Nearly everything we know or think we know about Arsenal played out in 112 minutes at the Emirates stadium last night as Arsenal cruised to a 5-1 win over a dreadful and dirty West Ham United. In fact, in many ways last night’s game was a microcosm of Arsenal’s season and perhaps even a microcosm of Arsenal over the last 5 years.
First there was the now customary limp first half performance followed by a much more determined second half. As I point out in my By the Numbers column, Arsenal have just a +3 goal difference in the first half of their League games this season. It’s not that Arsenal have a hard time scoring goals in the first half of games, they have 20 goals, it’s more that they allow teams to score on them having conceded 17. In the second half, those numbers change dramatically and Arsenal have 26 goals and have only conceded 10. That’s a +16 goal difference, the highest among the top clubs.
And so it was against West Ham. The Hammers struck first in the 18th minute off a Jack Collison wonder-goal. Arsenal failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to an unmarked Collison who simply hit the ball hard. Both Mertesacker and Giroud charged the shot down but parted like the red sea leaving Szczesny unsighted and with no chance of saving.
How many times this season have we seen a player (Arsenal or otherwise) simply refuse to block a shot? Too many in my mind. And how many times in the last 5 years have we seen Arsenal fail to clear their lines on a corner kick? That’s right, eleventeen: which is so many times that I no longer get nervous. I’m resigned to the fact that Arsenal concede goals when they fail to clear corners and set pieces.
What defines whether Arsenal get points now isn’t whether we concede but rather how we hustle to get back into or stay in games. Against Chelsea, Arsenal’s balls seemed to shrivel up and suck back into their body. But against West Ham, they “grew a pair” and matched Allardyce’s men in the physical battle despite suffering several tackles which should have seen red.
Podoski’s shot to level the two teams was an unstoppable blast from outside the box set up by a delicious little ball from Wilshere. But it wasn’t that goal which truly impressed, it was the 15 minutes after the second half kicked off. Arsenal won every tackle in that period, won every header, and won every dribble, and for a few minutes it truly seemed like every pass went into the net, all planned as well.
The goal on the 47th minute was training ground stuff; Walcott took the corner and played it low and hard into the near post where Olivier Giroud had made a run. The big Frenchman clipped the ball into the net and my jaw hit the floor: I didn’t know the two of them had that goal in them.
From that point on, West Ham showed why they have dropped so precipitously from their lofty early season League table position. They disintegrated under a withering 10 minutes from Arsenal. 10 minutes which saw Arsenal score three more goals, each seemingly more unbelievable than the last. In the end, Podolski scored just the one goal, but he did gather 3 assists to his name, a feat not seen since Walcott managed in the League cup v. Reading.
After the 5th goal, the game was largely academic. Arsenal stuck the car in cruise control and Cazorla decided to start shooting from all over the pitch. There was a scary moment in the game when Danny Potts was stretchered off with a concussion. My thoughts go out to the youngster and hopes for a speedy recovery.
But if you have any doubt that Allardyce sends his men out to kick Arsenal around just watch that game again — it’s all long balls and over-the-top tackles. Vaz Te raked Mertesacker’s Achilles and elbowed Wilshere in the head. Jack Collison somehow, miraculously, failed to break Jack Wilshere’s leg with a disgusting tackle which should see retroactive punishment but won’t. To see the series of screen shots, head on over to the 7amkickoff Facebook page – how is Wilshere not in the hospital today? Even Momo Diame, supposedly auditioning for a gig at Arsenal, got into the action with a studs-up tackle on Mertesacker in the dying minutes of the game.
But as I said from the start, those tackles shouldn’t surprise anyone because we’ve seen them plenty this year already and the last five years far too often — in the very last game RamiressssssSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS got away with an absurd tackle which led to Chelsea’s first goal an then got away with a series of egregious fouls after that to rub salt in the wound. Arsenal were lucky to escape without any injury, though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Wilshere is out for a few weeks after this:
And so it is that Arsenal go from one game to the next, from one half to the next, and even from just part of a half to the whole game putting in a wildly variable performance. Statistically Arsenal are better this year than last: same number of points after 23 games (37) but far superior goals scored (46 v. 39) and a better defense (27 v. 33) resulting in a much better goal difference (+19 v. +6). But it’s consistency that’s the hallmark of top clubs and if there is anything different about this season compared to the last, it’s that Arsenal “lack a little bit the consistency” they have shown over Arsene Wenger’s tenure.
If there’s one thing that Arsenal fans wish for it’s that the club put in performances like the one against West Ham and Swansea every match. If Arsenal did that, I don’t even think people would mind so much if the club finished in 6th place. Ironically, if they do work their socks off for the rest of the season, there’s no way they will finish 6th.