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Premier League
Sunday, 25th October 2009

West Ham United 2
Arsenal 2

by Gordon Thrower


Well that was a bit of a turn up wasn’t it? The second 2-2 home draw in a row but whereas the Fulham result left us all deflated this one at least cheered us up a bit.

Let’s face it the pre-match mood about the place wasn’t one of optimism given recent form, though for those who pick their favourite players by how well they play rather than for their looks were pleased to see the return of Parker for Kovac in the middle. Faubert paid for an uncertain 90 up at the Britannia and stepped down for Spector. Franco was also given a start after the rather ludicrous 89th minute substitution at Stoke that gave him his debut. Diamanti was also relegated to the racing car seats to give us a starting line-up of Green, Spector, Ilunga, Tomkins, Upson, Parker, Noble, Collison, Behrami, Franco, Cole.

It wasn’t the most certain of starts. As ever we looked a lot better going forward than at the back. The visitors’ first opportunity came inside a minute as Van Persie first made a hash of a header from Song’s cross, then made a bigger hash of the attempted back-heel back into the danger area. Funny though his efforts were, it was notable that he had more space than I felt comfortable. It was a warning that went unheeded.

I said we looked better going forward and some good work involving Parker, Noble and Collison saw Cole in promising territory inside the box only for the striker to be crowded out and see his attempt deflected harmlessly wide where the Mannone was able to gather easily. It was end to end stuff and Van Persie went down the left and drove from a tightish angle, Green tipping the ball over with a fair degree of comfort. Since the club is so broke they can only afford to run one clock I wasn’t too sure of the timings but I reckon that was three chances in less than three minutes. Clearly the blood pressure pills were going to be required. Green dealt with the resulting corner easily enough and the game settled down a bit. For a minute or so.

Parker then went forward and played a fine ball inside the defence for Noble whose square ball, unfortunately, went behind Cole who was in dangerous territory. Noble then combined well with Ilunga for Cheri to force a corner. Tomkins challenge from Noble’s corner was perfectly legal but, hey, a keeper has only to go down in the same time-zone as an opponent these days to gain a free-kick and ref Foy – a late replacement for Steve Bennett – was only too happy to whistle for a foul. Mannone stayed down for a moment or two to make it look good, as is the Arsenal way but, to nobody’s surprise, he was well enough to continue.

With about 12 gone we survived a shout for a penalty. A particularly stupid shout admittedly but, refereeing standards being as they are these days one is always relieved – astonished even – when a ref gets one right in your favour. Arshavin ended a run into the box with a shot that may have hit Upson’s arm from about two feet away. It would have taken a brain donor to give a spot-kick – hence our relief at the decision.

Cole then went on a storming run down the right to force a corner. Tomkins got something on it but headed wide. Cole managed to keep the ball alive though a throw was the best that he and Collison could muster. From the throw Cole chested down to Franco who played the ball onto Collison who drew a decent save out of Mannone. It wouldn’t have counted, however, as the linesman’s flag had gone up as Franco was, well, level with the last man and that was close enough for the lino.

Then off came the wheels. Sagna went down the right and stuck in a cross that had Tomkins’ name on it. Unfortunately Green had other ideas and came for the cross tipping it straight into the path of Van Persie to give the Dutchman the easiest goal he’ll ever score without diving.

The confidence seemed to drain at this point and the passing, which hadn’t been bad up to that moment, seemed to go astray. Noble in particular seemed to have a malfunctioning radar, though he did pull a save out of Mannone at the keeper’s near post being the first to react to a loose ball on the right of the box. The corner was cleared as far as Parker whose effort from about 30 yards looked on target before hitting a defender and rebounding for another corner. Which, of course, came to nothing.

Noble played another loose one which saw Arshavin bearing down on goal – Upson’s challenge needed to be timed perfectly and it was. Van Persie then, worryingly, got across Upson but the header drifted harmlessly wide. Noble then won a free-kick from a late lunge from Diaby. Noble himself took the kick which got as far as Clichy. Spector rescued the loose ball and sent over a cross that Cole got on the end of and the header was only a yard or so wide. It was a bit worrying that he required treatment though and the applause that greeted his return after treatment owed as much to relief as it did to an appreciation of the player himself.

Well if the wheels had come off earlier what was to occur next represented the doors, bumpers, even the furry dice collapsing into the fast lane of the M1. Fabregas took an optimistic pot shot from 30+ yards. The ball clipped Parker and looped harmlessly wide. The corner came over from the right and Gallas wasn’t bothered by anything resembling a challenge as he headed home off Parker. That was it. Game over. Wasn’t it?

