West Ham United 1 Arsenal 2
Sunday, 28th December 2014
What if that marvellous Song volley had stood? What then? We'll never know, and all the talk will be, yet again, about controversial referreeing decisions.Despite fans' long memories for genuine errors, and for all those that people refuse to believe weren't errors despite TV evidence to the contrary, I continue to believe that ref's get more right than wrong. TV evidence shows, once again, that the ref got the two most important ones right.
Song's goal-that-never-was passed through the legs of an offside Sakho. It didn't make contact, was he interfering? If he's not obscuring Szcesny's view of the ball, he nevertheless could well be a distraction.
But what later replays DO show is that Carroll was also, just barely, off, and he certainly was in the direct line between Szcesny and Song. It may also be arguable, because there are four Arsenal players ahead of Andy also in the way. But, technically, it's a correct decision; the real question is who was the offside against?
It's similar stuff with the penalty. My initial reaction was that Tomkins had given Cazorla rather a heavy nudge, that it was a bit soft, but a penalty. Replays actually show that it was a foul by Reid that brought the Gunner down when he tried to hurdle the prone Hammers' defender.
Reid stood up bravely to the direct onrush of four players. Cazorla was leading, but a heavy touch gave Reid the chance to clear. He could only, falling backwards, hit the ball straight against Cazorla. Watch the replays carefully - after he's hit the deck, he quite deliberately, in a second motion, raises his right leg a few inches; inches enough to trip Cazorla.
The yardstick for any controversial decision is how would you feel if that were the other way round? Allardyce, I don't doubt, will be spitting feathers about both, but if that had been an Arsenal volley that stood, or an Arsenal foul on an Iron with no penalty given, he'd be reacting exactly the same way. Alas for us, once you've seen it on the telly, you can't really argue much with either.
Alas for us, 4 minutes after the penalty was duly buried, Oxlade-Chamberlain surged past a lacklustre Song, pulled it back through Reid's legs and in front of Tomkins. Welbeck, in the middle of the six yard box had an easy chance. Out of nowhere, we were two down.
Lucky, lucky Arsenal; Wenger must have been rubbing his hands with glee at the interval. Arsenal had been second best all over the pitch, bar about 10 minutes in the middle of the half and the 5 that covered their two goals.
We had a long diagonal ball into the box from Amalfitano in the first minute. Szcesny caught it easily, something that would become something of a theme. Two minutes later, we had good pressure and good movement around the edge of their box, though there seemed a reluctance to shoot.
A corner resulted from a poor Song pass, another theme. Another comfortable take for their keeper, and awful set-pieces from Downing would become yet one more feature of the game. Amalfitano did better, about 50 / 50 with his. On his 5 minutes, his flat pacy corner was a contrast to Downing's ineffectual floated efforts. It was from that that the ball come out for Song's delightful volley... But offside it was, and no goal.
If Swarbrick got the goal and the penalty right, that's not to say he had a good game; I don't think he did. There were ironic cheers just before the quarter hour when he finally awarded us a free kick. Until then, every marginal decision had gone the Gunners' way.
By then, we'd had a penalty shout turned down, Debuchy maybe pushing Sakho over, Sakho maybe backing into Debuchy. It was difficult to tell, and the ref gave the defender the benefit of the doubt by awarding nothing.
After the quarter-hour, the marginal decisions were awarded more evenly, though that didn't stop more ironic cheers emerging whenever we got one after a run of two or three to Arsenal. But Swarbrick failed to cover himself in any sort of glory today.
He booked Carroll for accidentally catching Debuchy, who went down in a heap, with a forearm to the side of the head. No complaints about Debuchy; Andy's a big lad and it was a reasonably solid whack; but it was otherwise a fairly innocuous challenge and a card was not appropriate. And, for those who do want to complain, what about Amalfitano? The one blot on an otherwise excellent game, he went down, Tomkins-esque, on 38 minutes, only to be up unhurt within 10 seconds when it was obvious he wasn't getting anything.
