Feed on
Posts
Comments

Well that was an interesting day. Accounts of Arsene Wenger’s press conference spread quickly on social media and whipped up yet another mini storm. Most controversy was created by his linking our failure to win the title to the poor results suffered at home against the smaller clubs “in a very poor climate”. Whilst one cannot deny the atmosphere at a number of home matches of late has been less than convivial he might have been less than well advised to hit out at his critics at this particular time.

He also mistakenly suggested we would be top of the league based on away results only which is not entirely truthful. We would be only third, which is a position in the League that most would surely take in a heartbeat a fortnight on Sunday. I get that he will not be openly critical of his players who have let him down so often this season. His loyalty to them remains impressive.

Equally I understand he cannot yet judge himself in front of the vultures who would seize on any perceived sense of doubt or weakness. I do think though that he should have been advised to stick at telling his inquisitors that “I can understand the frustration, because nobody is more frustrated than we are.” and expanding on that rather than very clumsily poking a verbal stick into the angry swarm of bees that a portion of the fanbase has become.

All of which makes tomorrow’s proposed protest the focal point of the match rather than the three points which are so badly needed if we are to secure a Champions League berth again. That is my issue with the protest as I said on this week’s A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast. I can understand entirely how frustrated so many have been this season. It has been an opportunity wasted, although to be fair if Leicester avoid defeat in their final three matches they will be deserving champions. At the start of the season who would have thought we could finish above a team that only lost three matches?

Hopefully those who do raise their A4 sheets twelve minutes from the start and end of the match will also roar their encouragement to the team on the pitch at the same time. The protest, although deliberately a little vague, is about change off the pitch, not an opportunity to dig out those on it.

All of which leads us to the match itself. For the first time since Moses was found in a papyrus basket Arsene has a full squad to choose from. The last two players to be evicted from the infirmary at Shenley, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, are back in full training and available although the boss did say they wouldn’t both get any game time. Does that suggest a welcome cameo from the Spaniard who we have missed hugely?

In his chat with Arsenal.com the boss ruled out wholesale rotation, but it would not be such a surprise for Danny Welbeck to get a start ahead of the lacking in confidence Olivier Giroud. Other than that much interest will surround who makes what should be the strongest looking bench for many a moon.

Norwich have already won at Old Trafford, drawn at Anfield, and held Arsenal and Manchester City at home this season. They arrive at the Grove fighting for their Premiership life, as were Sunderland last week of course. Only one of those two plus Newcastle will survive the drop. Captain Russell Martin could return from a virus that caused him to miss the game against Sunderland but Timm Klose remains ruled out.

The ‘holic pound

A couple of seasons ago we enjoyed a 4-1 win in a truly memorable fixture lit up by a Jack Wilshere special. Jack should be available from the bench tomorrow, and I am attracted to another three goal margin, but this time 3-0 which is priced up at a market best of 8/1.

That’s another Friday preview done then. As it is a late kick-off tomorrow there will be no report until some time on Sunday. If you are going please remember everyone in that stadium wants the same thing for Arsenal. I’ll respect your opinion and hope that you will respect mine.

Have a great one, ‘holics.

The last day or so has finally seen one of the great injustices in this nation’s history overturned. The extent to which the establishment covered up what really happened at Hillsborough has been out in the open for a while now, and nine good people and true delivered the justice denied to so many for so long.

For those of us who were there in 1973, and the Tottenham fans in 1981, and indeed the Liverpool fans just twelve months earlier in 1988, all will have had an appreciation of the events of that day. Hillsborough was an accident waiting to happen. Easy to say with the benefit of hindsight, you may think, but no less painful for the survivors and the families for that.

The responses of the home secretary and her shadow today are welcome. Theresa May said that prosecutions could follow on charges including criminal negligence and perjury. Andy Burnham said the Hillsborough cover-up had been “advanced in the committee rooms of this House and in the press rooms of 10 Downing Street”, whilst calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Now let us pray that the establishment act quickly to right the wrongs of twenty seven years ago, and ensure those responsible, and still alive, pay for the mistakes of April 15th 1989, and the ensuing days,weeks, months and years.  They must not be allowed to escape the correct punishment according to law.