Well Cole at least had other ideas though, as is often the case, it often seemed that he was playing Arsenal on his own. The rest of the team looked beaten men for the remaining ten plus stoppage of the half.

Even the traditional confectionery at half-time couldn’t lighten the mood. Nor could a strangely out-of-sync rendition of “Jerusalem” by that opera singer they keep digging out for half times. I did muster a smile at the memory of the old Python sketch where somebody said “mattress” to Mr Lambert though – something that will mean absolutely nothing to most of you I suspect. In any case my mood plummeted again at the thought of dead parrots – though Jeremy’s politically incorrect comments about “beating the French” lightened things. A bit.

There were no changes at the interval and, for the first ten minutes of the second period it was much “as you were”. Franco did go on a promising run but tried to beat one player too many, an effort that resulted in a corner. Noble failed to beat the first man and, when the ball came back to him he repeated the error and the promise dissolved. Arshavin then got the better of Spector but, thankfully, his cross was fired across goal with far too much on it and the ball went safely out for a throw-in.

On 55 minutes Zola made his first change. Noble had struggled to make an impact and was replaced by Diamanti who, presumably fed up with the cost of having his favourite hairdryer couriered to Northern hotels on away trips, was sporting a shaven head. Few of us thought that the change was anything other than a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic and, to be fair, nothing that occurred over the next few minutes suggested much else. Diamanti did, however, bring a willingness to shoot, as evidenced by his effort from distance on the hour which, whilst not bothering the ‘keeper did at least show some positive intent. Another shot on the turn a couple of minutes later gave similar results.

Whilst we seemed to have improved defensively – Tomkins in particular was winning a lot in the air – there was still the odd moment of worry. Fabregas’s effort from distance can only have been a foot or so away. However, by and large our opponents had taken their foot off the gas and fifty yard back passes to the keeper were not uncommon.

With 63 minutes on the clock Zavon Hines replaced Franco before some pretty awful playacting from Fabregas who, with an arm brushing his chest went down as if shot clutching his throat having lost out in the challenge. Funnily enough he required no treatment whatsoever once the ball was dead. I always thought the statutory punishment for “simulation” was a yellow card. Mr Foy is obviously more up to date than I am.

Cole had a chance a minute or so later as a Collison ball into the box was chested down by Hines. Cole’s turn wasn’t quite acute enough to make the angle though and the sliced shot was well wide. It was about this time that the officials started to lose the plot a bit. Foy got no help from the linesman on the West side as the ball went a couple of feet out for a throw and Tomkins clearance went for a corner. Thankfully Green came and got, his punch finding Diamanti, whose forward burst was ended by a crude hack from Arshavin which should have seen the Arsenal player carded. It didn’t. Just to make things worse, Diamanti’s quick free kick was played straight into touch.

Hine’s attempted block on Clichy did produce a yellow, suggesting that mis-timed tackles are worth more to Foy than cynical hacks designed to break up an attack. Cole then lost the ball in attack and Fabregas played in Arshavin whose shot from outside the box was superbly turned round the post by Green.

From the corner Tomkins fine header found Hines out on the left. Hines combined with Parker before being hauled down by Clichy on the edge of the box. Diamanti’s free-kick went to the near post and Mannone’s save came straight back out to Cole who reacted first to stick away the diving header to make it 2-1. It was no more than Cole had deserved.

Foy then booked Collison for, well you tell me but the whole mood had changed. Parker then burst into the box and was upended by Gallas. The only person in the ground not convinced was Foy. Shocking stuff again from the officials. It got worse. Parker picked up a yellow for breathing too heavily in the vicinity of Eboue whose theatrics were sadly typical of those we have come to expect from these opponents.

Foy finally got something right on 78 minutes. A throw into the box found Cole who was bundled over by Song for a penalty. As usual, Arsenal delayed the taking of the kick for as long as they possibly could as memories of a certain F Kanoute came flooding back. Foy eventually booked Mannone, though frankly there were at least three others that ought to have followed the ‘keeper into the book. Eventually Diamanti was allowed to take the penalty, electing this time to do so one-footed. The spot-kick was dispatched into the bottom right hand corner to level the scores.

