Saturday, December 28, 2013

West Ham 1 Arsenal 3

We had a series of massive games over the last couple of weeks but this clash with a struggling West Ham side was even more important. Had we lost this game, the critics would have had a field day and totally written us off as title contenders, even though we would still be in the mix. To be honest, we, at the Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, started doubting towards the end of the first half if this team has what it takes to be champions after a string of chances were spurned. With the league leaders on goal difference, Liverpool, having to face Manchester City later on the day, this was an opportunity that must not be missed in order to reclaim the top spot.

Arsene Wenger understood the importance of this game better than anybody else as he named an almost unchanged starting XI from the side that started in a goalless draw with Chelsea on Monday night. This came as a surprise to us as the Frenchman suggested that he would rotate his team over a busy period. The only change was forced one as Tomas Rosicky picked up a knock from the Chelsea game. Santi Cazorla started in his place on the left wing. Surprisingly, Mathieu Flamini remained on the bench, while Mikel Arteta kept his place in the starting line-up despite suffering a swollen ankle after falling victim to John Obi Mikel's atrocious tackle.

We were hoping a big response from an Arsenal side that saw four games without a win. The first half left us frustrated. In contrast to the previous game, the Gunners created dozens of chances, but Theo Walcott missed a great chance after having been released behind the West Ham defence by Aaron Ramsey's incisive pass. Olivier Giroud cut a frustrated figure, missing a few clear-cut chances. At half time, we were hoping that we would not be left regretting all those missed chances at the end of the game. Then less than a minute into the second half, West Ham scored totally against the run of play.

The goal inspired the hosts. We were probably lucky not to go two goals down as West Ham were as wasteful as we were in the first half. Arsenal were too open for our liking, but Wenger admitted that they had to open up in their search for an equaliser, which arrived in the 68th minute. Walcott's effort might have needed a little bit of luck to hit the back of the net, but his decision-making and movement leading to the goal probably deserved it. Theo's goal celebration was minimal before the team positioned themselves for the restart of play. Arsenal's intent was clear that a draw simply wouldn't do. Three minutes later, Theo struck again, this time with a super header, which met Poldi's superb cross down from the left flank (Poldi didn't seem to have been awarded an assist because his cross was flicked on by Tomkins). This time Theo celebrated his goal emphatically, especially pleased with his first headed goal. In the 79th minute, Poldi's sublime strike virtually put the game to bed, although we still had chances to score more.

The turning point for Arsenal was arguably a substitution, which saw Poldi come onto the pitch for the first time in four months. It was also a forced change as Aaron Ramsey was clearly in distress, asking to come off. The media are talking up the negative impacts the absence of our best player of the season so far could have, but as this game suggested, Santi Cazorla will be more than happy to take his chance to play in the middle of the park. Although the diminutive Spaniard does not have Rambo's engine and stamina, he looked to have enjoyed the opportunity after Poldi came on and took over the left-winger role. Rosicky can also play in the central midfield. Jack Wilshere could be a more like-for-like replacement of Ramsey as a box to box player next to a holding midfielder, Arteta or Flamini, but he needs to step up his game to fill Ramsey's boots. Alternatively, even Arteta could play a more attack-minded role alongside deep-lying Flamini. Ramsey looked to have hit a lull in his form recently with a number of passes misplaced. As long as the lay-off does not stretch into too long a period, it may do him a good, serving him as a well-deserved rest to come back stronger. 

Before this game Arsenal had never won when they conceded a first goal (draw against West Brom and losses against Man U, Napoli away, and Man City), so this game presented a tough test when they went a goal down. Losing an influential player in Ramsey in the crucial stages of the game could have led to capitulation in the past. Despite these adversities, Arsenal pulled off a spirited comeback. 

After the well-deserved three points, Arsenal are top of the league again. Our next fixture is an away game against a high-flying Newcastle side. It will be another stern test.

Players rating

Szczesny: 6
He was directly responsible for the West Ham goal by spilling the ball, but pulled off a great save of Noble's free-kick.

Sagna: 7
He had to work hard to cope with Matt Jarvis, who was constantly attacking our right flank in the first half. Provided a great cross for Giroud, as well.

Mertesacker: 7
Had a good game.

Vermaelen: 7

Solid display.

Gibbs: 7
Had a good game going forward. Delivered a few good crosses and combined well with Poldi.

Arteta: 7
Gave away an unnecessary free-kick in the dangerous area, but he initiated some good attacking moves and had a shot. Made 4 tackles and 87 passes with a 95% passing success rate.

Ramsey: 6
Probably he may have been more adventurous with his passing, but for the past few games, his passing has been notably wayward. His passing success rate for this game was 79%, poor again by his standard and the team average of 84%. Some fans blame Wenger for not resting Ramsey for this game, but there were no clear signs of fatigue and it would have been cruel if the boss had denied him a chance to celebrate his 23rd birthday with a goal. Hope his thigh strain will not keep him on the sidelines too long (according to Mertesacker, it could be two to three weeks). He has been the strongest candidate for the Player of the Year until Suarez hit the current form. Hopefully, the Welshman will come back soon to replicate his earlier form.

Özil: 7

He has been a target of some criticisms from a section of the fans, but his touches and movements oozed class. Made impressive 8 key passes. His performance might not have been so eye-catching, but he is still a joy to watch and a very important player for us always occupying two or three opposition players.

Cazorla: 7

Perhaps his best performance so far this season, bar the Liverpool match. He was never shy of shooting from distance, which was a fresh breath of air to us. Unlucky not to score with a fine header, which forced a powerful save from Adrian. Had 8 shots, of which 2 on target with 6 key passes.

Walcott: 8
Barclays and's Man of the Match, scoring an equaliser and a winner. He should have scored in the first half when Ramsey's pin-point pass unleashed him behind the West Ham defence.

Giroud: 6
He lacked aggression in front of goal. Missed a number of chances, but he did very well to hold the ball and lay off for Poldi to score.


Podolski: 7
Came on to replace the injured Ramsey in the 65th minute. Made a big difference. Provided the width, which has been missing while he was out injured. Welcome back, Poldi!

Flamni: 6
81st-minute substitute for Özil. This substitution seemed to us a bit too late. He should have been brought on as soon as we had scored a winner in order to tighten up the defence, but no harm done.

Bendtner: 6
85th-minute substitute for Giroud. Nearly scored.

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