The Protest On Saturday

This topic pales into insignificance somewhat in the light of what else has been happening in the same timeframe, but the planned protest organised by Red Action and the BSM on Saturday is provoking some harsh exchanges on Twitter. I would defend anyones right to protest, peacefully and with civility, and fully understand the feelings that made people feel that such action was necessary at this time.

For me I think the timing is not the best, and the call for change too vague. But mine is only one opinion and is worth no more than any supporter of Red Action or the BSM, Gooners all. And that is what I wish all at both extremes of the arguments would take onboard. I say that because a very good friend of many who read this is reconsidering taking his son on Saturday for fear of what may happen if the hotheads on both sides of the fence do not act peacefully and with civility. That is an awful state of affairs to have reached.

At the end of the day we all want Arsenal to succeed and prosper. We wouldn’t be football supporters if we agreed on the route to that destination, but the days of forcing your will on others at the game is in the past. Please don’t drive yet more fellow Gooners out by your thoughtless actions at the game. Please think about that on Saturday, whatever you believe is the way forward, we are all for the Arsenal.

Thank you for reading.

Gunners Firing Blanks

Arsene Wenger opted to go with an unchanged line-up at the Stadium of Light although there was a welcome return to the bench for Jack Wilshere. The Gunners started the stronger and with barely three minutes on the clock Alex Iwobi drilled an effort wide from the edge of the area.

Sunderland attempted an immediate response but Petr Cech was quick to palm away from Defoe. Before the tenth minute had arrived former Gunner Vito Mannone had foiled Olivier Giroud and, from the resulting corner, Per Mertesacker. M’Vila’s long range effort was well wide but Khazri’s strike was deflected away from goal by Koscielny. Cattermole hit a half-volley wide of Cech’s left hand post as Sunderland offered a moment of pressure.

As the twentieth minute approached Mohamed Elneny tried to chip Mannone but the ‘keeper won that battle. Laurent Koscielny’s ‘trip’ on Defoe led to a free-kick that van Aanholt planted onto the join of post and bar with Cech beaten. That was what you call a let-off. Sunderland’s pressing of the ball was testing Arsenal’s passing accuracy, and denying the Gunners any space in and around the box.

A rapid break around the half-hour mark ended with Mesut Ozil’s deflected left foot shot being saved by a diving Mannone. A minute later Cattermole upended Elneny on the edge of the box and Alexis struck the free-kick through the wall only for Mannone to pull of a superb save. He produced another to deny Iwobi from the corner that followed.

The significant moments of the half started nine minutes from half-time when Hector Bellerin’s poor headed clearance teed up Jermain Defoe who volleyed the ball into Mertesacker’s elbow from point blank range. Mike Dean took the view that it was not deliberate, and I must say I would not have expected it to be given at the other end, an acid test of any such incident.

Of course we went down the other end, Giroud set up a shooting chance for Iwobi and the ball was deflected onto Yedlin’s outstretched hand. That too was deemed not to be deliberate by Dean, not unreasonably. At the whistle it was doubtful that either set of fans would have appreciated the stalemate.

Cech earned his wages with a fine double save from Defoe and M’Vila and a minute later he had to dive full length to keep out Khazri’s fierce drive. Worryingly, the hosts were out of the blocks faster than the Arsenal. Giroud fashioned an opportunity that Iwobi sliced across the face of goal as we made an effort to awake from our slumbers.

Just past the hour Defoe got free only to chip wide of the mark. It was another warning. If Arsenal had dominated the possession and shots statistics in the first half (75% and 12 to 6) the tables were being turned emphatically. Koscielny had to be at his best to cut out a cross in a two on one situation. Sunderland were looking much more determined now.

The replacement of Iwobi by Theo Walcott with twenty minutes remaining was something of a surprise, but Giroud making way for Danny Welbeck was not. Sunderland took that as their cue to send on Watmore for Borini, then former Gunner Seb Larrson for Kirchhoff.

When Mannone went walkabout with ten minutes to go the last man Kaboul bundled Welbeck over and somehow escaped the award of a free-kick and an interesting decision on what colour card he should have received. At least with that and an absurd booking of Elneny I was spared writing that Dean had had a good game for the first time ever.

