Saturday, 7th April 2007
On the road to Ashburton Grove I did however enter a state of grace. It just seemed so West Ham that we could have such a disastrous season yet do the double over L’Arse. Lump on West Ham to win at 7-1, I advised anybody willing to listen.
There’s something wrong about The Emirates Stadium. It reminded me of a mini Melbourne Cricket Ground – you feel that you are not quite in a venue that was designed for the sport you’ve turned up to watch.
Take the seats for starters. Padded. No chance of course of any West Ham bums on seats. I can’t say that I’ve seen the travelling support sit down once at an away game in living memory. I can also say that I don’t think I’ve ever been in any cleaner khazis. Pristine. This isn’t a football ground, it’s a f*cking hospital. Although there’s probably less chance of catching MRSA in the bogs at the home of the London French.
The other thing which was just gay was the way in which the announcer introduced the Arsenal team. Call me old fashioned, but using players’ Christian names is against the long-held conventions of normal behaviour. “Tom-as, Giiiiiiiiiiiil”. What a f*cking embarrassment. The time that starts at the Boleyn Ground is the time I will know that football has descended into farce.
Mr Curbishley applied a rule which worked well for us last season – if it aint broke don’t change it. Out came an unchanged team. One of the roots of our problem this year is that we are the Premiership’s leading team in chopping and changing.
Just for the record. West Ham = 7 English players, 1 Aussie, 1 Welshman, 1 Ulsterman and an Argie. L’Arse = 0 English players. “Engerrrland, Engerrrland, Engerrland” sang the visiting Irons.
Note that I am now calling the manager Mr Curbishley. This is because I am feeling somewhat chastened. I realise now that this man actually deserves some respect. You know what, I do feel a chorus of “Alan Curbishley’s claret and blue army” coming on.
If I was having positive thoughts about this game, they soon were shaken by the spectacle of Chelsea Poll stepping out onto the pitch. That f*cker’s already cost us points this season.
Thoughts of the official soon disappeared during the first 15 minutes of the game. We were quite simply under siege and it looked just a matter of time before we would concede. We were getting sliced apart by fluent, rapid, passing football.
Just two minutes in Cesc Fabregas got into a one-on-one with Green as we were exposed by a Rosicky through ball. Somehow our keeper managed to get something on the ball as the Spaniard fired a low shot towards the bottom left corner. Then two minutes later, the muscular Adebayor goaded Collins into a slip, but his side footed shot was held well by Green.
There was no respite and panic reigned in the West Ham box on 5 minutes with Poll breaking the habit of a refereeing lifetime and denying Ljungberg a penalty after he went down arms flailing under a challenge from McCartney who also got in the way of an Adebayor shot that followed.
The invasion was largely coming down our left and following a cutback by Ljungberg to Adebayor on 8 minutes, he shot wildly over the bar from inside the box. A minute later, Rosicky waltzed through diagonally and Collins did well to put the ball behind for a corner. The set piece that followed saw Adebayor rise above everybody and head downwards towards goal. Lucas Neil – surely the calmest looking defender we’ve had for years - hooked the ball away.
The movement was frightening. Surely we could not survive this onslaught for to much longer and it looked like if one goal went in, we would concede more. Ljungberg had the next chance on 11 minutes as a beautifully weighted pass through the middle by Rosicky, set him off on goal. He held off Anton and shot low, but Green was equal to the strike after getting out quick to narrow the angles.
14 minutes gone and we got our first breathing space as Zamora battled for a ball and fed a pass forward which found Matty offside. It was short-lived as two minutes later, Hleb found acres of space again down our left and slid a ball across to Rosicky who was steaming into the box. Inexplicably, he sliced his shot wide of the right hand upright.
There were few outlets for West Ham, but Matty found one down the left after he won a ball off Eboué on 18 minutes and then won a free kick near the touchline. Tevez stepped up to take it and tried an audacious shot which Lehmann punched wide. A minute later, Lee Bowyer had a half decent chance, but his goal-bound shot from the edge of the area was blocked by a defender.
