Monday, 6th November 2006
Well if I had been worried about us facing a side that had spurned a reputed 20 something chances in their previous match I needn’t have been. It was a bright start and even my next door neighbour in the Upper West Stand couldn’t spoil the mood with his appalling pun about Spector “ghosting in” (Clearly Trevor has no shame). We could have taken the lead early on. Benayoun fed a clever ball inside for Spector win a corner. Most teams seemed to cotton on to the Matty/Yossi short corner routine quite quickly last season but Arsenal appeared not to have done their homework as Matty got in a shot that was deflected wide for another corner with Zamora a gnat’s away from converting.
It didn’t take too long for the opposition to start pressing forward though and Green pulled off a fine save from the irritating van Persie, turning a low volley past the post. However, apart from that effort the extra man in the middle was doing its job and Arsenal were largely reduced to long-range efforts. Lehmann’s terrible kick saw Yossi and Zamora combine only for Yossi to get a shade too much on his near-post header.
On 18 minutes Spector picked up a yellow for a crunching challenge on van Persie that at least had the merit of being an attempt to play the ball. This was something that van Persie’s petulant kick out against the same player a few minutes later didn’t have. Of course in dealing with Rob Styles one can never guess what fresh inconsistencies will be brought to the game and, carrying on from his last visit to the Boleyn when Scott Parker got away with no fewer than five clear cautionable offences, Styles decided that the kick was worthy of nothing more than a free kick.
Spector seemed to have got into Arsenal’s bad books for some reason and the all out assault from Clichy a few minutes later left the septic out cold. It was such an atrocious challenge that Clichy could easily have walked had a half-decent referee been in attendance. As it was I suppose we could be thankful for small mercies that Styles actually cautioned the Arsenal player.
Shortly after the half-hour the largely anonymous Henry got a shot in that Anton managed to get a block on. Whether it was the shot itself or maybe just an awkward landing I wasn’t sure but, worryingly Anton spent the next few minutes gamely hobbling on before eventually going to ground to receive treatment. Somewhere in all that something was chucked at van Persie from the crowd. Predictably the Arsenal man went down as if shot. Even allowing for later reports that a coin had been involved, his reaction was so over the top that it provoked laughter rather than sympathy. Whilst not excusing the imbecility of chucking coins onto the pitch, if the Allied forces in Iraq had known just how destructive a carefully lobbed 5p piece could be they’d surely have concentrated their search for weapons of mass destruction on the Baghdad version of the Royal Mint.
Sadly for Ferdinand, and worryingly for the rest of us, the central defender’s injury was bad and after a few minutes hobbling about he was replaced by McCartney. We saw out the remainder of the half in some comfort, and Styles finally reminded van Persie that if you commit enough yellow card offences you might eventually get a yellow card, the Dutchman finally picking up a yellow for an innocuous handball.
The second half started quietly with Styles relishing the opportunity to penalise Mullins on a number of occasions for being in the same postcode as an Arsenal player when making a clean tackle. Interestingly, McCartney was looking fairly assured alongside Gabbidon who was winning just about everything.
With just over an hour gone on came the subs. Zamora had given everything in the thankless solo task up front. Apparently he had also been ill the previous night and I understand that he lives close to the infamous Marriott Hotel in Docklands whose lasagne, you will recall, was in no way responsible for that spot of tummy trouble suffered by Sp*rs last year. Must be something in the water round there. On came Harewood and, as a replacement for Bowyer who had run equally as far as Zamora, on came young Edward.
The effect was galvanising. The visiting back four had a fresh problem to deal with in Harewood who made a prime nuisance of himself though there were slight inklings that Arsenal might be trying to step up a gear. Henry’s volley was well gathered by Green. Hleb went down under a challenge from Spector but even from my distant viewpoint the deflection from the little bit of the ball that Spector got was palpable though I expect Wenger didn’t see it. Gabbidon continued to impress and one tackle was so perfectly timed that spontaneous applause broke out allover the ground.
Harewood then had a chance to kill the game. Played through by Sheringham’s brilliant header he bore down on goal only to see Lehmann get just enough on the shot to slow the ball up for a defender to clear. More worrying was Toure’s effort from distance which came back off the support pole behind the goal at such an angle as to convince some that it had gone in.
