Arsenal v West Ham, always a big game as it’s a derby, but this was an even bigger game for us, seeing as we’re chasing the League title and we really cannot afford any slip-ups. Cesc and Song- back from injury and suspension- went straight into the starting line-up, with Diaby and Sagna dropping to the bench.
The line-up then was:
Eboue– Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
Song – Denilson
Nasri– Cesc – Arshavin
Yet again, we started really brightly, scoring after 5 minutes- our first goal at the Emirates in the first 15 minutes- and it was a well-worked goal. It started with Clichy’s run down the left, and he was able to cross the ball to Bendtner in the box, who headed it out to Denilson. They exchanged a one-two, with Denilson striking the ball to the bottom right corner, from just outside the box. Great start! Bendtner then tried his luck from a similar distance, but his shot was just wide. It looked like we’d run away with it, but credit to West Ham for sticking to it and not letting us run riot. They didn’t create much, but Diamante did have a decent effort from a free-kick conceded by Sol, but it was just over the bar, but straight at Almunia anyways, so he would have had it covered.
We looked under no pressure whatsoever, but a 1-0 scoreline is always a tricky one. We seemed to be cruising towards half-time, when the inevitable happened. I say inevitable, because in the other 2 League games where we’ve taken the lead inside 15 minutes- away at both Burnley and Hull City- we’ve conceded a penalty! But this time around, there was the added complication of a red card! A long ball from West Ham towards our box was not dealt with by Vermaelen, and he made the slightest of contacts with Franco who predictably went down. The referee was behind the play so he couldn’t see it, but the linesman called it, and a penalty was given. It was never a penalty. Not only that, the referee also showed a Red card to Vermaelen for a professional foul. It was a very soft penalty, and a very harsh Red card. Our first of the season.
So out of nowhere, we were down to 10-men, and facing a penalty. Apparently West Ham have scored all their penalties this season, but this time around, Almunia pulled off a great save! Justice done, one would say. Almunia’s received a lot of criticism over the past few months, but he’s not been mentioned lots over the past few games, as he’s been playing quite well. This was an important save, as it meant even though we were down to 10-men, we still had our advantage.
That was practically the last kick of the half. We were deservedly ahead, but with only 10-men, it was going to be a difficult task for us to hold on to the 3 points.
West Ham, as you would expect, started the second half on top and had most of the possession. We were still trying to regroup at the back. Arsene didn’t make any changes at half-time to compensate for the loss of tommy V, meaning Song had to drop into the centre of defence. It took us a while to get used to the change and it was obvious for a little while that we were a man short, but slowly but surely, we took charge of the game and began to dominate. Diaby did come on for Bendtner after about 12 minutes, but it seemed Bendtner may have picked up a back injury, but I’m not totally sure.
Sol had a chance to make it 2-0 from a free-kick by the corner-flag, but his header wasn’t firm enough, and it was an easy save for the ‘keeper. Arshavin also had a chance, after being released by Diaby, but his shot was weak and easily gathered by Rob Green.
West Ham did have a great chance to equalise through Carlton Cole, after brilliantly getting away from Clichy and Song, but his shot came off the bottom of the post and luckily for us, went round it for a goal-kick! In truth, that was West Ham’s best chance of the game, and the only real one they created. Whatever threat they had was always snuffed out by our defence, even though it was essentially a make-shift defence! Sagna later came on for Nasri with 15 minutes to go for more defensive reinforcement, with Eboue moving into the left-midfield position.
With the game drawing to a close, we were still leading but it was becoming tense. We did look like the more likely team to score, even though West Ham had the man advantage, and we were always wary of a late leveller. We continued to press, and with less than 10 minutes to go, we were awarded a penalty after Matthew Upson handled in the box. Great chance to ease the nerves, seal all 3 points and move to the top of the league, the responsibility falling on Cesc. But as usual, he stepped up and calmly sent Rob Green the other way! Upson had already been booked, but the referee decided against showing him a second yellow, probably because it wasn’t deliberate. Either way, we were 2-0 up and unlike when we were at Upton Park, there was no way back for West Ham, the game ending 2-0.
Absolutely crucial win, and it was great to see us grind out a result, even though we were down to 10 for a very long time. So that result meant we went top of the league overnight, with Chelsea and United not being in action until Sunday. Massive credit ought to go to Almunia for the penalty save- you could say that he won us 2 points as a result.
Wenger had this to say about Almunia:
“He has taken a lot of stick, not always justified I believe. He had a few problems at the start of the season but in the last two or three months I have found him to be outstanding and credit to him, he has silenced the critics.”
Credit ought ot go to Song as well, for slotting brilliantly into defence as I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought at the start of the game, that he’d find himself in defence! But he did really well and he very assured in that position.
Wenger summed up the game thus:
“I believe we had an outstanding game. We played with class and spirit and we kept our nerve when the situation became difficult. So overall we have shown a good attitude, good maturity, and in the important moments in any department we were decisive. I think about the goalkeeper, I think about when we had to move Alex Song to centre back, everybody adapted very well to the situation and technically I believe we were outstanding today.”
As for Vermaelen’s Red card, there was a lot of confusion as to whether he would miss 1 or 3 games, probably due to the fact that we haven’t had a Red all season! It has been confirmed that he’s only missing one game, as the Red card was not for violent conduct, but for a professional foul. He’s only going to miss the game away at Birmingham. It’s going to be a tricky tie, especially with Gallas also missing. With us due to play Barcelona 4 days later, it’ll be interesting to see whether Arsene starts Sol, instead of Silvestre. Anyways, I guess we’ll find out closer to the time.
All we need to do is keep on winning our games and hope the others slip-up. It doesn’t look like they’ll be slipping up this weekend though, as United earlier on beat Liverpool 2-1 taking them back on top of the league. Chelsea are currently winning 1-0 at Blackburn, but you never know, they might slip-up in the second half!
Hopefully being top of the league, albeit for less than 24-hours, would have given the lads more belief that we can do it. 7 games to go, and maybe come 5pm on 9th of May, we’d be top of the league for definite!