Tag Archives: Arsenal v. West Ham

wilshirtless

Arsenal 5-1 West Ham: a season in 90 minutes

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:

Trod upon

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.

Qq

All leg

Arsenal v. West Ham: first half stats and Momo’s “trial”

First off a thank you to everyone for your remarks in yesterday’s article asking “why do you watch sports?” Perhaps the reason I asked the question is, as Gombak Hillbillies posited, because Arsenal are struggling lately. It is true that very few ever question a winning team. But the reality is that the question of why we invest so much time watching sports and arguing about sports is a topic that interests me philosophically and I wanted to get some perspective from the people I trust, my long suffering readers. You didn’t disappoint and fear not your ideas did not fall on deaf ears.

The especially interesting angle in all this is why the Arsenal community is so much more active than virtually every other sports community in the world? It’s not just a question of why does anyone watch sports but rather what is it about Arsenal that engages its fans in such a diverse way but with such equally fervent support? Why does Arsenal have a whole wing of our supporter armada which are just down on the club and down on the other supporters and another wing which supports Arsene Wenger religiously? How can this club simultaneously be revered for beautiful football and have a large contingent of supporters who pine for the George Graham era? Those are but two examples and not meant to be an extensive catalog of dichotomies at Arsenal FC.

Anyway, it’s a topic I’m interested in and I appreciate everyone’s comments.

And speaking of the George Graham days, Arsenal fans who pine for a return to Graham’s 3-5-2 defense-first, long ball system, get to see one up close and personal as the much derided Sam Allardyce brings his West Ham team to North London to face Arsenal this evening at the Grove.

I’m over the critique that some teams don’t play the “right type of football.” There is no right or wrong type of football. If West Ham want to play a one dimensional game and lump the ball forward, rather than moan, it’s our job to deal with that by closing down the more skilled passers in midfield like Mark Noble, who leads all outfield players with 4.2 long passes per game.

Complaining about some ideal of football is silliness of the second highest order, only surpassed by this critique that West Ham’s long ball game are setting back the English national team. I don’t care about the English National team, I only care that Arsenal get all three points today and in order to do that Arsenal will need to gird their lines against an aerial assault the likes of which they haven’t seen since, well, since Stoke.

The other complaint most oft leveled against Sam Allardyce teams is that they are dirty. I accept that criticism. At the very least, Allardyce’s teams like to ride the line of legality: rotational fouling is the rule as are cynical fouls to stop play. It’s up to the official to control this and today’s official is Andre Marriner. Marriner usually doesn’t allow too much kicking, so I expect West Ham to be the ones feeling hard done by the referee.

The Hammers will come out strong in the first part of the game in order to get a sense of both the referee and how the Arsenal are going to play today. It is crucial that Arsenal come out strong in the first half, something that they have not done enough of this season. As you can see from the chart below, Arsenal have the worst first half performances of any of the top seven teams this season.

halfs

80% of Arsenal’s goal difference comes in the second half of games, mostly thanks to a much improved defensive record. It’s too early to say that Arsenal focus on defense more in the second halves of games, the better defensive record could just be down to teams getting an early goal and then holding on for the points, more investigation is required. But it is indisputable that Arsenal have a worse record in the first halves of games than the second and Wenger admitted as much in his pre-match press conference.

The consistency of our performances within a game is worrying. When you see us in the first half and us in the second half, it’s difficult to believe that we are exactly the same team.

Part of the problem against Chelsea was that the team is overly reliant on players returning from injury. Wenger praised Diaby saying that he “dug deep” to play against Chelsea as he was clearly not physically fit. But, Arsene also bemoaned the defensive midfield position saying that it is the position the club is most short in (there will be a second article today on that topic). Diaby has a fitness test today and if he fails, Arsenal will probably have to field Frimpong given the fact that Coquelin picked up a hamstring injury in the Chelsea match. Arsene could put Wilshere in the more defensive role, he is the most “tigerish”, and slot Ramsey in the shuttler role. But against a team like West Ham who will probably be tasked with closing down Arsenal’s midfield and in front of a crowd which is, let’s just admit it, hostile toward Ramsey I’m hesitant to name him as a starter.