The ref wrongly penalised Coquelin for a perfectly good tackle before 20 minutes, and booked Tomkins too, late on, for something that looked like shoulder to shoulder to me. Whilst I thought he did get the two most important decisions right, he made rather too many errors for my liking.
The first half wasn't exactly one-way traffic, but we were certainly exerting far more pressure. Arsenal were threatening mostly on the break until the middle of the half, when for a few minutes they were playing more in our half than their own, without creating anything in much in the way of trouble for Adrian.
The truth is, despite a high quality game, Adrian had nothing to save before half-time, apart from the two goals that he could do nothing to stop. Szcesny had no real save to make either, though he had been authoritative in plucking high balls out of the air.
Far from being worthy of a 2-0 half-time lead, Arsenal could hardly have complained had they been behind. Neither Debuchy or Monreal looked comfortable. The former often found himself competing against Carroll, and even Mertesacker was struggling to cope with him when the too infrequent accurate passes came in.
Andy had what was probably our best chance of the half, funnily enough from the wrongly awarded free kick against Coquelin. When the ball came through to him, though, the driven shot was too much across goal and blocked away for a corner.
On the other side of the pitch, Amalfitano was making Monreal's life a misery. He's been a useful addition to the squad, but hasn't yet convinced me he's worth a starting spot. Today, he shone; certainly far better than Downing or Song, neither of whom were anything like at their best.
Amalfitano's performance was typified by a good run on the half hour, where he then stepped inside and shot; blocked away for a corner. Three minutes later, he slips O'Brien through to the by-line, only to see his guile brought to nothing by a hopeless cross.
He's my Man of the Match today, but however good he was, the one average part of his game was his final pass, cross, or set-piece, which was often not quite good enough. In fairness, though, he'd have had to have been well-nigh perfect to have made up for the failure of Song and Downing.
I've been heaping praise on both of them this season, but today both gave away a frustrating amount of possession. Ultimately Downing's set-pieces were so bad, he didn't dare put them anywhere near Szcesny, who dealt with all high balls impeccably, until he failed to connect with with one right at the end.
Indeed, Downing nearly cost us badly with 76 minutes gone, but Welbeck, having run onto a horribly misplaced pass, blasted over. Song was no better, taking too long on the ball, and missing pass after pass.
Given that, both Carroll and Sakho had a pretty thin time of it up front, through no fault of their own. It was a pity, because we went back to mixing the play up well today. Plenty of play went through the middle of the pitch, and Arsenal were being given a stern test.
The second half was a more even affair, and Arsenal again had the better chances. Adrian pulled off a brilliant save to stop a piledriver by Cazorla from the edge of the box on 55. We were very definitely back in the game by then, with Kouyate's first goal for the club halving the deficit two minutes before.
After a corner, the ball came to Tomkins inside the corner of the penalty area. Having nutmegged one defender, he then almost casually chipped it back from the goal-line (yes, you are reading this aright). Kouyate nodded it into the back of Debuchy's head (yet another failure to challenge well in the air from him), and it looped tantalisingly inside the post.
But then came the Cazorla effort, Debuchy put a chance over from a corner; Sakho couldn't connect with a lovely ball from the Kouyate from the side of the area and was almost immediately off, replaced by Valencia. Reid hit a lovely looking volley that was easy for Szcesny; Tomkins, who was another who had an excellent game, never gave up chasing a breaking Welbeck, and pressured him enough to force him wide, as was his shot.
It was end to end stuff. Downing nearly broke through, only to be given fractionally offside, then Amalfitano somehow snuck in, but shot over. Oxlade-Chamberlain forced Adrian into another terrific stop, this time with his feet, from a header; two minutes later, our keeper is denying the ever-dangerous Sanchez. Then it's Tomkins turn again, with a brilliant tackle on Welbeck to stop a break.
There's still nearly 20 minutes to play, including stoppage time at this point. Arsenal strike one powerful shot straight at Adrian, then half a chance from the edge of the area. Valencia strikes a free kick into Szcesny's chest. The Ox breaks again but, tiring, can't get away from Tomkins and shoots tamely wide.