Welbeck tested Mannone before the sight of Jack Wilshere making a return to action replacing Ozil with seven minutes remaining. In the 87th minute Alexis engineered a shooting opportunity in the box and drew a wonderful save at full stretch by Mannone.

As the game limped into four added minutes Kone’s overhead kick sailed thankfully high and wide. That Sunderland were finishing the stronger was yet another indictment of the Gunners under-fire manager. This was another bad day for him.

Only mathematically can we hope to catch Tottenham, and in all honesty we will have to win at City to stand a chance of finishing third. Today’s indifferent second-half performance from his team will once again stir the ever nastier debate about Arsene’s future. It is awful watching his tenure unravel in this manner.

I can’t say I am sorry that we are leaving this week behind. The loss of Victoria Wood and Prince, two very different but supreme talents, has left a feeling of gloom hanging in the air. For a couple of days football was quite rightly not at the forefront of the mind.

The new week will start with Arsenal’s visit to Sunderland in the early kick-off. The Mackems are desperate for the points to give themselves a lift out of the relegation places and we are in need of a win to aid our pursuit of at very least a top three berth. It won’t be a great watch for those of a nervous disposition on either side. Arsene admitted as much in his pre-match press conference, commenting on the hosts.

“When you go into the game of that intensity your focus has to be one hundred per cent because today, to stay in the Premier League, teams need to be ready for a fight. We have to prepare mentally to face a very intense game.”

I’m told that Arsenal had their full first team squad training today for the first time since 2013. Indeed the photographs of the session on Arsenal.com show Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jack Wilshere enjoying their day in the sun. Whilst Arsene would not be drawn on the matter only Wilshere has a realistic chance of making the squad this weekend.

Does he make changes to the starting line-up against West Brom on Thursday? Most at risk may be the unfortunate Olivier Giroud, although the boss may like to retain his ‘target-man’ capability in what promises to be a tense early afternoon on Wearside.

As for Sunderland, Yedlin and Lens are doubtful but Rodwell returns after injury. Remember when he was the next best thing coming out of Goodison and signed for an unhappy spell at Manchester City? Last week they thumped Norwich at Carrow Road with goals from Borini, our old friend Defoe, and Watmore. Defoe has scored nine goals in sixteen appearances since the turn of the year.

The ‘holic pound

Our recent record at the Stadium of Light is seriously impressive. Unbeaten in five and winning the last four there including last seasons 0-2 win thanks to an Alexis brace. They may prove to be harder to break down this time and like all Allardyce teams down the years they will look to threaten at set pieces. I’m drawn to a 1-2 away win at around 8/1.

Good luck to the travelling Gooners. Sunderland is a hike at the best of times and hopefully the team will make your considerable efforts to get there worthwhile. I will be behind the sofa again, and at 2.05 pm I will only have a mug of coffee for company. Watching the Arsenal sober these days, it’s not good for the mental wellbeing.

On that note I have more Prince tracks to listen to.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

As suggested in the preview Arsene Wenger opted to make three changes to the side that started against Crystal Palace. Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud came in for Gabriel, Francis Coquelin, and Danny Welbeck in what looked a very attack-minded set-up.

The expected sparse crowd were in quiet mood until the sixth minute when Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey combined to feed Alexis thirty yards out. The Chilean spun out of a challenge and unleashed a fizzing right footer past Ben Foster from the edge of the box. The mood was instantly lifted.

Arsenal 1-0 WBA

Three minutes later Mesut Ozil saw his effort from Nacho Monreal’s cross blocked and Ramsey struck the follow-up wide. Alexis produced another moment of magic, controlling a ball on his chest and bursting forward only to overhit the pass to Elneny by a fraction.

Again Alexis attempted to turn provider with a lofted ball that just cleared Giroud in the inside-left channel. The Alexis masterclass was continued with a back heel to Hector Bellerin, the PFA right-back of the year, who charged into the box and fired just beyond the angle of post and bar.

The Baggies attempts to claw their way back into the contest were restricted to set pieces which the Gunners were dealing with comfortably enough until McAuley’s 29th minute header from a corner crashed off the crossbar and back into play.

