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FA Premiership
Tuesday, 1st January 2008

Arsenal 2
West Ham United 0

by Gordon Thrower


Quiet ‘ere innit! This was my inaugural visit to their new ground. Last season’s plans to celebrate my birthday weekend with three points had been thwarted by the fact that I was stuck at home with my leg up in the air in plaster following the bionic operation that made me the £6,000 man. So I was looking forward to visiting a new ground just to see if all the tales of how quiet it was were true. They are.

Team news was that the bare bones had long since decomposed and we were reduced to including youngsters Tomkins and Collison on the bench. The latest victims of the injury curse, Parker and Solano , failed fitness tests whilst the third casualty from the weekend, Ljungberg, had only just made the starting line-up, which read: Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Upson, Spector, Ljungberg, Noble, Mullins, Pantsil, Cole.

Before the match a minute’s silence was observed in memory of Phil O’Donnel who lost his life playing for Motherwell at the weekend. The silence was impeccably observed by all but some of the home stewards, who seemed to think that their radio conversations were far more important. So very wrong.

It was the worst of starts. Before we’d had time to settle, a cross from the left of midfield found Eduardo who had eluded both Upson and Ferdinand and had more than enough time to chest the ball down and put it low past Green who had no chance. At this point, given the ridiculous lengths to which the squad had been stretched, I will admit I feared that it was going to be a long afternoon. However, to the team’s credit, they stuck to it and, for the remainder of the half had, if anything the better chances.

On six minutes Cole held up a ball played from the back and laid it off to Noble whose first effort came back off Gallas and whose second effort dropped only a couple of feet wide of the home goal. Of course this being Arsenal we were treated to the usual dives and Flamini’s attempt to gain a penalty was a disgrace No yellow – though it was seen by the ref.

On twelve minutes Cole caused the home defence all sorts of problems on the left and got a shot in that took a deflection off Toure for a corner. Noble’s corner found Ferdinand whose first time shot on the turn came back off Clichy on the line. It was the streakiest of clearances coming as it did off the defender’s standing leg while he waved a hopeful kick in the general direction of the ball. When your luck is in it’s in and boy was the home side’s in.

Meanwhile much fun was to be had with the trappist monk community that makes up the home support. “Sit down if you hate T*ttenham” came the chant, followed by “You only do what we tell you”. Not that we got much reaction – I’ve seen more activity in a museum – though the chant of “is this a mortuary?” was possibly ill-considered given the minute’s silence that had occurred earlier.

On 17 minutes some good pressing by Ljungberg and McCartney saw the ball fed to Spector who played in Ljungberg. The pass gave Ljungberg a little too much to do but he did well to swivel for a shot on the turn that forced Almunia into conceding a corner. From the corner after some bobbling about Upson shot over.

So, despite the better chances we then went behind. And if the goal-line clearance had been lucky the, Arsenal second goal was the dictionary definition of the word “fluke”. It was all a bit route one – which, of course Arsenal never play. A long ball from the back found Adebayor between Upson and Ferdinand. Green came off his line and Adebayor nodded past Green and made an attempt to keep the ball in – only to see the ball spin from an impossible angle in off the far post. Fluke pure and simple and, it was the sort of luck that had us wondering if we’d been training on an American Indian burial ground or something. The home crowd maintained their silence – possibly out of embarrassment but more likely because they didn’t want to break the Trappist vows that, like corruption, forged passports, dives and, ahem, “unorthodox” payments, form such an important part of the Arsenal way of life.

2-0 flattered the home side big time. Cole then picked up a yellow card for an offence that, when perpetrated on Solano at the weekend hadn’t been deemed worthy of a penalty never mind a yellow card. Yet more consistency from the officials. The booking was a joke like many of those picked up by Cole this season and if I were the club I’d ask a lot of questions as to why he seems to be singled out so much by refs.

On the half-hour it was cult hero time. Cole found himself out wide on the right and put in a cross for Pantsil whose overhead kick was only a foot or two off target with the keeper scrambling nervously. This cued up some of the funniest chants I’ve heard in ages, mostly aimed toward Pantsil. My particular favourite was the “he came from Africa, he’s better than Kaka” one, partly for the diabolical liberties taken with the usual conventions of rhyme and partly because of the humorous irony involved. There was also the return of the old “let’s pretend we scored a goal” interludes – prompting a subsidiary chant of “Spector’s on a hat-trick”. However Pantsil seemed to be the main subject matter of the songwriting talent on display, his name replacing many old favourites.

With 37 on the clock the injury jinx caught up with us once again – Ljungberg’s hamstring finally catching up with him prompting the loudest noise we were to hear from the home support – some polite applause as he left the pitch. Some of the away support, dissatisfied with Ljungberg’s contribution to the season so far started a chant indicating exactly which orifice the home support could stuff Ljungberg, though if some of the rumours are true, this wouldn’t be much of a punishment for any of the parties involved.


On came Collison for his debut. McCartney drew a foul out left and Pantsil nearly got on the end of the long clearance, his failure to connect owing much to the sly tug on his shoulder from a defender that escaped the attention of the ref.

Arsenal then had a shout for a penalty. Well they shouted for it anyway, safe in the knowledge that refs often give them what they want. A ball driven at Spector’s chest would have been a ludicrous shout even for Arsenal. This prompted the return of the childish “handball” shouts just to highlight what, even by Arsenal standards, was a remarkable display of ignorance.

