Wednesday, 24th April 2002
To see our five match unbeaten run dismissed in this fashion was not fair to the players, management, back room staff and, most of all, supporters of the club, whether they made the trip to North London, Watched the game on T.V or listened on the Radio.
The first half began exactly how I thought it would. Arsenal came flying out of the traps and laid siege to the Hammers goal, but to our credit (and it's hard to say that on away performances this season) we held our own. Tomas Repka and Christian Dailly at the back were solid as rocks preventing any real chance for the Gunners to break through the Hammers defence.
The main threat from our opponents came from the midfield in the form of Freddie Lungberg. Twice in the opening minutes he broke through, but on both occasions his efforts were thwarted by the bravery and agility of David James. Ljungberg's first effort was pushed around the post for a corner, and James' second save was at the feet of the onrushing forward.
Once these chances had passed by, injury struck to our Player of the Year elect - Sebastien 'Archie' Schemmel. A cross-field pass by England hopeful Trevor Sinclair was controlled well by the French full-back, but in landing he broke a bone in his left foot, much to the dismay of both players and fans. This led to the introduction of Slovakian international Vladmir Labant whose West Ham career has hardly got off to a flying start. Labant switched to the left and Sinclair moved over to the right in what was a five-man midfield with Lomas, Carrick and Cole making up the numbers.
The lone striker being Fredi Kanoute, who, if he continues to put in performances similar to tonight's will silence the home faithful critics (although his finishing was questionable - again - when he managed to break clear of the Arsenal defence with only David Seaman to beat, before ballooning his effort into the North Stand of Highbury).
The turning point came when a very poor decision by linesman Paul Canadine denied Kanoute a clear cut goal. Kanoute sold a magnificent dummy to Cameroon full back Lauren before outsmarting Tony Adams and David Seamen, only to see his off-balance shot cleared from behind the line by Arsenal left back Ashley Cole. The whole ball had clearly crossed the line only for the effort to be ruled out - a refereeing decision that, once again this season, left Hammers fans (as well and Manchester United and Liverpool fans) seething. The question of a 'third eye' camera will inevitably be raised yet again.
West Ham, at this stage, managed to get hold of the midfield with Michael Carrick keeping Patrick Viera extremely quiet, which not many midfielders have managed to do through the course of the season.
So the sides went in at half time without a goal to seperate them. The second half only served to prove how far West Ham had progressed this season.
Although the final score confirms that we lost the game, the way our defence performed in the second half was something that all West Ham fans can be proud of. Arsenal to their credit, are fighting for the title of 'Champions', and should really sweep teams outside of the top six aside. But as a unit we have grown considerably and were nothing like the pushover that we once were. Roeder's men were determined not going to let the underdog status mean that we were going to buckle under the pressure.
The home side went on all out attack, but did not really create an opening to test England's David James. The only real chance before the first goal arrived came from a dogged run by Viera, but Ray Parlour's effort was once again saved by the best keeper to grace the Upton Park turf since Phil Parkes. The only other chance Arsenal had was defended well by Ian Pearce who nodded the ball over with Thierry Henry ready to pounce.
However the pressure finally told once Jermain Defoe replaced the hard working Fredi Kanoute. On 76 minutes Arsenal came forward after Joe Cole lost possession just outside the opposition penalty area, and within three passes between Tony
Adams, Nwanko Kanu and Dennis Bergkamp, Swedish midfielder Freddie Lungberg was left to place the ball beyond the stretching James. The question on that goal should be who was following the goalscorer - there was no Hammers midfielder in sight.
Within three minutes, Arsenal doubled their lead when Trevor Sinclair made what can only be described as a schoolboy error, giving possession to Arsenal for Ashley Cole to cross for Kanu who smashed his mis-hit shot into the ground and over the helpless West Ham keeper. Not a good moment for Sinclair, in front of the watching Sven Goran Eriksson.
Little more was created by either side, but as previously mentioned we can hold our heads high safe in the knowledge that we battled so hard only to lose the game by quick counter attacks and occasional errors in the midfield (and the untimely intervention of the referee's assistant).
And so to Newcastle, where if we can contain a certain reborn Mr.Shearer we have a very good chance of keeping seventh place in the table and walking away from Tyneside with at least a point.
One final point is with regards to Nigel Winterburn, who once again played with his heart on his sleeve. It was pleasing to see the reception given to him by both sets of supporters.
My question to Mr.Roeder would be why are we letting a player of undoubted quality leave?
David James (8) Another faultless display, made critical saves and was not to blame for either goal.
Sebastien Schemmel (6) Went off injured early on.
Tomas Repka (9) Qaulity defence display. Man of the match.
Nigel Winterburn (7) As ever gave his all on what could well be his final appearance at Highbury; consistent as ever.
Christian Dailly (7) Kept Thierry Henry at bay, another performance where no mistakes were made.
Ian Pearce (7) Slowly becoming the player he once was, solid at right back.
Steve Lomas (6) Not one of his better games.
Michael Carrick (8) Kept Viera quiet, held his own in midfield.
Joe Cole (6) No party tricks, kept it simple but could have done so much more.
Trevor Sinclair (5) Hardly got into the game and at fault for the second goal.
Frederic Kanoute (9) Worked tirelessly on his own up front, very unfortunate to see his 'goal' not allowed.
West Ham United: James, Repka, Winterburn, Dailly, Sinclair, Lomas, Kanoute, Pearce, Carrick, Cole, Schemmel
Subs: Labant (Schemmel 17), Defoe (Kanoute 74), Garcia, Hislop, Potts
Arsenal: Seaman, Cole, Vieira, Keown, Adams, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Lauren, Henry, Parlour, Edu
Subs: Kanu (Edu 63), Grimandi (Bergkamp 81), Dixon (Ljungberg 89), Wright, Jeffers
Goals: Ljungberg (76), Kanu (80)
Booked: Carrick (56), Edu (63), Vieira (88), Lomas (89)
Man of the Match: Tomas Repka
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