At the other end Giroud put Bellerin through again but the young full-back missed the target once more. Then came an incredible string of opportunities in one concerted attack, the closest of which was Ozil’s shot which went through Foster’s legs but was cleared off the line by Dawson.

In the 38th minute Ramsey was brought down on the edge of the box. Alexis drove a wonderful free-kick through a gap in the wall created by Mertesacker and Giroud peeling away and the Gunners had the second goal they needed to calm the nerves.

Arsenal 2-0 WBA

A correct offside flag denied Giroud a much-needed goal and moments later McAuley picked up the first yellow card for grappling with the Frenchman. I will return to the topic of Jon Moss. Monreal was inches away from converting Ozil’s chipped crossfield pass as the hosts kicked into overdrive at the end of the half.

Giroud fired straight at Foster at the start of the second-half, then was denied a penalty when he was the meat in a central defenders’ sandwich but to be fair only he was appealing for the spot-kick. McClean’s header at the end of a rare Baggies break was comfortably saved by the alert Petr Cech. Back came Arsenal with Ozil just unable to reach a lofted ball from Alexis.

In the 59th minute Alex Iwobi was released by Ozil and went tumbling in the box. It looked a foul but the slow motion replay showed that contact was minimal and the lad had slipped. To be fair the only appeals came from the crowd. Next came an Elneny tumble in the box. Clearly Yacob had a piece of his shoulder, but the delayed fall probably didn’t help him.

Twice in a minute Ozil found himself clear at the far post only to be denied by the busy Foster. The ‘keeper then had to be on his toes to save from Iwobi from Giroud’s chest down. Then Alexis found Ramsey in the inside-right channel and the Welshman’s attempted cross almost turned into a chip in at the far post when he slipped as he played it. Arsenal survived a scare when Berahino prevented Cech from claiming a corner and Rondon missed the opportunity behind them both.

The much-vaunted walk-out on 75 minutes didn’t appear to materialise. Strangely the television coverage caught shots of people coming into the arena!

Arsene sent on Francis Coquelin to allow Iwobi to get a round of applause and a break, then Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell for the match winner Alexis and Ozil. Campbell set out to impress immediately, and was involved in an intricate move that ended with Foster making an instinctive save from an excellent Giroud effort. A minute later the striker again went close at full stretch. He cannot buy a goal at the moment.

A word for Jon Moss, much-maligned for his performance in the Leicester v West Ham match. You know I am not enamoured with the current clutch of PGMOL officials but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t think he got any decisions clearly wrong tonight. It made for a refreshing change so I’ll call the good performances as well as the stinkers.

So we are back in third place with much to play for in the final four matches. I wonder though what will be said at the next board meeting about a half-empty stadium tonight. We ‘ll worry about that another day. For tonight, read job well done.

There seems little point in making a blog post after this wonderful piece from Arseblog this morning. If you are only going to read one post today make it that one. If only all who have come to a view about the manager were as respectful.

Still here? Well I had better look forward to the West Brom match then. Not that I am looking forward to it, you understand. I will not be there but not for any reason other than the fact we have four home matches in April and one of them has to go. A Thursday night when the match is live on television is the sensible choice. Some lucky people have got a couple of great seats from the Ticket Exchange.

Who will they be watching? There don’t appear to be any changes in the squad. Jack Wilshere is not quite ready but will be considered for the trip to Sunderland on Sunday. A midweek fixture may require a degree of rotation. Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud may benefit if Arsene opts to freshen things up a bit.

The Baggies arrive having reached the forty points that should ensure safety. That fortieth point is the only one they have picked up in their last four matches since defeating Manchester United 1-0 and drawing 2-2 at Leicester at the start of March. A Pulis team will doubtless be set up to frustrate so those who are there may need to display a degree of patience although that is in short supply at the moment.

For us it will be all about finding the creativity and speed of attack we showed at Everton and against Watford. Recreate those performances and we should be looking at a convincing victory and a return to third place in the table. Manchester City’s draw at Newcastle last night (Tuesday) ensured that an oh-so-important top three finish is still very much in our hands. In his pre-match press conference Arsene set out what he expects in the coming weeks.

