When people talk about Arsenal’s improved title credentials, you’re bound to hear the words ‘with their run in’ somewhere in the next sentence. A home game against West Ham, who have not won away since the opening day of the season, is exactly the type of game they mean.
The recent home game against Porto was the first time Arsenal had scored within fifteen minutes this season. On this outing against West Ham it only took five. Despite it being his shot which Boaz Myhill parried to Nicklas Bendtner, I was a little surprised at Denilson’s inclusion today, with Song coming back from a two game ban resulting in Diaby dropping to the bench. However, it was the little Brazilian who got the first.
Some very good build up play down the left wing between Clichy and Arshavin resulting in a cross led to a headed clearance from Upson. Denilson gathered the ball, got a little bit of luck as it bounced off Behrami, played a lovely one-two with Bendtner and then finished to Robert Green’s bottom left. Nice goal and 1-0 to Arsenal.
Following Arsenal’s first goal there were one or two moments of real brilliance, the type of football which is producing all the hype for Arsenal v Barcelona in eleven days time. The first move finished with Denilson, who just couldn’t get the contact he would have wanted. It started with Song, passing it right to Eboue who crossed to Bendtner. His cushioned header then started four or five one touch passes, within a very small area, which resulted in Denilson’s chance.
Later it was Nicklas Bendtner’s heavy final ball which scuppered Arsenal’s other moment of real brilliance. Credit to him though, it was exactly this type of first time ball, flicked with the outside of his boot, which is indicative of Arsenal’s passing game.
Half way through the first half and Arsenal seemed very relaxed, despite a very pacey Diamanti free kick which went over, and a nice counter-attacking move, similar to the ones employed by Man Utd at the Emirates. Unfortunately the next spell of the game was dominated by little fouls, over officiating and neither team could really get a hold of the game. Eboue did provide some football though, driving the ball across the six yard box with the little Russian, Arshavin, unable to get on the end of it.
Towards the end of the first half, Sol Campbell could count himself lucky that he timed his tackle brilliantly, ensuring that he won the ball entirely and no man, because he had gone in with two feet and to see red wouldn’t have been a surprise. In some ways Arsenal fans may have been wishing that it was Sol who saw red, because shortly after this Thomas Vermaelen was sent off. It was one of those balls where if the defender lets it bounce, they are always going to be in some sort of trouble. He contested for the ball with Franco, there was very minimal contact and it was indeed the linesman who gave it, the referee being very far back himself. Penalty to West Ham. Diamanti took it and Almunia pulled off a great save to his left.
Even though the red looked harsh, it still wasn’t the prettiest defending you’ll ever see. As Martin Atkinson walked toward the tunnel behind the players for half time, Arsene Wenger was there to greet him.
To adjust to the red card, Song was pushed back alongside Sol Campbell in defence and his absence in the midfield was felt strongly. West Ham had possession for much of the first fifteen minutes of the second half and it was only when Diaby replaced Bendtner, who was carrying a knock, in the 57th minute that Arsenal found a bit more shape in midfield. Sporadic chances were created, though not nearly enough for West Ham, who were not making the extra man count as well as they had done earlier in the second half. When their big chance did come, it went mightily close. Carlton Cole who had been brought on off the bench, gathered the ball, rolled Clichy with ease, took it past Alex Song and then hit a shot passed the outstretched Almunia, which went on to hit the outside of the post.
Arsenal did well in the last ten minutes. They balanced some good attacking play but defended well, something they have not always managed to do, always looking to score more in perilous situations. There were chances, a header from Sol Campbell and a shot from Arshavin after some good play by Diaby, both saved well by Rob Green. Arsenal’s second goal was all Cesc Fabregas. He chased down a lost ball, won it, passed it on to Eboue, who played a lovely ball back to him. The ball was then chipped up into Upson’s hand to win a penalty. Fabregas took the penalty and made it 2-0 to Arsenal and secured the three points.
Man of the match goes to Alex Song who broke play up well, moving the ball on quickly. His transition from defensive midfield to centre back seemed effortless.
Earlier this week, Sol Campbell denied the opinion that Arsenal have an easy run in. He was right and this game proved that. So when you hear Arsenal’s name being brought up in the title race because of who they have left to play, do not believe it. They have shown great spirit and played some very good football since the defeats to United and Chelsea, amongst some real adversity. There is a feeling of ‘us against them’ after Ramsey’s injury, and today’s red card will probably add to that. Players who were very poor earlier in the season have been playing with belief and confidence. Eboue and Bendtner have already had their plaudits and this time it was Almunia’s turn for redemption.
Recently for Arsenal there have been no easy games, always with last minute goals, penalties or reds. They have now won their last six games in the league despite this and it is this bite and determination that can win you the league. Football is unpredictable and you can be sure that beating West Ham, with ten men, when already 1-0 up will not be the hardest thing Arsenal have left to do this season if they are going to win any silverware.
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