FA Premiership
Arsenal 2 West Ham United 3

Wednesday, 1st February 2006
by Gordon Thrower

Not Unhappy!

So farewell then Highbury. Much as I like art-deco architecture (just ask my travelling companions on away trips for just how boring I can be on the subject of architecture) there's always been an unpleasant stench of corruption about the place. Whether it be from the somewhat dodgy way they "bought" their way into the top flight, through to the various bung scandals (that money was just "resting" in the club safe obviously), right through to players being mysteriously transferred and smuggled away on the discovery that the EU passport on which they entered the country was in fact produced with a John Bull printing set, the place has always been completely bent.

Arsenal were always the club at school supported by the nerdier elements who, in an attempt to make themselves more popular, decided to pick a football team to support then got the choice horribly wrong. This resulted in a home crowd full of anoraks with dandruff for whom the usual badge of honour was normally a pair of NHS specs usually repaired with elastoplast. It wasn't only the silence that earned the place the nickname "library".

So much for nostalgia. Meanwhile back in the weird and wacky world of West Ham, for our last visit to the place we were treated to the sight of having a ?7m player on the bench. The suspension of Football Genius, coupled with the ineligibility of new loan signing Lionel Scaloni meant a first premiership start for Clive Clarke in an unfamiliar right back slot. Up front Young Edward went back to the bench to be replaced by Harewood which left us with a starting line-up of Hislop, Clarke, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Benayoun, Reo-Coker, Mullins, Harewood, Zamora.

Well the librarians had the brighter start. In truth they came at us with wave after wave of possession that we seemed unable to clear. However, the finishing was, fortunately, lacking. There was also some pretty resolute defending going on. In fact so impressed were the home side with our backs to the wall approach that they decided to join in as Heny's shot from just inside the box was blocked away to safety by, er, Ljungberg. Van Persie was the next to try his luck, jinking one way then the other before hitting the outside of Shaka's right hand post.

The initial storm weathered, there were occasional signs that we might begin to hold our own as the odd pass together and, as Irritating Bloke accurately put it "there's just a few signs of confidence beginning to show". Nothing prepared us, however, for what was to come. A couple of swift passes ended up with Etherington playing the ball into the path of Reo-Coker who skipped past Campbell's, well challenge is hardly the word really, before bearing down on goal and coolly slotting the ball past Lehmann. NRC celebrated with one of those little dances that appear to be de rigeur amongst the team at the moment. Our own celebrations were of the more traditional jumping up and down and hugging variety it has to be said.

So, we prepared ourselves for the onslaught that was surely to come. We were therefore totally unprepared for what happened seven minutes later. Konchesky hit a long diagonal pass towards Zamora who controlled the ball superbly on his chest. Bobby shrugged off Campbell's, well challenge is hardly the word really, stopped, then curled a superb effort into the far corner. Bobby's celebration was different to say the least. Eschewing the little dance that had earlier appeared to have been de rigeur amongst the team at the moment, Bobby's celebration appeared to consist of angrily storming about whilst sundry assorted players bounced off him. Us? We stuck with the jumping up and down and hugging - after all tradition is all isn't it?

Frankly this was a series of events that hadn't occurred to us. It certainly hadn't occurred to my brother who sent a text consisting solely of the words "bloody hell!"

The home side pushed forward and we were on occasion treated to the usual unedifying sight of Arsenal players going down under the most minimal of challenges. This seemed to wake up the home support a bit and I finally realised what their problem is. They actually believe that a dive is rewardable with a free-kick. I guess that spending all those years watching the likes of Pires falling over and getting away with it they wouldn't know any different. Thankfully nothing came of referee Halsey's generosity, though the linesman in front of us did his best to make amends with a series of baffling offside and throw in decisions 100% in favour of the home side, and 100% wrong.

With a few minutes left we were grateful to Yossi for clearing a Djourou shot off the line and we looked like we might hold on for a half-time lead. So, in finest West Ham tradition, we didn't. A long ball was played towards our left towards Konchesky who made a mess of controlling the ball which ran wide. The ball played in towards Ljungberg was cut out by Shaka with the Swede going down in advance instalments. With Shaka out of the loop the ball was played across to Pires whose shot was diverted in by Henry from close range.

So we went in 2-1 to the good thanks in part to a performance that owed a lot to sheer guts and determination, characteristics apparently lacking in so-called world class defender Sol Campbell who disappeared at half time without even stopping for his half time cuppa. He was apparently upset at his contribution to the match though we would have reassured him that, as far as we were concerned, he was doing just fine. If only he'd asked.

Well at 2-1 we knew the second half was going to be tough and the home side did press forward. Shaka got hopelessly lost as a corner came across and we were fortunate to be able to smuggle the ball out for another corner. Shaka later redeemed himself with a couple of excellent saves, including one low to his left to deny Arsenal. Henry went close a few times but generally Gabbidon and Ferdinand were rock solid. Of more concern were the full-back positions. Clarke, who had bravely battled out of position, was beginning to look a bit shell-shocked, whilst Konchesky, whose form has been variable of late, was being given a torrid time down his flank, primarily by Ljungberg who looked dangerous when he could be bothered to stay on his feet. However Yossi's replacement by 10K was AP's first change. This was followed by the departure of Zamora, who had played his heart out and went off to deserved applause from the away support to be replaced by Ashton on 73 minutes. Shortly after Clarke was replaced by Fletcher in a bid to bolster things.

