Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday January 16 2011
No atmosphere quite matches that of a London away match. They have become my favourite appointments in the calendar (Spurs apart, which is a horrible away fixture to attend). You get the feeling a good 90% of the travelling contingent has a favourite local hostillery in which to lubricate their singing voices. Most of the time, we will know colleagues or friends that support the other side too. So it is for us at Upton Park, despite Transport for London`s quite exceptional decision to close all of the tube stations within a 2 mile radius of the stadium, it was with great difficulty that the journey to Stratford was undertaken on the ongoing disgrace that is London Underground, before we boarded the bus to East Ham. Well done TfL, isn`t it about time you poor stricken souls put your feet up and had a nice relaxing strike? Imbeciles. Anyway, despite TfL`s best efforts, we made it to the Duke of Edinburgh pub on Green Street at 3.30pm. Lord Lowe and I mistakenly ordered a jug of Guinness each instead of one to share, so the prospect of having to chuck four pints of Guinness down the gullet before kickoff was met with gusto I assure you!
The West Ham fans rendition of "one man and his forklift truck couldn`t carry Lampard" drew a smile inside the Duke, before we stumbled our way to the Trevor Brooking Stand. The away contingent were similarly refreshed and in good voice, a rendition of "you`re gonna ground share with Tottenham", allied with a mocking retort of "West Ham Hotspurs, West Ham Hotspurs." The pre match air was sour amongst the home fans with strong rumours circulating that Avram Grant was a dead man walking, as well as literally looking like the walking dead. The sword of Damocles looked like it was hanging over the place for the whole day, without the headless chicken running of Scott Parker, the Irons looked like a team that regarded the game as a grinding chore. Arsenal on the other hand, dominated from the first minute. Samir Nasri had cause to warm Robert Green`s gloves when he smashed a long range free kickgoalwards, his shot deflecting off Upson and into Green`s arms. Arsenal did take a deserved lead on 13 minutes when the imperious Wilshere found Walcott on the right; he raced to the touchline and tucked the ball back into the box. Nasri sold a delicious dummy, allowing the ball to pass through his legs and van Persie read the intention perfectly, smashing the ball past Green with his right foot. Van Persie has been back for three months now and we need to see more of this sort of scoring form from him.
The Gunners were in cruise control and should have stretched their lead when Fabregas sent a precise ball over the top of the West Ham defence for the run of Walcott, he held off the advances of Tomkins and Upson but rushed his finish, scuffing straight at Green. The timing and frequency of Walcott`s runs gives us real variety in the front three. Such was Arsenal`s dominance, that when West Ham did eke out an opportunity, it was created by Arsenal! Johan Djourou chronically undercooked a back pass to Szczesny, but the Pole adopted an imposing, Schmeichel-esque starfish to beat Cole`s attempt out. Szczesny impresses me more by the game, utterly unflappable and the third goal stemmed from another of his good traits, swift distribution, which is said to be the quality that attracted Wenger to Lehmann. Undeterred, Arsenal continued to slice the Hammers open. A sweeping counter attack saw Cesc play the ball to van Persie, he elegantly touched the ball into the path of Alex Song, but his effort was deflected into the arms of Robert Green. The away side should have wrapped the game up by the half hour mark when Nasri`s through ball put van Persie through on goal, but his shot hit the base of the post.
But Arsenal moved into a two goal lead four minutes before half time, just as Lord Lowe decided the need to void bladder could no longer wait. Clichy clipped the ball down the line to an onside van Persie, he cut the ball back into the area and Walcott reacted much quicker than the cumbersome Tomkins to lash the ball into the roof of the net for his tenth game of the season. West Ham might have halved the deficit in first half injury time when Freddie Sears sent a cross into the area which Carlton Cole headed wide. But an unlikely goal scorer almost put the result in no doubt when Alex Song nudged a through ballot Djourou who was foiled by the face of Rob Green. Come half time and we were in complete control, perhaps regretting not extending our lead further. On this occasion, I did not expect West Ham to emerge a different team in the second half; the bells were ringing loud and clear for Grant`s departure and it was clear that the morale of the West Ham side was at its absolute base.
Ultimately, Arsenal rather toyed with the Irons in the second half, doing enough to keep them at arm`s length without over extending themselves. It was like watching a man place his palm onto the forehead of a midget and allowing him to swing away with a series of unlanded punches. The game was fighting for breath on an oscillator and Arsenal pulled the plug on 76 minutes. Once again, Szczesny was quick to get the ball out to Eboue as Arsenal broke, Fabregas played another sumptuous through ball to Walcott and masquerading footballer Wayne Bridge slid in idiotically on Walcott to leave the referee with no option but to point to the spot. After performances like yesterday, it`s not difficult to see why Bridge has such an aversion to actually playing football. Surely Real Madrid can sort him out with a loan deal so he can rest his feet up on the bench for another year? Van Persie stepped up and, as usual, despatched the penalty with aplomb to Green`s right. West Ham were longing for the final whistle and Wilshere nearly added a bell and a whistle to the final score after van Persie and Arshavin worked a short corner to the edge of the area, but Green was equal to it. As the board for injury time showed the number 3, the Arsenal fans taunted Grant with a chorus of "you`re getting sacked in three minutes." There was also a new chant aired for Chamakh to the tune of "Tom Hark" but the only words I could make out were "He`s not white, he`s not black.......and his name is Chamakh." Perhaps someone can fill me in with the rest of it? In the end, it was exactly the sort of game we needed after a brace of tough cup ties. West Ham rather rolled over and died and Arsenal were only too willing to apply the killer touches. The returns of Nasri and van Persie led to greater movement, but I do think the front three of Bendtner, Chamakh and Arshavin would not have had trouble scoring against a shambolic West Ham side either. Walcott is becoming such a dangerous player; the timing of his runs has improved tenfold this season and he`s beginning to see the fruits of it. Likewise, after some early criticism, I really like the look of Koscielny at centre half. He tends to keep things very simple, which you want from someone at the heart of the defence. A valuable three points, but we won`t get anything like this easy a time at Elland Road on Wednesday.LD.
53.SZCZESNY, 27.EBOUE, 20.DJOUROU, 6.KOSCIELNY, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 19.WILSHERE, 4.FABREGAS(c ) (15.Denilson `79), 8.NASRI (28.Gibbs `88), 14.WALCOTT (23.Arshavin `88), 10.v.PERSIE. Unused: 11.Vela, 29.Chamakh, 49.Shea, 52.Bendtner.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday January 16 2011
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