leeds impressive despatch of Manchester United set the mood for the day, the feeling that one of the favourites were already eliminated heightened the sense of opportunity. The Irons fans certainly thought so, as the Leeds players cavorted out of shot, a close up of Ferguson`s weathered face drew the chant of "You`re going out with the Gooners." We were afforded a slightly different viewpoint than we are used to at the Boleyn Ground, increased away allocations for cup games meaning that those of us on the away scheme were moved upstairs to the Trevor Brooking Stand upper tier and a vastly improved panorama to the Lower Tier.
With both sides priorities lying elsewhere, as well as a couple of crippling injury lists, the line ups were barely recognisable to any but the most studious of the game and probably not what ITV would have wanted having elected to show the game live. As a result of the unfamiliar line ups, the game predictably lacked cohesion in the opening exchanges. Junior Stanislas lifted an early free kick narrowly over, whilst Diamanti proved to be a nuisance as ever, shuffling his way around the nervy Silvestre and forcing a fine flying save from Fabianski- who can again be pleased with his afternoon`s work. Arsenal looked to have the better of the midfield battle, with Ramsey and Song imposing themselves, but with Vela as the central striker, Eduardo looking isolated out on the left and Wilshere struggling to impose himself on the right, Arsenal had some thrust but very little cut. The Gunners created only bits and pieces, firstly when Wilshere and Ramsey worked a short corner, Robert Green flapped at the resulting cross as he usually does with any ball in the air (to think I have heard many Arsenal fans suggest him as a better option than Almunia- I can only surmise they are bedazzled by his status as England`s default goalkeeper), the ball fell invitingly to the feet of Vermaelen, who lashed the ball well over with Green having long since abdicated his goalmouth. Arsenal`s only other chance of a tepid half came when the increasingly impressive Aaron Ramsey curled a delicious forty yard through ball over the top of Upson (another vastly over rated player by virtue of nationality), which Carlos Vela controlled but contrived to drill straight at Green.
In truth, both sides deserved to be losing a dour contest and it looked as though 0-0 would be an apt half time score line until first half injury time. Knowing how dangerously cramped the facilities are at the Boleyn, I must confess I missed the breakthrough goal entirely as I wandered off to the Kermit for a gypsy`s (a bit of rhyming slang there, familiar parlance to our hosts) and it looked as though Arsenal`s defence had done the same thing. In fact, it might still have been 0-0 at half time had Mikael Silvestre followed me to hand me some soap and hand towels. Radoslav Kovac found time on the half way line to play a simple through ball to Diamanti, Arsenal`s backline had pushed up to play offside with the honourable exception of Silvestre, who pushed up about three seconds too late. Having botched the trap he did not have the pace to even attempt to catch Diamanti as he sauntered through on goal unmanned, Fabianski got fingertips on the shot but it crawled in off the post with the apparent gusto and enthusiasm of a stray pube wind milling its way down the plughole. Half time and again to adopt the tongue of the East End of London, the contest had been well and truly pony.
As the second half got under way, it appeared the Irons had the greater chance of scoring the next goal of the match- indeed had they had anything approaching a seasoned striker on the pitch, they probably would have. Junior Stanislas hit a swerving shot from the edge of the box which seemed destined for the corner of the net, but Fabianski`s athleticism was of gravity defying conviction as he tipped the ball around the post. Arsenal were trying to raise the tempo of the game but struggling to impose themselves physically, Wilshere had by now drifted out of the game completely and Merida was suffering with his decision making in midfield. Both were substituted by Wenger- Merida had generally been hounded and scalded by the travelling support yet Wilshere was given a standing ovation for an understandably listless display given his age. The difference in treatment of both players by the fans however, was 100% to do with nationality again. In fact, the appalling caricatures of Arsenal fans behind me even booed Merida off (this was a group of about four lads, very much an exception, Merida was by no means booed off by anyone else). These morons also pleasantly chimed at Robert Green "We hope your wife dies of cancer" on about fifteen different, equally unfunny occasions. What a travesty that our eco system groans under the weight of over population whilst twats like this continue to use precious oxygen. Even more tragically, they do so under the pretence of being Arsenal fans.
With Diaby now manning central midfield, Arsenal had a little bit more physical presence to dictate play, whilst Nasri added some guile and movement, getting involved in central areas where Wilshere previously confined himself exclusively to the flanks. Diaby made his presence felt within seven minutes of entering the fray, he and Song provided a combination on the edge of the area eerily similar to that which led to Eduardo`s tap in against Hull, Diaby went through on goal but delayed his shot a little too long allowing Green to smother, Song picked up the rebound and tried to jink past Green, who did excellently to resurrect his frame sufficiently to beat out Song`s effort too. The Gunners were forcing West Ham back and an equaliser looked inevitable. Such was Arsenal`s dominance that Song was constantly pushed forwards on the edge of the Hammers` area, he again found a crevice of space in the area for Vela, the Mexican slipped but had the presence of mind to nudge the ball forwards to Ramsey, who turned and unleashed a quick-fire left foot shot past Robert Green for the equaliser.
The prevailing feeling was that we had probably earned a replay, but the players wanted to push for more. Eight minutes later and with only seven minutes remaining, the belief clearly having drained out of an inexperienced and off form West Ham side, Arsenal snatched a winner. Carlos Vela picked the ball up on the left, whipped in a first time cross; Eduardo rose above Matthew Upson and looped an incredible header into the top corner which left Green with no chance. It was typical Eduardo, in truth he had done very little in the game at all but popped up with a goal at a crucial time. He might have had another headed goal too, but his firm rebuttal to another Vela cross whistled just over. Vela too danced through in the area in injury time only to see his shot hacked off the line by James Tomkins. Despite the five minutes of injury time, Arsenal never looked trouble and there was no sense of tension in the travelling ranks, The Irons` belief had visibly sagged and they simply did not have the players upfront to trouble us. In the end, it was a gutsy turnaround and the sign of a team still operating at the top of their confidence- we will need to react well when the winning run comes to an end and that happy by product is not quite so meteoric. Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song can be very pleased with their day`s work as once again, they matched the physical effort of West Ham in midfield and Ramsey`s run beyond the strikers was a brave and mature decision when lesser players will have shrunk back into midfield to hide. His equalising goal showed Ramsey has the potential and the willing to drag us back into games from midfield and take personal responsibility for any deficit. That`s not a knack many teenage footballers share. Though it also has to be said that the substitutions were as pivotal as they were painfully obvious, allowing us to open up a tiring West Ham side. As much as we are at the threshold of our ebullience, so West Ham are at the nadir of theirs and we were also perhaps fortunate that the home side were so bereft of players themselves. Had the killer touch of a Carlton Cole and the steel of Noble and Parker been on display, Arsenal might not have found their way back into the game so easily after the introductions of Diaby and Nasri. The reward of a 4th Round tie away at Stoke is hardly what we needed but it is still a winnable match and this remains a very winnable competition.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 18.SILVESTRE©, 17.SONG, 16.RAMSEY, 32.MERIDA (2.Diaby `65), 19.WILSHERE (8.Nasri `65), 12.VELA, 9.EDUARDO. Unused: 24.Mannone, 30.Traore, 37.Eastmond, 38.Emmanuel Thomas, 42.Gilbert.