The goals may have come late, but the three points they gave Arsenal were well deserved as Wenger’s men bounced back from last week’s damaging defeat to Chelsea.
That result was evidently still on their minds against Olympiacos in midweek when Arsenal turned in a sloppy performance despite the 3-1 scoreline suggesting otherwise. Today’s 3-1 was different though as the Gunners came sprinting out of the blocks, totally dominating the opening 20 minutes with Olivier Giroud in particular unlucky not to give us the lead on two occasions.
Then totally against the run of play West Ham scored. Diame turned Aaron Ramsey far too easily and Per Mertesacker inexplicably stood off him, allowing him time and space to curl a shot beyond Vito Mannone. It was the big German’s only mistake of the game but it looked like being a costly one as the team struggled to find their previous rhythm thereafter, seemingly unsettled by the injustice inflicted upon them.
A few moments later ref Phil Dowd meted out more injustice when he allowed the already cautioned Diame to get away with clattering Mikel Arteta hard and late. It was a yellow card offence all day long but Dowd bottled it, preferring to side with the home crowd and allow the big midfielder to stay on the pitch. Dowd likes playing to home crowds — remember who was in charge of the 4-4 draw up at Newcastle?
We finally cleared our heads four minutes before the break when the industrious Lukas Podolski crossed perfectly for Giroud to score his elusive first Premier League goal with a clinical close range finish. I’m glad that saga is over, hopefully the media can move on now and Giroud can start banging in the goals on a regular basis.
Although West Ham were keeping things tight and solid at the back, they were venturing forward when in possession which played into our hands as the game was nice and open after the break. Andy Carroll was impressive for them, seemingly underneath every high ball at both ends of the pitch, and he nearly scored when he jumped higher than Mannone’s fists but directed his header just wide. It was poor keeping from the Italian, who I’m no fan of although he did make a good diving save late on. The sooner Szczesny is back the better.
Cazorla scores his second goal of the season after his 748th shot
On 77 minutes we did what we’d been threatening for much of the second half — to score on a counter. Diame lost possession and Santi Cazorla cleverly freed Giroud in the centre circle. His pass was perfect for the fresh legs of Theo Walcott to sprint through on goal and the contract rebel slotted his shot neatly in at the near post. He did his chances of playing up front regularly no harm with that clinical finish.
Immediately Kevin Nolan wasted a good chance after some hesitancy at the back as the travelling Gooners were reminded that our new-found lead was fragile. So Cazorla took it upon himself to put the game to bed with a wonderful strike that gave the scoreline a more accurate feel considering we dominated the shot count 20-7 and the corner count 16-4. West Ham had posed us problems with their direct style and determined defending, but our superior quality told in the end.
There were many positives from this match — we banished the memory of the Chelsea defeat; Giroud produced a very good centre forward’s display; Mertesacker is now well adapted to life in the Premier League and Walcott has become an excellent finisher. As he raced through I anxiously thought “Don’t fuck this up Theo!” but then instantly remembered he is no longer the scared rabbit in the headlights of previous years. As he was shaping to shoot I was confident he would score because he himself seems so confident in front of goal these days. So much so that he had the balls to announce he wants to be the next Henry — that’s a bold statement that he obviously thinks he can back up on the pitch, and so far he’s doing just that.
On the negative side I am still concerned about the defence. The adulation lavished upon Steve Bould now seems premature — after those opening three clean sheets we’ve not kept one in the seven games since. The marking at set pieces is particularly poor. Even a plank like Chris Waddle noticed that our zonal marking allowed Carroll a free header in the first half that was luckily straight at Mannone. I wish we’d switch to a man marking system so we can get our biggest lad on their biggest lad. Mertesacker really needed to be all over Carroll so he couldn’t get a free run to easily outleap Podolski as happened today.
I’ll end on a happy note though — Santi Cazorla. What a player! Such class, such composure, such vision — that late pass to Giroud which was blocked by the outrushing Jaaskelainen was genius. We need to keep him fit because he’s the one player we don’t have a replacement for.
I’ve already said we need to wait until we’ve played ten league games to properly judge us and I’m sticking to that. At various points already this season my thoughts have ranged somewhere between “We’re fucking shit” and “We could win the league” so I’ll say nothing more until game 10 has been and gone. Except for this — we’ve had the hardest opening fixtures of anybody else and are sitting nicely in fifth place. Next up it’s Norwich, QPR and Reading before game 10 against Man Utd. If we play like we did today I’m hopeful we’ll be higher than fifth by the time the full time whistle blows at Old Trafford.
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