On a rare excursion forward Harewood appeared to be flattened by Senderos and Lehmann weighed in with a few studs to the back of Marlon's head for good measure. A penalty? No not at Highbury. It appeared that a free-kick had been awarded to the home side for, well your guess is as good as mine. We barely had time to mull over the injustice when the script was torn up, put through the shredder and burnt to a pulp. Ashton chased a defender down in the corner. NRC robbed the only outlet and played the ball across for Matty to score from inside the box. Matty's shot took a couple of deflections, possibly off Lehmann and a defender. Like we cared as we celebrated with the traditional jumping up and down and hugging that we'd been practising all evening.

There were still ten minutes left to hang on of course and Shaka still had to be alert to save from Pires whilst an improvised overhead kick from Henry went narrowly wide. The brave resistance was ended when a blocked volley from "Elbows" Bergkamp fell kindly to Pires to reduce the deficit with 90 seconds left but even with four minutes of stoppage there was no way back for the home side. We were aided in our attempts to run the clock down by the offside flag which prompted an astonishing reaction from the home support. I mean it's not as if they haven't seen an offside flag there before is it?!

The full time whistle duly blown we resumed the jumping up and down and hugging stuff that we'd been doing all night, though the vocals were somewhat croaky by that time. A further text message from the brother at home pointed out that he had just seen yours truly on the box but it wasn't until I got home and had been able establish that Crimewatch hadn't been on that I realised he had meant that he'd seen some of the traditional jumping up and down and hugging stuff at the end of the match. A very refreshed Romford, who had been "preparing" for the match since opening time caught hold of the lovely Margot and hugged her, possibly breaking a rib or ten and we left the library for the last time passing a giant flying saucer on the way home that turned out to be our opponents new home. The only down side to the whole affair was the horrible nagging thought that our victory might end up gifting Sp*rs a champions league spot. Still we can console ourselves with the thought that, if that is to be the case, it'll only be for one round.

Good luck CJ!

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Player Ratings

Shaka Hislop
Looked a little reluctant to dominate the six-yard box on occasion but made up for that with some excellent shot-stopping.

Clive Clarke
On occasion his inexperience at this level showed, though he kept plugging gamely away on the wrong side of the back four.

Paul Konchesky
On the plus side his pass set up Bobby's goal. On the minus side his lack of control led to the hosts' first. Given a torrid time but didn't hide.

Danny Gabbidon
Looked as if he enjoyed every minute of the battle. Great stuff. Harshly booked for looking at Henry in a funny way.

Anton Ferdinand
Campbell could do worse than look at a video of Anton and Gabbidon's performance in this match. I understand he'll have plenty of time to watch it. Meanwhile Anton goes from strength to strength - has apparently played in every minute of every league match.

Hayden Mullins
One of our most reliable - if unsung - players this season. Did a job and did it well.

Nigel Reo-Coker
At the start of the season AP suggested, partly tongue in cheek, that NRC would take the Premiership by storm if he were to play half as well as he himself thought he could. His self-belief was not misplaced tonight.

Yossi Benayoun
Under pressure we were not treated to the usual sight of Yossi going forward in full flow. Didn't neglect his defensive duties though and weighed in with a vital clearance off the line.

Matthew Etherington
Another whose attacking instincts were sacrificed by the need for defensive solidity. That he was able to pop up at the end for the vital goal was an added bonus.

Marlon Harewood
Spent most of the match in the withdrawn wide right position. Made an occasional nuisance of himself.

Bobby Zamora
The goal was superb but for me it was his tireless and selfless running to relieve the pressure up front, where he was often ploughing a lone furrow, that caught the eye.


Shaun Newton
The goal was superb but for me it was his tireless and selfless running to relieve the pressure up front, where he was often ploughing a lone furrow, that caught the eye.

Dean Ashton
Held the ball up well when we needed an "out". His running and pressure started the series of events that led to the third.

Carl Fletcher
Some solid, if unspectacular work at the end.

Stephen Bywater
Did not play.

Teddy Sheringham
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Shaka Hislop, Clive Clarke, Paul Konchesky, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora.

Goals: Nigel Reo-Coker 24 Bobby Zamora 31 Matthew Etherington 78              .

Booked: Danny Gabbidon 45          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Arsenal: Lehamn, Campbell, Gilbert, Djourou, Senderos, Diaby, Gilberto, Pires, Ljungberg, Van Persie, Henry.

Subs not used: Almunia, Hleb.

Goals: Henry (45), Pires (89).

Booked: Larsson.

Sent off: None.

Referee: M.Halsey.

Attendance: 38,216.

Man of the Match: Nigel Reo-Coker.