Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1
Tuesday, 15th April 2014
I've only one complaint - why can't we play like this, as we did against Liverpool, every bloody match?It wasn't perfect and we've lost again, 'tis true. But losing like this to a top team beats the hell out of winning awful. In the end, class told. Going to the Emirates isn't easy and, whilst we matched Arsenal in the first half; should have gone in ahead; they were a little better in the second and had much the better chances.
I'll guess that a lot of you were thinking that Arsenal were there for the taking. The trouble is, the Gunners are a lot like us this season. Assuming you're willing to ignore the fact that they're not us; have a bigger, better squad; don't play in proper claret and blue colours; have a bigger, better ground; aren't West Ham; have 30-odd points more than us... *Ahem*
The point is that, lately, you never know whether you're going to be served up prime steak or utter tripe until someone plonks the plate down in front of you. They started, if not tripey, like scrag end of neck for the first half hour, but started to grow into the game from there. At the end, each of the plates were probably about the same, but they had more sauce on their side.
We ceded possession almost completely for the first 5 minutes, but then took the game to our hosts. Diame running down the middle was causing trouble; Jarvis was very much on the upside of his erratic ability.
We didn't have it all our own way, for sure. Arsenal put a really dangerous ball across our box just before the quarter-hour; Armero nipped in quick with a good challenge on 25 to snuff out another attack, Noble damn near gave a goal away just before the half-hour...
But the most threatening moments in that first 30 minutes came from us. At the Emirates, that is no mean feat, and our fans were definitely making more noise than their's. Noble's error and real threat from them shortly afterward heralded the awakening of the Sleeping Beauties.
The alarm call came on 39. A pin-point perfect pass from Demel picked out a surging run from Nocerino that took him almost to the goal line. I can't decide whether he was trying to shoot from the acutest of angles, or trying to cut it back across.
Either way, West Ham's very own Brian Blessed impersonator battled well, the ball squirmed up and back across. An alert garden gnome nutted it into the ol' onion bag. Sorry, but Jarvis must've been the shortest bloke on the pitch. He was in the right place at the right time, and reacted well to the chance, no doubt to the delight of West Ham, Everton, and (alas!) Tottenham fans everywhere.
Alas, Downing decided to get involved four minutes later. I've given him MotM a couple of times recently, but he was ruddy awful this time. His work rate can't be faulted, but for neither love nor money could he find an Iron shirt in this match. I reckon he and Jarvis must have put on each other's boots in the changing room, since it's usually the latter that is frustratingly inaccurate; not tonight.
Downing's only decent pass of the night, unfortunately, was a clearance from our corner flag that went straight to Cazorla. His pass to Podolski was the equal of Demel's to Nocerino, and Podolski clincally despatched it to equalise.
All four goals were things of beauty. It's just a shame 3 of them were Arsenal's, but that's the difference 'twixt them and us. I'm reminded of more than one February match where we conceded possession and chances, but finished more clinically than the opposition. Unto us, in respect of finishing, thus did Arsenal.
If we'd gone in ahead at half time, things may have gone differently, but the Gunners came out with their tails up. As the second half wore on, they steadily exerted more and more control. We weren't run ragged, we weren't run out of things, we certainly continued to ask questions, but they always looked the more likely to score and duly did so with two excellent finishes. Ten minutes after the restart, it was a long ball (Shock! Horror!) that undid us. I have a feeling that Carroll was supposed to be marking Giroud, but it was Reid that should have had the ball away from danger and failed.
You can only admire the control and finish, though. As you can with the move and Podolski's despatch of the third, high into the roof of the net with 15 minutes left, giving Adrian not the slimmest of chances. If I've got to watch my team losing, those are the sorts of goals I want to see us concede. Not a dodgy penalty, not a scramble with a hint of foul, not a couple of Rooney-esque flukes. Goals that leave you wondering what the hell we could have done to stop them...
Man of the Match was, ultimately, not too hard a choice. On the hour, there were perhaps four contenders, by the end only two. Although I was surprised that Downing got 5/6ths of the game, I can't see what the purpose was of taking Jarvis off with him on 78 was, unless it was saving legs for Saturday.