While everyone moans at every stray pass from the Arsenal midfield, they will be carefully watching Momo Diame’s performance for West Ham today. John Cross has gone so far as to call it a “trial” and that he will probably earn a switch to Arsenal if he puts in a good shift. I’m not so sure.

Diame is a good dribbler and he did score against Arsenal in the first meeting of the two teams. But Diame is also one of the laziest players I’ve seen in midfield and I wonder if his label as a “tough tackler” isn’t entirely because of his first season at Wigan. I know that many will ohh and ahh whenever he dribbles past someone but I would suggest you look at his positioning and his work rate instead of the Hollywood dribbles. I think he’s the kind of player who hides, unlike Ramsey, and yes, I just set myself up for being slaughtered but I have watched him extensively this season and I’m not his biggest fan. I actually like Mark Noble better, he’s much more consistent. Now watch as Diame has the match of a lifetime.

What isn’t debatable is that Arsene will have both Ox and Podolski back from illness. I don’t expect much change from the starting offensive lineup against Chelsea, which is to say that we will probably see Theo and Giroud in the forward spots, but Podolski and Ox coming off the bench is exactly what was missing against Chelsea.

And finally, I just want to point out that Arsenal’s record at the moment is P22 W9 D7 L7 F41 A26 GD+15 PTS34. Should they win today, Arsenal will have 37 points after 23 games and a goal difference above +15. Just for your information, last season after 23 games the Arsenal record was P23 W11 D4 L8 F39 A33 GD+6 PTS37.

So, a win today means this team has improved on Arsenal of last season offensively and defensively?

Maybe, let’s get the win first. And get it with a good first half performance for once.

Qq

Arsenal 1-0 West Ham; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Prelude

Just a quick note that my blogs are going to be an hour off all week. This is down to the fact that the rest of the world ended daylight savings time yesterday and America does it next week. If there was ever any question, American exceptionalism is alive and well, folks.

The Good

Song has now scored 3 goals in three consecutive games which, when you consider that he hasn’t scored more than two goals in an entire season (much less in two consecutive games), is quite a haul for a holding midfielder.

Just to give you a comparison to two of Chelsea’s best holding midfielders: Mikel has two goals in his entire career (both in the FA Cup) and in 214 games Makalele only had 2 goals.

It’s so unusual that even Arsene Wenger voiced his surprise:

He’s got the taste for going forward, even if I feel, sometimes, a little too much for our holding midfielder. But, that’s part of our game as well.

I suspect that what Song is thinking is that he’s trying to become like Michael Essien who is a goal scoring center mid, but I would caution him there that Essien scores from distance (WARNING: watching this might make you vomit) stepping in from his deep midfield position to have a shot, rather than spending time in the box like a striker.

I know it will seem strange to criticize him for getting us the game winning goal and that’s not really my point. I am awarding him man of the match for it and for his play the rest of the game.

Rather, I am just concerned that his foraging forward is leaving us open at the back and it’s also a major reason why he is picking up so many bookings this season. Because no matter how far forward he goes, he knows he is responsible as the defensive shield and so to catch the defenders, he’s clawing at them, tackling late and making defensive plays at full trot rather than.. well.. than holding back. None of which touches on the idea that we don’t want to start relying on our defensive midfielder to get us game winning goals.

Don’t get me wrong, I was screaming my head off and getting the breakthrough was a huge relief because it could have been so much worse. We could have been like Mancity and had some on-field dispute (Adebayor, of course) and then go on to lose 2-1 to Wolves, but we didn’t.

Credit to Song for getting the winner but at the same time, I’m not sure I want to see him in their 18 yard box all the time. Arsenal seem to have a chronic problem with our midfielders thinking they are strikers and while it worked out yesterday I can guarantee that clubs like Real Madrid will take full advantage of our lack of balance should the opportunity present itself.

