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Premier League
Saturday, 31st January 2009

Arsenal 0
West Ham United 0

by East Stand Martin


We were struck down just as we walked out of the Arsenal tube station. ESM Jnr and I, on the ground. Helpless with laughter as we spotted the gayest t-shirt ever with an airbrushed picture of Robert Pires on it. Little goatee beard, like a still from a gay porno remake of the Three Musketeers. I challenge anyone to wear that shirt without uttering the words “Chase me!”

This of course allows me to recount once again my Pires story when I spotted him driving his Mercedes SL on the M25. It was days after we had played the London French, and d’Artagnan had been up to his usual tricks, diving around in our area. I drew up alongside him in my car, making the universal fans’ signal for a dive. He cacked his nappy and veered into the slow lane with a horrified look on his face. That taught him – dangerous diving leads to dangerous driving.

We hate Tottenham more than you

Some kind of a wind tunnel outside that Emirates Stadium, which is actually built on an old rubbish tip, but I always fill relaxed visiting there. Maybe in a different life I was an Arsenal fan or perhaps it’s their laudable and fully understandable assessment of their nearby rivals, which makes them kindred spirits.

I don’t care what anybody says – one of the main objectives in football management is to have a settled side. Our lineup was the same as for the previous game and despite the signing of the pint-sized Savio, there was no good reason to change it. The shape though was different, with Di Michele sitting in a withdrawn role between the middle four and Carlton.

It could be the excellent viewing position at The Emirates, but it always feels to me that the pace of games there is about a yard and half quicker than anywhere else. I had to ask ESM Jnr if the jelly beans we had purchased in the way in were instead some kind of mind-altering barbiturate that made everything look faster.

Barely had we checked out our well-proportioned and comfortable seats, when an Arsenal corner saw the athletic Diaby leap up and direct a header onto the top of the crossbar. Collins was on his case and it was difficult to see whether in fact the ball came off his ginger nut.

He’s going backwards

One man who looked like he had a parachute tied to his back whilst wading knee-deep through a Florida swamp was Lucas Neill, but this might have been an optical illusion caused by the fleet-footed Nasri who caned the Australian on a few occasions in the early parts of the game.

The momentum of Arsenal was such that we were forced to concede a series of free kicks, but fortunately it was largely the middle four that were conceding these, some distance from the goal. But what really raised the spirits amongst this quicksilver play was the sight of Behrami ranging around trying to make his presence felt at every opportunity. This bloke is an inspiration and is a master at inviting a challenge and winning a free kick – some 53 in the season so far, 14 more than Denilson, according to the excellent pocket-friendly Arsenal programme.

The travelling fans were rightly motivated by the Swiss international to adapt a song I have heard many times whilst watching the England cricket team abroad – “Behrami Army, Behrami Army”.

Solid as a…cucumber

Half an hour in and we were weathering the storm. A bit stretched at times but we had a solid look about our defences, repelling the foreign invaders. On 32 minutes we won our first corner and then just after Eboué had to limp off after getting on the end of another crunching West Ham tackle. Vela from Cancun came on to replace him.

It was the new arrival which started to cause immediate problems in and around the West Ham box and we did well to clear our lines following a corner. At the heart of the defence was James Collins, looking cool as a cucumber during the onslaught.

Lucas Neill made an awful pass on 44 minutes and then comically tried to claim a handball after the error, but then a similar feat by Arsenal at the other end as a poor clearance was guided straight at Di Michele who released the quietish Collison down the left side. He did well to win a corner which Collins got a clean head on towards goal. It looked like Almunia had it covered to his left side, but Clichy was not taking any chances and cleared the ball from his position by the side of the post.

0-0 at half time and most teams regardless of their position in the league would take that.

Pinball

No changes by either side, but Arsenal were immediately out on the hunt again from the whistle. First a corner a minute in which led to pinball in the box and then a ball launched goalwards which Green punched poorly. Fortunately an Arsenal player got in the way of the shot which followed from just outside the box.

Diaby tried a snap shot on 51 minutes but he wanted too much time and ended up skewing it past the right hand post. The brilliant Behrami was then at it again, tracking back to make a great tackle on the marauding Nasri.

The ginger mist descended on Collins on 56 minutes as he executed possibly the fiercest kick away seen this season, nearly taking out someone in the upper tier. A yellow followed for the display of frustration.

A couple of minutes later, one of the better moves by West Ham in the game took place as Ilunga and Di Michele combined effectively but Collison made a poor pass and the move broke down. Collison was at fault again on 63 minutes as some determined play by Cole on the edge of the box saw some space created, but his awful pass led to an Arsenal counterattack box to box led by Sagna. The ball was slid in near post to Adebayor who somehow contrived to put it by the left hand post. It was the best chance of the match.