The longer the game went on, the more that Arsenal took control, the less he featured (as did Diame, another might-have-been). But, his goal aside, Jarvis was a real problem for Arsenal for most of the game. Even more so, I thought, did Nocerino grow into the game. The longer it went on, the more he became involved. Why I'm going to make him MotM?
He struggled in his first start against Stoke. Despite Sparky Hughes' attempts to change their style, they're still a physical and powerful side. Noc, I think struggled with that. Arsenal play football differently (I get the feeling I could have stopped that sentence at "football"!). It seemed to suit him much better.
What doesn't suit him, unsurprisingly, is Sam's style of play. Sam doesn't play through the middle; he wants it up the flanks. The first half left me wondering whether we had had Noble and Nocerino or Nocle and Noberino in the middle. The beard aside, they were indistinguishable in their quiet busy-ness.
Arsenal don't play up the flanks, however. Not exclusively, anyway. The more the game went on, the more the ball came through the middle, the more Nocerino became involved. He's not a terrier like Taylor or Noble, forever snapping at heels and sliding in.
Time and again, though, deft little, classy little Italian touches were nicking the ball off a Gunner toe or flicking it to a Hammer boot. Fulham require 2 wins and a draw from four games simply to match us on points (they'd still be behind on goal difference); surely none of the other 3 teams in the bottom 4 can possibly catch us.
With the season effectively dead, except for pride, I'd really like to see Armero and Nocerino starting every remaining game. Give them a real chance to show us what they can do. Armero has already indicated he's more than willing to sign for us. I suspect Nocerino won't feel the same, but on the evidence of this game, he's potentially a replacement for either or both of Taylor and Nolan.
Speaking of remaining games, we've just had two entertaining ones. I can be philosophical about losing 2-1 at home to Liverpool and 3-1 away to Arsenal. We've put in a performance and the rest is in the lap of the gods. It's Palace and Pulis at home on Saturday, though. I have misgivings.
Steak? Or tripe?
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Saved what was saveable; couldn't save what wasn't. Such as the three goals, alas!
Had a very good game, I thought. Peach of a pass to pick out Nocerino for our goal.
Lively and pacy again, but looks a bit error prone. Good defender, aggressive and skillful going forwards, but left me heart-in-mouth a few times. Is that still adjusting to the Prem, or just him? Time will tell...
Apart from the second goal, that was possibly his best game back after injury. Apart from the second goal. Which he was, very definitely, at fault for, unfortunately.
Very solid. Was caught a little in two minds for their third, otherwise might have been a contender for MotM.
Quietly busy. A little fortunate not have given a goal away on the half-hour, though.
Enthusiastic, energetic and threatening in the first half in his preferred CM role. The longer the game went on, the less effective he became; 7 in the first half, 5 in the second...
Very nearly MotM. Should pinch Downing's boots more often!
Horrible game, really horrible. Gave away the equaliser with a shocking clearance, delivery and accuracy really poor tonight. Worked hard, otherwise I'd give him 3, but... Whilst I've given him MotM in a couple of the most recent games, he was Muppet of the Match tonight; had a stinker. Surprised he wasn't subbed much sooner than 78 mins.
Man of the Match. Decent first half and got better and better as the match progressed. First time he's started and finished a game. Wouldn't mind seeing him do the same for the remainder of the season. Don't think he'd sign for us permanently, alas.
Despite having a decent amount of service was mostly shackled by Mertesacker. Escaped occasionally, but couldn't inflict any real damage.
A quarter of an hour is no time at all to influence a game at the Emirates.
Ricardo Vaz Te
Contribution consisted of an awful cross, a pointless, silly foul, and getting in the way of Nocerino's late shot!
Even less time than his namesake to make a difference.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Match FactsWest Ham United: Adrian, Guy Demel, Pablo Armero, Winston Reid, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Matt Jarvis, Stewart Downing, Antonio Nocerino, Andy Carroll.
Goals: Matt Jarvis 40 .
Booked: Antonio Nocerino 37 Mo Diame 60 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Arsenal: Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta, Kim Kallstrom, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud .
Subs not used: Lukasz Fabianski, Yaya Sanogo, Chuba Akpom, Hector Bellerin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Goals: Lukas Podolski (44, 78), Olivier Giroud (55).
Booked: None booked..
Sent off: None.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Man of the Match: Antonio Nocerino.