“We want to finish as high as we can. It is not a consolation, it is about getting the best out of the team and focusing and giving everything in every single game.”

It would be wrong to ignore the rumblings on social media of a boycott or a protest walk out on 75 minutes. Whilst nobody should be denied the right to protest it takes unthinking ‘supporters’ to take action that may be counter-productive while we are looking to finish in the top three under serious pressure from the Manchester clubs in particular. Why wouldn’t anyone postpone peaceful protest until the final match of the season?

Regardless of your view of who should be manager next season why would you not support the team until their race is run? Particularly tomorrow night. Surely all can unite against a Pulis team rather than your own?

The ‘holic pound

This match is going one of two ways. We know what Pulis will seek to achieve. I am backing us to be out to prove a point and making a breakthrough in the first-half before wrapping up a 3-0 win in the second. That is actually second favourite outcome at a market best of 15/2.

So to those who are going I hope the boys give you a performance to savour, for as long as you intend to savour it.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Sorry

It won’t be an easy morning for those looking for a positive take on the performance yesterday. We had seventy percent of the ball, someone mentioned in the pub. That is not much good unless you do something with it though. For the second week running we surrendered two oh-so-valuable points to a London club.

I’ll own up to contributing to the lack of atmosphere yesterday. I enjoyed a lovely lunch and a couple of pints with some lovely people. The sun was shining, I sat back in my seat and basked in the warm glow. I and fifty thousand (maybe) others including the strangely muted Palace following waited to be entertained rather than roar our encouragement. Maybe that transmitted to the pitch, or maybe the team had had a plate of pasta too and they were content to tippy tappy their way through a fragile Palace side.

We cheered good and loud when Alexis was on hand to head Danny Welbeck’s delightful chip beyond Hennessey to give us the lead. It was no more than the Chilean deserved. He has refound his mojo on the right side although his tendency to only want to play with Mesut Ozil still sees him failing to make difficult passes when simpler options are available.

With Palace encouraged to escape the shackles that had held them back in the first-half we should have been able to make more of the space and opportunities that presented themselves. Ozil now has help from Alex Iwobi in the creative stakes but still we lack a finisher, a sniffer of half-chances. As the minutes ticked away Gabriel allowed the anonymous Adebayor to make good ground down the left flank unchallenged, Bolasie was allowed to shoot unfettered from the edge of the box, and the recalled Petr Cech allowed the tame effort to squirm past his grasp at the near post.

We had Arsenaled it up. Again. Such was the lack of surprise that the opposing factions in the stands couldn’t be bothered to argue with each other. There was an air of resignation as those drained of any emotion other than sadness trudged out into the evening sun. The soulless concrete bowl that was meant to enable us to challenge the best in Europe now reeks of stale complacency. You can sense it on days like Sunday.

It’s true that the competition has changed since that vision was sold to us. First the millions that poured into Chelsea and Manchester City. More worrying though is the silly television money that is streaming into the smaller clubs. There are more buyers for the small pool of available talent that we so desperately need at the Grove. We have shown little sign in the last year of being willing to pay the resulting inflated prices that maybe necessary to strengthen.

I think a sense of hopelessness is starting to take a hold. That the club needs to address the situation is a feeling that is growing apace. That the will isn’t there is also evident. The greatest manager this club has ever had is in danger of leaving on a sour note, which is beyond sad. I pray in the final year of his current contract he finds the missing ingredients, injects the team he built with a new hunger and desire that is so lacking. He deserves that, but who sees it happening?

Sorry to add to that air of gloom.

I thought I would wait until the late game before doing this preview. I wish I hadn’t. City’s comfortable win at the bus stop in Fulham has highlighted the fact that we must be aware of being overtaken ourselves as we set our sights on Tottenham. Temporarily at least we sit in fourth place, and those who heard this week’s A Bergkamp Wonderland podcast will know that isn’t a place we want to be occupying in a European Championship year.

Crystal Palace at home. When we thought we were title contenders this looked one of many easy games in a favourable run-in. It has become however a rotting banana skin on an icy path to the final day of the season. Before we get more depressed than nervous let’s just understand that we are undefeated in four Premier League fixtures and have scored eleven goals in those matches. That we conceded five in two derby matches and lost four valuable points in the process is of concern.

