Thursday, April 17, 2014

Arsenal 3 West Ham 1

It was an important win for us to keep the pace with Everton in our battle for the last Champions League berth. After a hard-fought 3-1 win over West Ham, Arsenal were back in fourth place at least for 24 hours.

Arsenal's focus turned to the Premier League Tuesday night as they trailed Everton by 2 points for fourth place. Some fans seem to think that the north London club's aspiration for a Champions League place is solely motivated by a financial reason. However, the Champions League football is also a big attraction to lure world-class players with and keep star players within the Club. Arsene Wenger has also emphasised its importance for the development of young players. Besides, we, Arsenal fans, all love to watch our beloved club play against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barca, etc. rather than in a Thursday-night second-tier European football league, don't we?

After the gruelling 120 minutes plus mentally-testing penalty shootout of the FA Cup semi-final, understandably the recovery of those players who played in the game less than 72 hours ago had been a cause of concern prior to the match. There were so many uncertainties surrounding the fitness of players for this match. Mathieu Flamini was still suspended as well. After much speculation, Arsene Wenger made 4 changes to the side that started in Arsenal's penalty shootout win over Wigan. Szczesny came back in goal in place of the Cup hero, Fabianski. Fit-again Koscielny formed a central defensive partnership again with Mertesacker after missing 3 games. Vermaelen was a stand-in left-back as neither of Gibbs nor Monreal (dead leg) was available. Kim Källström made a first start in an Arsenal shirt as Aaron Ramsey was only fit for the bench after suffering tight muscles in the aftermath of the FA Cup tie. Tomas Rosicky started in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who only made the bench after complaining of muscle tightness. Olivier Giroud came in for Yaya Sanogo. In fact, this line-up was the oldest starting XI Arsene Wenger fielded since May 2003 with an average age of 29 years and 188 days.

There was an argument after the Wigan game as to whether the performance overshadowed the result, but as far as this match is concerned, we are happy with both display and outcome. The team showed their full commitment and desire. They really wanted it. Especially, they showed their character when they went 1-0 down. They responded quickly. Källström drew a fine save from Adrian with his powerful shot, while Santi quickly got the on end of Downing's poor clearance and delivered an incisive pass through three defenders to find Poldi before the German striker turned and fired a shot into the far bottom corner of the net. The equaliser came at a crucial time, 4 minutes after they had fallen behind and just before half time.

The three sublime goals from Poldi and Giroud demonstrated their class. The two strikers both had a point to prove. After the FA Cup tie against Wigan, Poldi expressed his disgruntlement over being repeatedly substituted, but he completed 90 minutes in this game with two superb goals to cap his stellar performance. Much-maligned Olivier Giroud scored his 20th goal of the season, which was reminiscent of Arsenal hero Bergkamp. According to Wenger, the French striker was deeply disappointed with himself at half time after missing a couple of good chances, but he picked himself up and scored an exquisite goal, even had a hand in the build-up leading to Poldi's second goal. Hopefully, confidence and encouragement from this game will propel his form for the remainder of the season. Having runners beyond him again in the shape of Ramsey and Ozil, Giroud's form is likely to improve.

The team's resilience coming from behind to win only 3 days after a draining FA Cup semi-final convinced quite a few people of Arsenal's capability to secure a Champions League spot once again, combined with their relatively straightforward run-in compared to Everton's. Following Everton's shock defeat at Goodison Park by the hands of Crystal Palace on Wednesday night (Everton's tricky fixtures was not supposed to start until this weekend when they host Manchester United), Arsenal has got the control of their own destiny. The Gunners are now a point clear of fifth-placed Everton, having played the same number of games. We are obviously buoyed by the development. Last season we went over a period that we couldn't lose any more and produced an unbeaten run of 10 games. With four league games remaining, hopefully we can replicate the same performance and commitment. Also, we will have players back in the next couple of weeks, including Ozil who should be available for the next game. If we can win the FA Cup and finish in the top four, it will be a successful season for us.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Probably could have done better against West Ham's goal, but with West Ham registering only 2 shots on target, he was largely untested.

Sagna: 7
Always available on the right flank.

Mertesacker: 7
Kept Andy Carroll contained. Won 5 aerial duels. 

Koscielny: 7
Some shaky moments in the first half, but stepped up his game in the second half like everybody else.

Vermaelen: 7
The absence of Gibbs and Monreal might have been a blessing in disguise. The Belgian centre-back seemed to have been a better option against a physical West Ham side than the two specialist left-backs (certainly much better than Moreal). Won 5 aerial duels and made an important block to Nocerino's shot. He set up Giroud's goal through a long lofted ball. Went forward as often as he could.

Areta: 7
Is he to blame for West Ham's goal for not tracking Matt Jarvis' run through the middle? He allowed Diame a little too easy to run through the middle.

Källström: 7
Helped balance the team between defence and offence with his good skills and intelligent reading of the game. Made 5 tackles and 1 interception, more passes (84) than any other player, even Arteta. Some passes went astray, but a 83% completion rate was as bad as some people think. Made a good run deep into the box, which we have missed in the recent games, and his powerful left-footed shot drew a fine save from Adrian.

Cazorla: 8
Barclays' Man of the Match. Provided an assist for Poldi's first goal through his astute pass threading through three West Ham defenders. He even displayed a dogged defensive performance. Unlucky not to find the net when his curling effort only just missed the goal. He always wanted the ball.

Rosicky: 7
Created a great chance by making a run behind Giroud, but couldn't get firm control of the ball. Energetic display in the first half, but faded in the second half and replaced by Ramsey in the 72nd minute.  

Podolski: 8
Took his two goals very well. After scoring his second, he even tracked back and started running into spaces. 10 goals from 15 starts is an impressive stat. Hopefully, he will produce more of this kind of passionate performances.

Giroud: 7
For his goal, he used his upper body strength to shield the ball from two markers, controlled the ball with a perfect touch with his left foot and clinically finished to put the ball through Adrian's legs with his weaker right foot. He showed his class in his goal and 16 league goals is not a bad goal tally, but his poor conversion rate vis-a-vis the number of chances he gets still left a lot to be desired.


Ramsey: 7
Replaced Rosicky in the 72nd minute. Made a difference through his dynamic runs and set up Poldi's second goal with his deft header to release Poldi behind a West Ham defence. How much we have missed him! It was encouraging to see him try a long-range shot, which indicated that his confidence is back. 

Jenkinson: 6
Came on for Santi in the 88th minute to see out a victory. Lively on the right flank. Delivered a fine cross to Ramsey.

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