What do points make?...Prizes
Arsenal 3-1 West Ham
Well if Arsenal can get away with a performance like yesterday’s again, then you never know!
All the pre-match chatter drinking with my fellow Gooners in The Rocket surrounded team selection and form. Would Xhaka keep his place? Could the manager get Lacazette into the team? Returning players; Wilshere, Perez and Fabianski; how would they fare? And could Arsenal reproduce that 15 minute spell against Chelsea, laying down a true marker of the ability of this side? Once the news filtered through at 2pm (or about 2.10pm by the time I could get reception on my phone. Bit of a cave for students The Rocket), the only real surprise was Xhaka keeping his place and Ozil out of the squad. This story broke in the morning about yet another illness for the German international. ‘Sickly child’, the view around me... ‘He just doesn’t like being dropped’. Later that view seemed to be backed-up with reports of some sort of ‘rift’... I expect that story will run and run like Ozil himself then sit and sulk for a bit.
Arsenal started with a team of Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang up front - a 4.3.3 with Xhaka playing as the pivot in midfield.
West Ham are an odd opposition. Over the years we’ve swept them aside at times, but games like the one in 2006 always stick in the memory. That day a 3-2 home defeat saw Sol Campbell go home at half-time after being responsible for two of the goals; his career with the Gunners ending the following summer. And so it proved again yesterday. A team who on paper Arsenal should have no problem with, blew bubbles and caused trouble.
The early skirmishes were sloppy; Arsenal starting slowly and giving the ball away, and yet finding the net via a Ramsey header (way offside) and West Ham’s kit was giving me a headache - a mixture of Oxford Utd/Wimbledon. Thankfully no Vinnie Jones on display, but Jack? Super Jack, what do you look like?
Bellerin was having trouble for the third game in a row, finding himself way up field in promising positions but unable to get back to defend, and when he was in a position to defend realising quite quickly Antonio had the beating of him. Marko Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson were finding spaces all over the pitch as Arsenal struggled to gain any momentum. We resembled a Sunday morning Sainsbury’s car park at times. There was no balance or fluidity, just blind panic; even when Arsenal found themselves in good areas, poor decision making or hurried passes broke the moves down. Iwobi in particular seemed to want to take on players when there was a simple pass on - or cut in to pass when there was space beyond the full back to run into. It was Iwobi getting caught out on 26 min which led to West Ham taking a well deserved lead; losing possession in the Hammer’s half, the ball three passes later falling to Arnautovic in space outside the box, despite defenders looking like they might stop him his low drive with a slight deflection found the bottom corner. Could Cech have saved it? Possibly, but his saves kept Arsenal in it at times yesterday, so I’m not blaming him for this one.
“You must be s**t, we’re winning away” was the cry from the away fans - and to be honest I couldn’t argue.
Five minutes later however, faith was restored. Bellerin who was impressive going forward finding Monreal at the back post; the Spanish international calmly controlling the ball before rifling it into the net. Notable that our two full-backs were so far forward. Risky business! That goal lifted the crowd but Arsenal still looked shaky on the pitch in defence. Getting to half-time without any further goals was imperative just to give the team some confidence. Aubameyang had a shot just over the bar and then took a hefty challenge from Diop, resulting in free kick. As the rules state, Aubameyang after receiving treatment leaves the pitch. However this means 11 v 10 - what if the free-kick bounces off the wall and results in a break for the opposition? Who’s being penalised here? Shouldn’t the defender or fouler leave the pitch as well? Radical maybe, but it’s what was being discussed on my row.
Thanks to Cech and poor finishing from Antonio and Arnautovic, Arsenal thankfully made it to the break 1-1.
As in previous matches, Emery isn’t afraid of making changes at half-time due to poor performances or tactical changes. The fact he’s had to do this so often already this season is a worry. Lacazette replaced Iwobi for the start of the second half, meaning Aubameyang playing out on the left. Great to see them both on the pitch, but Patrick rarely looks at what is going on behind him, and an immediate chance fell to West Ham as he failed to track back. Nervous/sweatypalms.com? Yes! Although Aubameyang’s lack of defensive awareness is countered by how he works with Lacazette. His introduction made Arsenal more of a threat; both players combining to warm the gloves of Fabianksi.