They think it's all over... With 90 minutes looming, Carroll takes one of too few good balls to him down beautifully, lays it off to Nolan. He connects well, but it's straight at the keeper again. Five minutes added on; Adrian is up no less than 3 times; with only seconds left a looping header from Carroll finds Valencia scrambling at the back post and! But his header also loops, sadly, a foot over the bar.
Certainly, Arsenal had the better chances in a lively London derby, but equally we had more than enough of the game to have taken something. How often do the full time stats say that West Ham had 58% of the possession against Arsenal? Admittedly they had 21 shots to our 14, but many of those were blocked at source.
Had Song's early volley counted? "Might have's" win you no points. A draw would have been the fair result, I think, but the performance was one to enjoy. Has Sam's Festive selection policy been vindicated? I don't know.
I'm not the only fan who thinks that we always look much less capable when we set up to defend, as we did against Chelsea. A rotation of personnel may have been necessary (and the on-loan Jenks couldn't play this time), but I can't help feeling that the tactics weren't right against the Blues.
Against the Gunners, we were surely always going to attack, regardless of what we tried at the Bridge? We're at home, and the Arsenal defence has been fragile for the last couple of seasons. It was made to look fragile again today. For the second time this season, North London rivals have left the Boleyn with an undeserved three points.
Whilst I remain disappointed with the fact that we didn't have more of a go at Chelsea, we certainly did against Arsenal. It was overall, a jolly good showing. It's just a shame that our two most influential players of the season so far should have had poor games at the same time. And Sam, certainly, cannot be blamed for that!
Still, we finish the year in good shape. I imagine there'll be a few end-of-year opinion pieces turning up before the New Year visit of West Brom to Upton Park. They are not in good shape, we are. Who wouldn't, at the season's start, have taken 31 pts and 6th place right now? If we can start 2015 with a win, there are some points asking to be picked up in January.
Happy New Year to all and Come On You Irons!
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Player RatingsAdrian San Miguel del Castillo
Beaten to MotM only by Amalfitano. Showed all his good qualities & none of the bad.
Joey O Brien
Adequate in defence, but showed his lamentable tendency to go to ground without winning the ball, and lucky not to be booked in the first minute. Added little going forward.
Coped pretty well defensively, linked pretty well when Downing or Song could find a pass, delivery into the box wasn't great though.
Finally looks like he's back to last season's form. Unlucky with the ricochet off Cazorla, but I'm pretty sure he knew what he was doing when his leg came up for the trip...
Has had some off-colour games recently, but saved us a number of times today with blocks, tackles, and covering. Picked up a soft yellow for what looked like shoulder-to-shoulder to me, and will now have a one match suspension.
Resting him for Chelsea didn't seem to do much good. Too slow on the ball, too wasteful with it. Bar that lovely volley, decidedly off-form.
Barring Sanchez, the most creative & dangerous player on the pitch. Unfortunately, his passing & crossing was only average. To make up for faults elsewhere, it needed to be rather better than that, but still my Man of the Match.
Another good, energetic game in the middle, though his first West Ham goal will probably bring him little joy, given the defeat.
Back to his roaming role, but couldn't hack it today. Only some sporadic link up play, particularly with Cressie, spares him from a 4. Too wasteful with the ball, and set pieces simply awful.
The same goes for both forwards - struggled to get into things, given the sub-par performances from our two most important creative players. Did have one good chance, but couldn't finish.
As above, so below; as Caroll, so Sakho!
Had half an hour, troubled the Arsenal defence, oh so nearly equalised at the death!
Replaced the tiring Joey with only a few minutes to go.
On with Demel, had just as little time to influence proceedings.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, Joey O Brien, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Alex Song, Morgan Amalfitano, Cheikhou Kouyate, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Diafra Sakho.
Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 54 .
Booked: James Collins 0 James Tomkins 0 Winston Reid 0 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Arsenal: Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Francesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Willian da Silva, Emboaba Oscar, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa .
Subs not used: Petr Cech, Filipe Luis, Kurt Zouma, Andre Schurrle.
Goals: John Terry (31), Diego Costa (62).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the Match: Morgan Amalfitano.