The missing Dutchman

Van Persie, mysteriously omitted at the start was introduced for Bendtner on 68 minutes and this was followed a couple minutes later with Savio coming on for Noble, who’d not made a great impact in the match.

Despite a large amount of possession, there was little end product for Arsenal and so it proved again on 71 minutes after a flowing move from right to left saw what looked like a perfect delivery come over. Adebayor had a free header but he directed it tamely at Green.

Vela tried a Mexican hat dance in the box on 77 minutes in an attempt to con Mr Bennett, but got a yellow for simulation instead. He couldn’t even tie the gay musketeer’s laces in the diving stakes.

Daylight robbery was on the cards just a minute after the Vela pirouette when a diabolical clearance saw the ball arrive at Collison’s feet. He found Cole with a pass on the edge of the box, but his attempt at a placed shot was easily collected by Almunia.

Di Michele, who’d been busy around the centre circle with some good layoffs was substituted for Boa Morte on 83 minutes and this was followed a couple of minutes later by a late tackle by Neill which earned him a booking.

Welcome to the Muppet Show

The Arsenal fans had largely given up and made for the exit, leading to a chorus of “60,000 muppets” from the away support. Call me pedantic, but this was an inaccurate taunt as the attendance was announced as 60,109 and there was at least a couple of thousand of us in the ground.

Wild celebration followed near me as we won our first corner of the second half on 87 minutes. Boa Morte won another one, but the officials gave a goal kick.

Diaby went down and had to be carried off in the final minute and it wasn’t clear what had caused the problem. This led to four minutes added time, but apart from a corner won right at the death, there was little threat to the West Ham goal.

The post match celebrations led to a rousing “We are unbeatable” and the news that the Spuds had conceded a late goal added to the fun. The real trick with Arsenal is to make sure that you concentrate to the end as time after time teams have just run out of steam under the relentless pressure. But we have a new spirit of togetherness based around the pretty football of Zola and the steely organisation of Clarke. It works, my friends, it works. All we need now is to sort out the owner and the Chief Executive and we will be on a right roll.

(player ratings by Gordon Thrower).



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Not much to do really. Confident on crosses and made the one proper save he had to make with little fuss.


Lucas Neill
Given a difficult time by Nasri but stuck to the task well.


Herita Ilunga
Not his normal swashbuckling self going forward but a decent job on the defensive side of things.


James Collins
Superb. Immense in the air and got in block after block after block.


Matthew Upson
One lapse when Adebayor was given a free header in the second half but an otherwise impressive 90 minutes.


Scott Parker
A fine performance in the middle. Simply worked himself into the ground to break things up time after time after time. Glad to see the energy levels have improved from earlier in the season when he was complaining of being knackered halfway through the second half.


Mark Noble
A slightly disappointing run-out. Gave the ball away a few times and, though he did a lot of tracking back, I just had the feeling he can do better.


Jack Collison
Stuck to the task well though circumstances dictated that he didn’t impose his authority on the game as much as of late.


Valon Behrami
Another excellent 90 minutes from Pep – he never once let the home midfield settle. On the receiving end of some early “treatment” from the opposition, each foul met with the same phlegmatic and laid-back response as he simply picked himself up and got on with it. Did a fine job helping the skipper out on the right as well.


Carlton Cole
Rarely a goalscoring threat, he did however get through a lot of running and, on a day when service was at a premium, that was all you could ask of him really.


David Di Michele
Like Cole he rarely posed the defence any problems but, also like Cole, he go through a hell of a lot of unsung work as we attempted to defend from the front.


Substitutes


Savio Nsereko
(Replaced Noble, 70 mins) A fairly impressive 20 minutes for the lad. Only little but he’s not afraid to get stuck in and he seems to have a decent turn of pace too.


Luis Boa Morte
(Replaced Di Michele, 83 mins) Given five minutes or so at the end so not really on for long enough to influence proceedings to any significant degree.


Jan Lastuvka
Did not play.


Walter Lopez
Did not play.


Jonathan Spector
Did not play.


Diego Tristan
Did not play.


Fred Sears
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Steve Bennett.

Attendance: 60,109.

Man of the Match: James Collins.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Lucas Neill, Herita Ilunga, James Collins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Valon Behrami, Carlton Cole, David Di Michele.

Goals: None.

Booked: James Collins 56 Lucas Neill 85        .

Sent off: None.

Arsenal

Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue, Diaby, Denilson, Nasri, Adebayor, Bendtner.

Substitutes: Vela (Eboue 36), Van Persie (Bendtner 68), Song (Diaby 90).

Subs not used: Fabianski, Ramsey, Djourou, Gibbs.

Goals: .

Booked: Diaby (22), Vela (75).

Sent Off: None.

 
East Stand Martin's Man of the Match: James Collins