The team news is that the squad likely remains unchanged from the trip to Upton Park. It would be a surprise if Petr Cech and Per Mertesacker were not recalled given that Palace will have seen that we wilted under an aerial bombardment at West Ham which they are capable of replicating. It would not be surprising to see our old friend *cough* Adebayor promoted from the bench for this reason.

With 38 points to their credit Palace are probably safe from the threat of relegation but Alan Pardew has not taken them up a level after saving them last season and starting this one so well. They are just two places above the relegation zone which probably says more about the strength of the sides fighting for mid-table safety this season. There is a pointer to their current form. Their last away match was at West Ham where they drew 2-2. Now I’m nervous again.

The ‘holic pound

If the defensive shape is right the hosts should have too much for Palace. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny have proved to be an accomplished platform from which Alex Iwobi and Mesut Ozil can be free to create and torment the visitors. Alexis has shown signs of coming back to his best on the right hand side and the only other question the manager will have to answer is whether Olivier Giroud has recovered sufficiently to challenge Danny Welbeck for the starting berth up front.

Going forward we have looked a match for anybody of late so I’m punting on 3-1 to the Gunners at a market best of 11/1. That isn’t too generous a price and reflects the bookies’ view that we are a sure thing to triumph. Let’s take that as a comfort ahead of the match.

As usual I will see a few of you in all the usual places tomorrow. Let’s hope we will be celebrating a return to the top three. It says a lot about our situation that I really don’t know what would be a good result in the lunchtime fixture between Leicester and West Ham. I think I’ll concentrate on getting behind the Arsenal and helping, not hindering, them in the run-in.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

A Hard Day’s Night

It’s after ten. I have just watched West Ham and Barcelona get knocked out of competitions that we no longer have an interest in. I am enjoying their misery as they have enjoyed ours. It’s the way of the football supporter. We should have been celebrating a third FA Cup this season, but we self-destructed against Watford in the quarter-final. The Champions League remains a distant dream, despite our hardy annual qualification.

It is the biggest tribute to Arsene Wenger’s reign that we have been involved in eighteen consecutive Champions League seasons, and look likely to make that nineteen. It is the blot on his copybook that we have not won it, despite coming within twelve minutes of so doing ten years ago.

Two years earlier we surrendered our best chance of lifting big ears in a quarter-final against Chelsea. We had four world-beaters in Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, and Thierry Henry. We went an entire season unbeaten in the Premier League but lost the biggest prize to a team that allowed a poor Monaco side to beat them in the semi-final. In turn they lost to Mourinho’s Porto in the final. There are so many ‘ifs’ in life. This was one of the bigger ones.

It pains me to see people suggest that the Champions League isn’t so important these days. Yes, only a fraction of the teams in it are champions, but they are the best in Europe. In the days of the European Cup and UEFA Cup the latter would often be the harder to win because it included champions of the season in which it was played. The Champions League format provides a much stiffer test than it’s predecessor ever did.

So why is it important to us fossils? “And if, you know, your history” I have seen us lift every piece of silverware in my lifetime, bar one. The very first was the European Fairs Cup, forerunner to the UEFA Cup. The best European trip was Copenhagen 1994 to see us lift the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. These nights were so special. There is one more to come that will mean so much more. Let it be sooner rather than later. Some of us have just heard the bell as we head into the final lap.

The Champions League remains the Times crossword that we cannot complete. We find moments of inspiration, but come up short against the very best. We have Petr Cech, we have Mesut Ozil, we have Alexis Sanchez. We are edging closer to having the requisite number of world class players, we have the money, and yet something is lacking. Is it desire, is it ambition?

The coming summer is huge. There is a European Championship to occupy the best players which will make this absurd imposed transfer window even more complicated. Once you could buy players in all but about three months of the year. Now you can only buy them for about three months of the year. Restrictive nonsense, but it is the same for everyone.

We all want Arsenal to make a statement, to cover the obvious deficiencies in the squad. We have again reached a point where significant pruning is required and investment is required to help us to compete. This season’s Premier League campaign has been as frustrating as the Champions League in 2004. For Porto and Monaco read Leicester City and the LWCs. Little clubs over-achieving while we self-destruct.