A better shout for handball came at the other end when Noble tried to flick a ball past Fabregas who stuck out his hand to play the ball away. The clue is in the words – hand and ball. Rather than explain himself the ref blew for half-time seconds later.

The half time entertainment consisted of video of Wenger reading out the half time draw numbers. It was a scary moment and kids will be having nightmares all week at such a sight.

The second half started with an early corner with McCartney not quite getting around a near post header. This was followed up by another ludicrous claim for a penalty up the other end, this time by Eduardo who had grabbed Neill’s shirt before getting in a header then diving over and pretending to be pushed. The sooner referees start to clamp down on these cheats the better as far as I’m concerned. It only needs a few yellows to turn into a red to alter things. It’s something that is obviously coached into the play at clubs like Arsenal but they’ll soon stop if refs apply the laws (though no doubt they’ll start off gently by sending off a Derby player or two before trying it out on the likes of Arsenal).

The remainder of the game was somewhat indicative of why I reckon Man Utd will beat Arsenal to the title. There we were, weakened beyond belief. Could you imagine the northern whingers being content to have so much possession without killing us off? Incredibly the home side seemed satisfied with passing the ball from side to side so that, for all the keep ball, Green barely had a save to make.

McCartney then picked up a yellow for yet another example of the challenge that apparently isn’t a foul on Saturdays in E13 but is if you’re the away side at the Emirates, shortly before putting a shot from a half cleared corner wide. It was hard work for the midfield running from side to side though Toure’s 8 yard wide shot hilariously brought applause from the home support. Adebayor tried a lob that was a little closer.

With 20 left Cole was replaced by Ashton. Given that we were down I’d have preferred to have seen us go with two-up but Cole had probably run his legs off by this time, such was the lone furrow that he was playing up front.

Walcott then brought a save out of Green – well it was more of a back-pass really. Adebayor then put another one six yards wide prompting a muted ooh – leaving us wondering why the home crowd only made any sort of noise when the ball was played out for a goal kick or a throw in. With 15 left Ashton finally got a strike partner – a bit too late for my liking – as Camara replaced Mullins. Rosicky on 82 finally forced Green into a proper save, the real England no.1 saving a one on one with his legs.

Much as my parents are fond of telling me of the days before telly, we had to make our own entertainment in the second half. The Paintsil chants were augmented by another imaginary goal as a loose ball dribbled into the back of an empty net after an infringement. The game petered out into the inevitable result.

This was another game too far really – though if we’d stuck away the chances we’d created in the first half it might have been a different story. At the end of the day though we created little in the second half, mainly because Cole received little support from the midfield who I reckon played far too deep in the second period. Still the injury

Post-match I overheard Arsenal fans saying what a good result they’d got – bearing in mind they were missing THREE players! They don’t do themselves any favours do they!



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Strangely he was barely tested, though he was a bit too eager to come off his line for the flukey second.


Lucas Neill
A lot of hard work defensively but was too eager to lump it in the general direction of anywhere when sometimes there was a more considered pass available.


George McCartney
Similar to Neill, all his usual partners on the left have disappeared injured so the long hoof in the direction of Cole was his “out”.


Anton Ferdinand
After an uncertain start he recovered to have a decent game at the back, once he’d started to concentrate on defending.


Matthew Upson
Not as assured as of late – probably a function of having to cope with yet another change of partner at the back. Caught out for the first goal especially.


Hayden Mullins
Did his usual job but tended to drop too deep for my liking.


Jonathan Spector
Worked hard but failed to make much use of what little ball he got.


Mark Noble
Tons of running and got a lot of tackles in. Ridiculously booked with seconds to go.


Freddie Ljungberg
Was looking better than of late until injury intervened.


John Paintsil
Worked hard and was unlucky with the overhead kick. Cult hero status gave the crowd something to sing about.


Carlton Cole
I felt quite sorry for him. Playing a lone striker works well only if the midfield support the striker. This happened to a certain extent in the first half but hardly at all in the second. Tried his heart out though.


Substitutes


Jack Collison
(replaced Ljungberg, 37) Promising start. Though he was a little profligate with the ball from time to time he didn’t hide at all.


Dean Ashton
(replaced Cole, 71) Still not right. Needs to be more up for a chase to close down defenders – it seems to be more of an afterthought at the moment by which time the ball is long gone.


Henri Camara
(replaced Mullins, 77) No meaningful contribution in the fifteen minutes or so he was on.


Richard Wright
Did not play.


James Tomkins
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: C.Foy.

Attendance: 60,102.

Man of the Match: Mark Noble.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Hayden Mullins, Jonathan Spector, Mark Noble, Freddie Ljungberg, John Paintsil, Carlton Cole.

Goals: None.

Booked: arlton Cole 23 George McCartney 63 Mark Noble 93      .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Arsenal

Almunia, Hoyte, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue, Fabregas, Flamini, Rosicky, Eduardo, Adebayor.

Substitutes: Walcott (Eduardo 63), Eboue (Hleb 77), Diaby (Rosicky 88).

Subs not used: Lehmann, Song.

Goals: Eduardo (2), Adebayor (18).

Booked: None.

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Mark Noble


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