This had quietened down the Arsenal supporters and provided a golden opportunity for the West Ham fans to sing about the atmosphere in the new arena. “It’s still a library”, they taunted.
Adebayor won a free kick 30 yards out on 21 minutes and Touré tried his luck with a blasted shot. It was stopped on the edge of the box, but the whole defence seemed to stand still watching the ball. Rosicky picked up the scraps and tried unsuccessfully to curl the ball into the left hand corner.
Our defence looked like they had collectively chosen the wrong studs as McCartney became the next player to lose his footing on the half hour. He was lucky to get away with it. Then Rosicky had another good chance from just outside the box on 31 minutes. He hit a viciously swerving shot which almost went under Green, but the ‘keeper just managed to deal with it. West Ham broke away immediately after Tevez sent Reo-Coker on his way. Unfortunately he overhit a through pass which Tevez couldn’t collect in the box.
The calm after the storm
We seemed to have weathered the storm and in the last 15 minutes, we looked more dangerous. Tevez was continuing his combative approach and won a ball for Lucas Neill down the right on 34 minutes. He delivered a good cross and Eboué had to head behind.
Two minutes later it was Anton’s turn to fall over, allowing Rosicky to get free. Collins was on hand again to clear the cross. A corner followed, but Zamora did well to hold the ball and then pick out a great pass to Tevez who was running into space down the left. He tried to beat two defenders and then scuffed a shot on goal which caused Lehman no trouble at all.
Wenger was looking agitated on the touchline and this was spotted by the away support who taunted him with a chorus of “You got done by Pardew”.
Then not long into the two minutes added time, a season-changing event. A break out of defence saw Lucas Neill launch a speculative long pass forward. It was beautifully measured and allowed Zamora to get ahead of Touré, although there was a hint of offside. Lehman was way off his line and Z-man hit an exquisite lob over his head to make him look a prize German mug. It was almost as funny as the Di Canio/Barthez incident.
This led to crazy scenes of wild and unbridled jubilation amongst the Irons fans. It was unbelievable that we could have spent so much time under the cosh and go in to half time in the lead. We had been outplayed pretty comprehensively – territorially, technically and in terms of possession. But the rules of the game dictate that you have to put the ball in the back of the net to win and Arsenal had serially failed to finish a number of clear cut chances.
You could but only dread what was going to happen in the second half and given our frailties down the left, a half time swap of McCartney for Spector didn’t exactly fill everybody with confidence.
It was high tempo again from Arsenal, and on 49 minutes Ljungberg stabbed a shot at goal from inside the box after a cushioned pass from Adebayor. Green held that easily. Two minutes later a corner saw Adebayor head down dangerously but Neill was on hand to However, the first real chance of the half fell to Bowyer on 53 minutes as Zamora headed down. The shot needed to be hit to the side of the keeper but it went straight into his midriff.
A minute later, Green made a world class save from Gilberto as a rebound off Spector allowed him to shoot across goal. It was a sensational one-handed palm away at full stretch.
0n 58 minutes, Green pulled off another stupendous save as we conceded a free kick down our left. The defence stood still as Adebayor stole in around the back to have a free header of the Fabregas curl in. Pure reflex as he extended a hand out to his left to parry. But a candidate for miss of the game came four minutes later as yet another ball in from the Arsenal right saw Gilberto with the goal at his mercy. Somehow he contrived to glance his header wide from the edge of the six yard box.
Zamora was replaced by Boa Morte on 65 minutes and Hleb was also changed for ex-Hammer Aliadière.
Reo Coker made a powerful run forward on 66 minutes but he was tackled brilliantly before being able to make the pass. The loss of the ball allowed a rapid Arsenal counter attack with a wide shot finishing up in the side netting.
Mark Noble was maintaining his recent industrious workrate and he won a battle in midfield on 69 minutes and laid off a nice pass to Tevez. The Argentinean chose the wrong option with Boa Morte free down the left and the move broke down.