Either convert him to an attacking mid and buy a defensive mid or hold him back a little. That’s all.

I also want to single out Clichy for his assist. It was a rare moment of creativity from Arsenal’s left winger and well done to him for getting his first assist since March.

The Bad

West Ham are never a pushover team against Arsenal: they came back and got a 2-2 draw last year, held us to a 0-0 draw the year before and were the last team to beat Arsenal at Highbury and the first team to beat us at the Emirates. They have a better away record against Arsenal than Tottenham have so it’s always going to be hard fought.

True to recent form, West Ham deployed their rotational fouling system and were called for 20 fouls. Also true to form, Mike Jones only gave them 2 yellow cards despite Behrami shoving Song in the chest, Da Costa’s consistent fouling, and Boa Morte and Scott Parker barely giving the referee a breath between fouls. I say this is true to form because looking back over the Arsenal games that Jones has refereed and there’s an uncanny number of games (all of them) where he gives an equal number of yellow cards to both teams, despite the foul count.

And that’s just the fouls that are counted! Scott Parker got away with what easily should have been a yellow card for a lunging tackle on Denilson. This shouldn’t surprise anyone because by now you know that English refs erroneously believe that any amount of force is acceptable as long as you win the ball. If he doesn’t win the ball on that tackle, it’s a yellow, and the commentators will bleat on about how it’s not really a foul because it’s just mistimed.

Meanwhile, Cesc looked like he was playing at half speed and after the match confirmed that he not only had a tight hamstring in the first half but that they had to strap him up to keep playing at half time. This is yet another concern as Cesc seems to have never recovered from the hamstring problem that had been dogging him for over a year. If the multiple rest breaks he’s taken after the World Cup isn’t enough to get him fit then I’m very concerned that simply missing the trip to Donetsk will get him back to 100%.

Wenger alluded to injuries being what decides if we are title contenders or not and I would expand that further to say that injury to Cesc will decide our season. Arsenal will not win the Premier League without Cesc Fabregas — if Wenger thought we could, he could have sold Cesc this Summer.

The Ugly

That said, Denilson is OK, and it was hardly the worst officiating of the weekend. That honor goes to 7amkickoff’s whipping boy, Mark Crapenburg.

I wonder if the FA isn’t going to review that decision. If “advantage” was played after Nani clearly intentionally handled the ball then I’d like a redefinition of  the word advantage. I’ve seen this “advantage” called too many times where a foul is committed and the attacking team has no choice but to play the ball back. I think “advantage” should, you know, be an actual advantage and not “Nani comes in and kicks the ball into the goal because the referee is calling an advantage in your own box” — that’s just stupid and certainly violates the spirit of the game.

Of course, I don’t expect anything less from Man U, the FA, Crapenburg or the guys on the Match of the Day couch who laughed about the goal. As an outsider, it looks a lot like the FA is not interested in calling games fair and instead calls games to give certain teams, players, and playing styles a distinct advantage.

Conclusion

Credit to West Ham for a very organized and stalwart defense. Robert Green has to be wishing that all his international matches were against Arsenal because he’s always amazing against us. Meanwhile the Hammers Portuguese defender Da Costa was outstanding. I know that a few of you thought he was deserving a yellow card and maybe so, but you have to admit that he won nearly every header and was instrumental to their defense.

But Arsenal are starting to look good as well and getting goals from unlikely places. Credit has to be given to the Gooners for getting the win despite our captain being hamstrung. Nasri, in particular had another good game and was only denied by the woodwork or he would have gotten the goal he deserved. Walcott also looks very close to match fitness and his shot that was saved by the post was exactly the kind of runs and shots that we need from him. All in all, while I had my heart in my throat a couple of times, I really feel like it was a hard fought three points and a game which keeps us within touch of Chelsea.

Good show Arsenal.