Thursday, February 02, 2006
Gunners 2-3 Hammers
West Ham have continued their superb run of form by nicking a win from Arsenal at Highbury for the first time in eleven years, thanks largely to a brick-wall defence.
Clive Clarke made a surprise debut at right-back, but otherwise the side remained the same as it has been recently, with Zamora and Harewood up front, Sheringham and Ashton on the bench. Dailly was absent through suspension, so Pardew had no defenders on the bench apart from part-time right-back Shaun Newton.
It was a good thing the defence played well, then, because they came under the cosh right from the start. Ljungberg inadvertently blocked an Henry shot, then Persie hit the post after trying to twist through the West Ham back line.
The away side showed their usual spirit and came back into the match after 25 minutes, when Reo-Coker, who was full of running, capitalised on Sol Campbell's mistake and slid the ball between Lehmann's legs for the opening goal. Cue a very odd boot-tapping celebration from the midfielder.
West Ham had the upper hand for a period, culminating in a second goal for the visitors. Zamora cut inside from the right after receiving a brilliant long diagonal pass from Konchesky, and curled the ball sweetly inside Lehmann's right hand post. West Ham looked to be fairly comfortable for a while, forcing the home side on the back foot, but Arsenal fought back hard once again. Several shots were deflected, cleared off the line (thanks Yossi!), or somehow went off target. But their dominance paid off moments before the end of the half; Konchesky failed to controll a ball and it was returned to Ljungberg. Hislop came out but could not pinch it from Ljungberg's feet, and it fell to Pires, whose deflected off Henry and into the net.
After the break, Arsenal maintained possession in the final third and West Ham defended brilliantly but with desperation. Hislop tried to pluck a corner out of the air but could only get his fingertips to it, and soon after saw a shot hit the post, but he had the spot well covered. Gabbidon somehow cleared another shot off the line with his heel, and then Henry's bicycle kick curled wide of the post.
However, West Ham restored their lead when Harewood (I thought it was, anyway - one report said Reo-Coker) snatched a ball from the Arsenal defence, and Etherington met the low cross and his shot deflected into the net, despite Pires' goofed clearance.
The final few minutes frustrated Arsenal as they were repeatedly caught offside and denied chances by the West Ham back line, and Pires' last-minute goal proved too little, too late for the North Londoners.
All in all it was a pretty harrying performance from West Ham. Persie, Ljungberg and Pires gave them a lot of trouble but they never gave up. They need to keep possession at times, and I thought the introduction of Sheringham would have been a good idea, rather than Ashton (although the youngster did quite well under the circumstances). Reo-Coker is full of running and this often leaves Mullins in the middle on his own. When this happens the wide midfielders don't come inside - especially Matty. They also often fail to track the runners as they come in down the wings, leaving the full-backs a bit exposed. I don't really know what the solution is but I hope Pardew finds one.
Hislop 7: Solid work. Good saves.
Konchesky 8: Some great tackles and hard work, marred only by his wayward control that led to Arsenal's first goal. Couldn't get forward due to Arsenal's possession. Sometimes chooses the long ball when a short pass would be better.
Gabbidon 9: A stonking, world-class performance. Ten feet high and six feet wide, Danny G was everywhere, especially in the first half. Brilliant tackles, interceptions, headers, everything. Really impressive.
Ferdinand 8: Not as obvious as Gabbidon, but Anton got stuck right in and, like Danny, maintained a high level of concentration throughout the match. How those two remained composed is beyond me.
Clarke 7: Not the place to make a Premiership debut, but Clarke acquitted himself well. Unsurprisingly, he was utterly knackered at the end, but played professionally and did not stop. Well done.
Etherington 7: Got in some good crosses and scored the all-important third goal. He's changed as a player since the Championship - less storming runs, but more hard work. If he could do both I'd be very very happy!
Mullins 6: Quiet, and struggled.
Reo-Coker 8: Was everywhere, but sometimes leaves the centre open.
Benayoun 6: Literally didn't get a touch for the first 20 minutes. Didn't do much, although he made an important clearance off the line. (Well, I guess they're all important.)
Zamora 8: Got involved, got a great goal, and hassled Arsenal's defence all night. What's with the celebration?
Harewood 6: Again, fairly quiet. Both strikers need to hold the ball up better.
Newton (on for Benayoun) 6: 10K did his job well, as usual.
Ashton (on for Zamora) 6: Showed a good touch.
Fletcher (on for Clarke) 6: On for the tired Clarke, all I remember him doing is disputing a corner decision (quite rightly, too.)