Chants of “2- and you mucked it up” rang around the ground, though I may have mis-heard one of the words. Foy, however, was continuing to give cause for concern, at one stage giving free-kicks one way but pointing the other. He finally gave up all pretence at having a clue issuing, Parker with a second yellow card for winning the ball cleanly off Arshavin. There was some suggestion that the ball may have brushed Parker’s arm whilst the player slid across the floor but frankly there couldn’t possibly have been any intent and, once more, refereeing incompetence will rob us of a vital player through suspension.

To our credit we still went forward and Ilunga won a free-kick on the left. Diamanti’s ball in was cleared as far as Collison only for the midfielder to put the ball well over. Sub Eduardo then got inside Spector but his cross was behind everyone. The ball fell to Diamanti whose first-time ball down the line to Cole was superb. Cole bore down on goal but delayed the shot and the Arsenal defence was able to smuggle the ball away.

The board showed four added minutes, and, much as he had done in the first half, Sagna found space on our left. Van Persie’s found himself unmarked in the six-yard box but Green’s reaction save from the header was superb. Kovac came on for Behrami with a couple of minutes of stoppage left. There was just time for Diamanti to stick a hopeful effort into the Bobby Moore stand before the game ended in a hard-earned draw.

Given the season we’ve endured thus far this one felt like a win. It certainly cheered me up a bit after a trying couple of weeks anyway. It made a pleasant change to see Zola ringing the changes with a bit more than ten minutes left on the clock anyway. All we need to do now is stop giving stupid goals away, perhaps score a few more ourselves and pick up an owner willing to invest decent money in the club. Ah well, time for my medication.



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Player Ratings

Robert Green
Came for one he shouldn’t have. Should have come for one he didn’t. Result: two goals. A lot better on crosses in the second half and made two fine saves that ended up earning us the point.


Jonathan Spector
Right-back is a position that worries me at the moment. Never looked all that comfortable defensively and seems to have an allergy to the opponents’ half of the field. Improved as the game progressed.


Herita Ilunga
A lot of the threat came from down his flank. Got forward well on occasion but crossing was poor.


James Tomkins
Won just about everything in the air in the second half. Decent match.


Matthew Upson
Another who improved from a bit of a shaky start. Still not at his best though.


Scott Parker
Dreadfully unlucky to encounter a referee as poor as Foy. No penalty and two yellow cards for nothing.


Mark Noble
There is something not right here. The more the game went on the worse his passing got and his delivery from set pieces left much to be desired.


Jack Collison
A quietish one – a few decent passes and a bit unlucky with an early shot that was adjudged to have been offside.


Valon Behrami
Did some useful harrying round but still looks about a yard off the pace.


Guillermo Franco
A few good touches – won the ball in the air a few times and there was some decent link play early on with Cole. However, the longer the game went on the less noticeable he became.


Carlton Cole
The one player on the pitch who never gave up. Thoroughly deserved the goal and whatever MOTM plaudits came his way.


Substitutes


Alessandro Diamanti
(Replaced Noble, 56 mins) The catalyst for the comeback. Seemed to take being left out as a personal affront and kept a cool head amongst all the gamesmanship that was going on for the penalty.


Zavon Hines
(Replaced Franco, 64 mins) Caused Arsenal problems by running at them and was instrumental in winning the free-kick for the first.


Radoslav Kovac
(Replaced Behrami, 90 mins) Presumably he came on as an exercise in running the clock down. That was about all he was able to do in the two minutes or so he was on the pitch.


Peter Kurucz
Did not play.


Julien Faubert
Did not play.


Manuel Da Costa
Did not play.


Junior Stanislas
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: Chris Foy.

Attendance: 34,442.

Man of the Match: Carlton Cole.

West Ham United

Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Herita Ilunga, James Tomkins, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Jack Collison, Valon Behrami, Guillermo Franco, Carlton Cole.

Goals: Carlton Cole 74 Alessandro Diamanti 80                .

Booked: Zavon Hines 71 Jack Collison 75 Scott Parker 78      .

Sent Off: Scott Parker 78    .

Arsenal

Mannone, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Eboue, Song, Diaby, Fabregas, Arshavin, Van Persie.

Substitutes: Bendtner (Eboue 82), Eduardo (Diaby 88).

Subs not used: Almunia, Silvestre, Nasri, Gibbs, Ramsey.

Goals: Van Persie (16), Gallas (37).

Booked: Eboue (77), Mannone (80).

Sent Off: None.

 
Gordon Thrower's Man of the Match: Carlton Cole


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