We now began to suck some time out of the game, and Collins went a bit too far, getting a yellow on 73 minutes for taking too much time over a free kick. Then Ljungberg broke free a minute later and Collins did very well to head away a goal-bound shot. This was his last contribution to the game as he was subbed for Baptista on 75 minutes as Wenger searched for the elusive breakthrough.
The West Ham fans seemed untroubled by the introduction of more firepower. “We’ve only had one shot”, they mocked.
Kepa came on for the spent-looking Tevez on 81 minutes and in the following two minutes Green saved our bacon big style again from Fabregas and then Gilberto struck the left hand post with a raking shot across goal from the left.
Howls of despair
Then the miss of the match really came, but this time it was not Arsenal. Kepa had been making himself busy and Mark Noble latched onto a loose ball just outside the box in a central position. He spotted a great run by Boa Morte and slotted through a perfect pass. Boa tried to go around Lehman and then found himself on his wrong foot. He stubbed a chip agonisingly wide of the far post.
Fortunately we managed to survive the 4 minutes added time to register one of the most unlikely victories. I’m not sure that Boa Morte would have ever been forgiven if Arsenal had stolen an equaliser at the death.
“First win at Emirates” rang out loud and clear as the glum looking home fans left for the exits. It was an incredible result given that we were on the back foot for large parts of the match. In fact, it was daylight robbery. For the first time, though, it was time to try out those padded seats and just soak in the sweetness of a most unlikely double. Green came down to deserved plaudits for his match-saving and maybe season-saving performance.
Escape on but more twists and turns to come
Three wins in a row and a loss by Wigan and Sheffield United leaves us with the chance of a spectacular escape to safety. The belief is back, but the fear is that we will end up like we did last time we went down, so near but so far. Now is not the time for faint hearts and the massive opportunity of a third away double in a row looms large at Bramall Lane next week. Let’s hope that we don’t see a repetition of that crunch game at Bolton when Joe Cole got beat to the ball by Okocha.
F*ck it, why did I have to bring that up?
(Player Ratings by Graeme Howlett)
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Simply outstanding. Simply one of the best goalkeeping displays you're ever likely to see.
Excellent performance from a player whose influence is proving to be a major factor in our mini-revival.
Another solid performace from a player who is hitting form at the right time. Hopefully the injury won't prove to be too serious.
Fought like a lion to keep the Arse at bay. One player who has benefitted hugely from a settled back four.
Won lots of headers and made some vital interceptions and blocks. Crucially, he stayed on his feet when one on one with his back to goal.
Started slowly but slowly got to grips with the game. Made some huge tackles in the middle of the park.
Like Noble, did a lot of work in the engine room to frustrate the opposition whilst making a number of good forward runs.
Still to break his duck in front of goal but Lehmann did well to keep that statistic intact.
Seems to have lost the ability to beat his man, but worked hard again.
A little slow to release the ball at times but his most important work was done in defensive areas today.
Another one of those massive Zamora goals. Read Preston, Ipswich, Arsenal (last year). Whilst he may not be the first name on the team sheet but you do wonder where we may be without some of those strikes.
(Replaced McCartney, 45) Playing in unfamiliar territory but an excellent effort.
Luis Boa Morte
(Replaced Zamora, 65) Missed a sitter for the second successive week; fortunately it proved to be immaterial.
(Replaced Tevez, 82) Ruffled a few Arsenal feathers in the last few minutes.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Robert Green.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, James Collins, Mark Noble, Nigel Reo-Coker, Lee Bowyer, Matthew Etherington, Carlos Tevez, Bobby Zamora.
Goals: Bobby Zamora 45 .
Booked: James Collins 73 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Lehmann, Clichy, Eboue, Toure, Gallas, Fabregas, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Hleb, Rosicky, Adebayor.
Substitutes: Aliadiere (Hleb 65), Baptista (Ljungberg 75), Diaby (Gilberto 85).
Subs not used: Almunia, Senderos.
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: .