Arsenal take the tough route, again.
The visit of West Ham to the Ems should “normally” be a walk-over based on our current form and renewed belief. But that assumption ends on paper, because the match I all saw was everything except a routine, easy victory. It was hard earned and luckily too. The build up to this match was dominated by the results of the Champions League 1/4 final draws that sees us trade tackles with favourites FC Barcelona. All football fans, journalists and analysts just couldn’t imagine what to expect when the two “football-playing” teams meet, coupled with the sub-plots involving two men re-uniting with teams they both love dearly. Arsene though treid to make sure his team was focused only on the next match, as he believes a good league form can be transferred to Europe.
As expected, Cesc returned to the starting line up with Diaby making way in one of the 3 changes. The others saw Song and Eboue replace Sagna and Rosicky respectively. Early attacking from both sides promised an entertaining game on a wet afternoon, Denilson lost the ball in midfield allowing Behrami to surge forward before releasing a pass to Mido who sent an over-hit cross into the box. It did not take long for Arsenal to open scoring though, Clichy floated a cross n Bendtner flicked it to Denilson who then exchanged passes with the Dane and fired low into the bottom corner from 20 yards out. One-nil-to-the-Arsenal, just 5 minutes on the clock. A massacre on the cards? Not really.
West-Ham proved they were no push overs and that their performance was better than their league position. Diamanti won a freekick minutes later and it just grazed the bar. The game showed no sign of slowing pace as Eboue and Arsha continued to terrorise West Ham full backs. As expected Fabregas was continually and rotationally fouled by Kovac, Diamanti and Behrami winning a free-kick off the latter. 35 minutes gone and Eboue again showed great attacking verve to go round the defence before crossing for Arsh who failed to make any contact.
The first booking of the game went to Diamanti who stopped an Arsenal counter by bringing down Nikky B. An Arshavin pass found Cesc who beat the off-side trap at near post only to see his shot charged down. A long punt by West-Ham beat the whole Arsenal defence asides TV5 who tussled with Franco and was adjudged to have fouled him, the assistant raised his flag and the referee duly obliged, PENALTY! RED CARD SHOWN! Vermaelen got his marching orders, our first red card in 69 matches, 77th of Arsene’s tenure. Le Boss was furious and justifiably so cos the replays showed minimal contact. Diamanti, who had scored a penalty in the reverse fixture stepped up towards the North Bank. He shot well but Big Al guessed right and stopped it. Brian Clough famously said that a great goalkeeper is worth 12 points a season. Almunia’s denial of Diamanti could be worth all of those at once. The half time whistle came soon after and Wenger could be seen furiously berating Martin Atkinson.
The second half saw a positional change with Song dropping into the defence and Nasri to midfield. Despite the numerical disadvantage, Arsenal had the first chance of this half with Arshavin glancing a header over. That was about it as West-Ham started to keep the ball and send long punts into our box,and Zola smelling blood decided to throw on Carlton Cole to ruffle Song and it almost paid off as he held off Song to lay the ball for Diamanti who shot tamely at Big Al. AW had seen enough of the opposition dominating midfield and he sent on Diaby for Bendtner. This sub was a master-stroke as Diaby’s elegance and industry improved our play and on one occasion allowed him exchange passes with Eboue who sent Arshavin racing only to see his shot saved.
The long ball tactic continued and when a through ball to Cole bobbled off Songs heel and fell kindly for him he took a shot which hit the bottom of the post and went out. I was almost wetting my pants at this point. Only a last ditch block prevented Stanislas from drawing level and at the other end, Campbell should have done better with a header which Green dealt with ease. As time wore on , Zola brought on fresh pair of legs with Benni and Mark Noble coming on for Mido and Kovac. 10 minutes of normal time left, Cesc won the ball in West Ham’s half, sent the ball to Eboue who displayed amazing skill to hold the ball and return the pass to Cesc at the right time. He tried to dink the ball around Upson who had no choice but to handle in the box…PENALTY TO THE ARSENAL!!! How Upson stayed on despite having a booking already is beyond me. Cesc placed the ball on the spot and sent Green the wrong way,his 15th league goal of the season.
Relief and joy written all over the fans’ faces at the Emirates. Now I could relax and enjoy the rest of the game and with the points fully safe, AW replaced Arsha with Eduardo. Exhibition stuff now as Arsenal passed the ball around till the final whistle.
We answered our critics again today, and even though it wasn’t an emphatic win, the boys showed great character and mental strength to play like that even with a man down. Special mention must go to Eboue(8), Diaby(7.5), Cesc(8), Song(9.5***) and Almunia(8). Everyone played wonderfully but these guys particularly ensured we got our 6th straight win in the league and kept a clean sheet. It’s absolutely surprising and laughable how Vermaelen gets the same punishment as Shawcross-a 3 match ban. So we are on top with just 7 matches to go and I have this strange feeling we need to win all or at least 6 and a draw to clinch the title. Let’s hope L’pool and Blackburn can do us some favour tomorrow and keep us on top.
Today’s game was not as easy as we expected but we still got what we wanted and with the way things are turning out, one thing is assured: If required, We’ll do it the hard way. This is our season!!! C’MON YOU SMOKING GUNNERS!!!
From wherever you are reading, have fun.
Escobar says so!