It’s over to you Stan, Ivan, and Arsene. Where do we want to be? The time has come. Show us. Please.

Arsene Wenger surprised many by sticking with David Ospina in goal for the trip to Upton Park. The Gunners were unchanged from the team that started successive victories over Everton and Watford. What was about to unfold was madness on a grand scale.

So, chronologically the talking points were;

Carroll committed two awful assaults in one ‘challenge’ on Laurent Koscielny. How it was only a yellow card and not a red was a surprise to this admittedly partial observer. To be fair Francis Coquelin avoided censure for his first foul in the immediate aftermath.

In the thirteenth minute Lanzini did find the net only to be denied by an erroneous offside flag, as Hector Bellerin clearly played the goalscorer onside. The officials were setting out their stall for the afternoon, but defensively we would end up matching their incompetence.

Arsenal’s reponse was to take the lead in the eighteenth minute. Nacho Monreal was denied a penalty claim but from the attempted clearance Mohamed Elneny, Coquelin, and Alex Iwobi combined to slide in Mesut Ozil for a cultured finish inside the far post.

West Ham United 0-1 Arsenal

A rapid break ended with Ozil setting up Alexis for a shot that Adrian saved low to his left. As ever it was just delaying the inevitable. Coquelin and Iwobi set up Alexis for another clinical finish. The Gunners were tearing West Ham’s right flank apart.

West Ham United 0-2 Arsenal

West Ham came back with a Cresswell cross and header from Carroll that was comfortably saved by Ospina. It too was a warning shot. The same combination enabled Carroll to head home to bring the Irons back into the game. Arsenal’s entire back four had migrated to the right leaving Carroll on Monreal, a huge mismatch.

West Ham United 1-2  Arsenal

Adrian denied Arsenal a third and the importance of that was evident a minute later when Gabriel blocked a Carroll effort at point blank range but failed to block the striker’s follow-up volley. A comfortable lead had been wiped out in two dreadful minutes at the end of the half and frankly we had only ourselves to blame. I wonder if it crossed the manager’s mind to bring on Per Mertesacker for the struggling Gabriel at half-time?

West Ham United 2-2 Arsenal (half-time)

Controversy wasn’t far away at the start of the second-half as Carroll, lucky to be on the pitch after his early challenge on Koscielny, sent a flailing elbow into Gabriel’s face and referee Craig Pawson bottled the obvious. He did the same moments later when the same player hauled Koscielny to the ground in the box. The loose ball fell to Payet but his finish into an empty net followed the award of the free-kick. No further punishment for Carroll?

It was nailed on that the fortunate Carroll would complete his hat-trick and he duly did. This time the central defenders had left him up against Bellerin at the far post, even then his header was going straight at Ospina until Gabriel, enduring a horrible day, headed it into his own net.

West Ham United 3-2 Arsenal

The Arsenal sent on Ramsey, Giroud and Walcott at various points, did away with his two holding players, and went for broke. Laurent Koscielny scrambled in a bouncing ball and we were level again. Could we dare to dream?

West Ham United 3-3 Arsenal

Carroll again bundled Gabriel to the ground and the Brazilian foolishly lashed out with his boot and was fortunate perhaps that his assailant is more of a hurdler than a sprinter. Again Mr Pawson took no further action.

So that basically was that. We needed a winner desperately, and didn’t get it. West Ham too will have wanted more. It made for a white knuckle ride for supporters of both clubs and everybody in the ground ended up exasperated by the performance of the match officials. That’s no excuse for Arsenal though. The defence showed an amoeba-like lack of spine. West Ham will argue, not unreasonably, that they were actually robbed of a fourth goal. They were.

We came into today’s match needing to win the last seven and praying for Leicester to lose three. That seemed a remote but real possibility. Now they need to lose three and draw one of their last six for us to have any chance. That is not going to happen.

It isn’t the time for damning verdicts, although they would be deserved. This season we had a real opportunity to end the title drought. You don’t win championships by turning up in fits and starts and paying no heed to defensive basics. The post-mortem should wait for the season’s end, when howling at the moon will understandably commence.

Older Posts »