Benayoun then picked up a booking for a blatant tug on Toure he broke free, though it looked for all the world that the diminutive Israeli was being dragged along in the wake of the somewhat larger man. Then, with a minute and a bit left on the clock the points were ours. An Arsenal attack which, somewhat flukily, had commenced when Lehmann had mis hit a clearance onto his own corner flag, broke down with a shrewd interception from Konchesky. Konch fed Etherington who got the better of the defender. Matty played the ball in to Teddy whose return was perfect as was Matty’s cross into Harewood who had got ahead of his marker to bury the ball first time from close range. Harewood received the statutory yellow for taking his shirt off – the same punishment Clichy had received for flattening Spector. On the touchline the miserable and holier than thou Wenger took exception to AP having the temerity to celebrate the goal and a bout of managerial handnags ensued. The next time Wenger pontificates about managerial behaviour you may want to remember his performance today. There again hypocrisy was always his strong suit. It might have been interesting to hear his view of events but he didn’t bother with attending the press conference in the manner of a spoilt brat.
Injury time was seen off fairly comfortably – though Styles as usual managed to find nearly five minutes out of the three he announced. There were a few shenanigans at the final whistle, Fabregas appearing to be suffering from PMS or something whilst, ever the sportsman when it suits him, Wenger declined the offer of a handshake and Rice’s handshake couldn’t have been more grudging had he been offered a six-month old herring wrapped in plutonium.
As I said it’s been a bit of a trying week in these parts and I went into the match not expecting much so to say I was over the moon (as I believe the cliché goes) is something of an understatement. A lot of hard work went into this match and it was pleasing that as the match continued there were noticeable signs of improved confidence. The passing and off the ball running got visibly better as the afternoon went on. It was also good to see some who had previously not played to their potential finally improving.
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Commanding and safe. Some fine saves when the chips were down. Better get used to that bench Roy.
In the wars a bit as the opposition lined up to try for revenge after an early challenge on Van Persie. Maintained his cool well to have a decent game.
Continues to improve after his shaky start to the season. Started the move that led to the goal with a shrewd interception.
Was coping well until his injury.
The manager described his performance as “awesome” and it’s hard to argue with that. Took charge once Ferdinand had left through injury and the timing of some of his challenges was breathtaking. Outstanding.
Reasonably anonymous although he made several vital tackles and interceptions. His late goal proved to be the winner; full marks for persistence and determination.
Given the job of keeping Fabregas quiet he did the job well for the most part though a couple of times he seemed to be caught daydreaming.
Some nice touches but was a peripheral figure for much of the game. Hilarious booking though.
Drifted in and out a bit but did a lot of battling on and off the ball as exemplified by his part in the goal.
Got through a lot of hard work between the boxes before being sacrificed in the tactical switch that brought Teddy and Marlon into the fray.
Ran himself into the ground as the lone striker, a thankless task that saw him trying to close down the Arsenal back line from wing to wing. I can’t remember him looking like scoring but he deserved the applause he got on being replaced.
(Replaced Ferdinand, 43) I was a bit worried at the departure of Ferdinand through injury. I needn’t have been. Proved an able replacement in the heart alongside Gabbidon.
(Replaced Bowyer, 62) Today was a return to the Marlon of old. Bustling, awkward and a right pain in the backside to the opposition defence. Foiled by Lehmann early on he popped up in the right place at the right time to give us something to cheer at last.
(Replaced Zamora, 62) Every pass was accurate, he held the ball up well and brought other players into the game intelligently. Played a vital part in the goal.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Danny Gabbidon.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Lee Bowyer, Bobby Zamora.
Goals: Marlon Harewood 89 .
Booked: Jonathan Spector 19 Yossi Benayoun 83 Marlon Harewood 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Lehmann, Hoyte, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Gilberto, Fabregas, Hleb, Rosicky, Van Persie, Henry..
Substitutes: Adebayor (Van Persie 61), Eboue (Hleb 71), Flamini (Hoyte 76)..
Subs not used: Almunia, Senderos..
Booked: Clichy (30), Van Persie (42)..
Sent Off: None sent off..