The midfield wasn’t working - all three giving the ball away in dangerous areas. However, it was Guendouzi that was hooked after his misplaced pass ended in a long unhindered run and a miss-hit Arnautovic chance. Torriera on.
Against the run of play on 70 minutes Arsenal took the lead. Monreal then Ramsey keeping an attack alive around West Ham’s box with strong headers; the ball coming to Lacazette who turned and crossed for Aubameyang - unfortunately it missed him, but hit Diop leaving Fabianski helpless... OG....Auba still can’t score..... 2-1 to the Gunners! That goal seemed to suck the life out of West Ham, though they should have equalised. An Arsenal corner taken by Torriera failing to clear the first man - the ball finding Anderson who ran the length of the pitch; Perez was calling, but he missed poorly. Sokratis then picked up ‘a good yellow’, stopping a quick free-kick, and Bellerin was asleep at the back again; he really had a stinker defensively yesterday. However, as the game entered injury time, Bellerin got another assist crossing for Welbeck who had replaced Aubameyang for a calm finish on the six yard box. ‘FIFA calmness’ when you’ve got it on ‘Semi pro’. ... game over 3-1. “Oh wasn’t that a shame”
The bubbles faded and died high up in the sky...A win - Phewy! And 3 points in the bag.
“Nice to see you to see you, nice!”
Building blocks? Er, not really. Arsenal were as a shaky as a midnight game of Jenga after too many Estrellas against your cat. Bellerin is a hare going forward, but seems go all ‘tortoise’ when defending, and with both him and Monreal so high up at times you felt that against better opposition Arsenal could get seriously found out. Cech’s indecision when trying to play out from the back caused yet more groans from the crowd yesterday, and though some of that angst is unfair and requires patience, Cech did miss good opportunities to break the West Ham pressure. I spotted both Bellerin and Monreal unmarked at times, but our veteran goalkeeper seemed happier to go safe rather than clip those passes higher up the pitch, opting to go to Mustafi or play straight to Xhaka. Could Leno do this quicker and better? I think so.
Our play seemed hurried; too quick and with no real fluency or balance. Maybe we missed Ozil’s ‘sickly child’. Either way, it’s quite the leap from the Wenger days of safety first and endless possession. I’m just not sure Emery has the tools yet to make this new era work.
Positives? Can’t argue with 3 points, and the potential partnership between Lacazette and Aubameyang looks promising. Can Emery can get them both into the team?
Up next Cardiff away which really should be win number two but remember: “You don’t get anything for a pair”
Cech: Made some good saves and kept Arsenal in the game at times. Still not convinced he can play out from the back and would like to see Leno given a go. 6/10
Bellerin: Great going forward - lots of running but at the back!! Jeeze, seems to have forgotten everything. Two assists makes marking difficult, a glass half empty/full display. 5/10
Mustafi: Defended well but looks perplexed with the passing out from the back idea, hoofed one straight out of play rather then go long at one point. 5/10
Sokratis: Got a ‘good yellow’ which was cheered because Arsenal stopped being that ‘professional’ under Wenger. Distribution OK. 5/10
Monreal: The best defender on the day, got forward well for his goal and generally coped well with the West Ham threat. MOM 7/10
Xhaka: Stayed on for the full 90 so must have done something right. I thought he was quiet but probably just played to instruction for once. 6/10
Ramsey: Did a lot of running around like he always does, didn’t impact the game enough. 6/10
Guendouzi: distributed well and showed a lot of energy. Was one of three that could have been hooked for Torriera, will feel good about being on a winning side. 7/10
Iwobi: Powerful running but still seems to lack that composure when making decisions. Rightly hooked at half-time. 5/10
Mkhitaryan: Found space well but he’s not setting the world on fire, didn’t really link up with Auba today either. 7/10
Aubameyang: Didn’t score or look like scoring. I would still persist but with his mate Lacazette near him. 4/10
Subs: Lacazette: looked lively and created a goal 7/10. Torriera: looked assured 7/10. Welbeck: scored a goal 7/10