Forced by injury and the weight of expectation, Arsene Wenger finally rearranged his team with the resting of Denilson and Adebayor. With Kolo Toure still unfit, Gallas returned as captain alongside Mikael Silvestre. Eboue and Clichy as full backs and Song playing defensive midfielder. The midfield of Fabregas, Nasri and Theo Walcott was headed by van Persie playing just in behind Niklas Bendtner. West Ham played the expected five man midfield with Carlton Cole playing point man hoping to use his pace behind the Arsenal back four.
Arsenal started brightly enough, but despite good spells of possession, it was Manuel Almunia who had been worked the hardest of the two keepers. On 20 minutes, a counter attack by Theo saw his shot strike the cross bar when a low cross to Bendtner at the far post would have seen Arsenal take the lead. The away fans were in good voice and never stopped singing, but despite this encouragement, the team seemed a little anxious against the intensity of tackling by the Hammers. Vital ball was lost through misplaced first touches by van Persie , Song and Bendtner. This time Arsene Wenger was off his seat early to express his frustration. Carlton Cole was an ever present threat with his pace easily causing Gallas no end of trouble.
Highlights of the first half.
23mins West Ham Keeper Robert Green handled the ball outside his area, to prevent Bendtner collecting a long ball, had the assistant referee been in his correct position, Green would have been sent off.
26mins Fabregas chips a ball into Robin van Persie who chests the ball down to Walcott who makes an angled run across the six yard box to the left and sees his weak left foot shot parried by Robert Green around the bottom of the far post.
29mins An exhilarating counter attack after Eboue loses possession sees Bellamy in on goal being chased by Clichy. Bellamy’s shot was goal bound until wonderfully deflected by Almunia’s trailing foot over the bar for a corner.
37mins Bendtner has a right foot shot saved by Green at his near post as Bendtner cut in nicely from the left flank.
This London derby was more of a cup tie with both sides conceding possession too easily in vital areas of the park. Honours were just about even as West Ham had benefited from inconsistent refereeing and they left the field with still eleven men and their clean sheet intact.
Half-time West Ham 0 Arsenal 0
The second half started as they had left off, West Ham tried to press home some pressure. A corner rebounded off the chest of ex Gunner Matt Upson from 2 yards out and Almunia saved easily.
54 mins another run from Theo Walcott from wide right, he slid a ball across the box into the far post which was blocked over the bar by the defenders. Most of the West Ham second half pressure appeared to come initially courtesy of Eboue’s unforced errors, but they were unable to make the most of the opportunities. Robin van Persie forced a save from Green after a from a nice interchange of passes between Walcott and Bendtner.
67 minutes Diaby and Adebayor came on for Nasri and Walcott. Adebayor almost scored with his first tocuh from a headed corner which went wide.
71mins van Persie unleashed a fierce shot from the left side of the box which was parried by Green and Bendtner was unable to convert the rebound. Two minutes later, van Persie almost scored as following a silly free kick conceded by Scott Parker on Fabregas in a nice position from 25 yards on the right side. Van Persie’s shot cannoned off the far post with Robert Green completely beaten.
Finally the deadlock was broken after 75 minutes when Adebayor demonstrated some fine close control and cut inside three defenders from the right channel, his right foot shot was going wide of the West Ham far post until Faubert deflected the ball into his own net.
West Ham 0 Arsenal 1 (o.g Faubert 75’)
Now Arsenal had to show experience and maturity and keep a clean sheet, as West Ham made substitutions bringing on ex Gunner Boa Morte and Etherington for Scott parker and Di Michele.
Shortly afterwards, Craig Bellamy was denied a penalty after Gallas eased him out of the way whilst shielding the ball out for a goal kick. On 80 minutes a lovely chance saw Adebayor denied after his low toe punted shot from 15 yards was only blocked by Green and he was unable to tap in the rebound with his outstretched leg and he lifted the ball harmlessly over the bar.
Song made some nice probing runs and van Persie was a constant threat down the right flank. West Ham were less of a threat as Arsenal refused to sit back on their lead. Arsenal seemed always dangerous on the counter as West Ham pushed higher up the field. In the first minute of extra time after a scurried clearance from the Arsenal 18 yard box, Bendner was 15 yards inside his own half on the left. He launched a sublime ball some 35 yards over the West Ham defence into the stride of Adebayor, who tapped the ball past an on rushing Green, and the Togalese striker finished with a simple right foot shot into the empty net. Game over!
West Ham 0 Arsenal 2 (Adebayor 91’)
West Ham’s fortunes took another turn for the worst as Carlton Cole received a red card for a studs up tackle from behind on Song within ten yards of the referee Phil Dowd. Arsenal played out the remaining 60 seconds and gratefully accepted the three points.
Arsene Wenger had showed good substitutions and Adebayor for once looked hungry and really should be rested more often. Bendtner was unlucky, but kept running until the end. Robin van Persie finally managed to get a set piece on target, and looked a lot sharper in the last 30 minutes. Song played very well as the holding midfielder and in my opinion was far better than Denilson in terms of his tackling back, and runs into forward positions.
Tottenham had recorded their first win against Bolton earlier and now will come to the Emirates for the definitive London derby. Chelsea having been beaten by Liverpool at home means that the premiership race is wide open. What Arsenal now need to do is convert the games in November, traditionally a poor month for the Gunners.
Arsene Wenger in his post match comments acknowledged the frustrating tactics of West Ham, and felt that we should have played the balls more to the flanks.
“It’s a big win for us.It would have been a wasted opportunity to catch the leaders had we dropped points”
“I wanted to rest Adebayor, I have a compact squad with quality”
He is looking forward to the North London Derby on Wednesday and rather bemused by the changes at Spurs.
“ It was a surprise to see Rednapp move to Tottenham in October, but football is full of surprises.”
“we are very determined to get back to the top, If you compare our play to that during the defeats, we have made progress. The race is tight and any slip ups will be punished, Chelsea were touted as run away favourites until their defeat by Liverpool today”
So there we have it, three points in the bag and the title race is still there for the taking. Arsenal are showing very good signs of recovering from the setbacks early in the seas on. they corrected the defensive fraileties that were on show in Turkey, to give themselves useful momentum going into what will be a closely contested match with the scum on Wednesday. I do not fear the scum, even if they will be lifted by a new manager and the prospect of playing Arsenal. They do not have our quality, and I expect them to be reduced to ten men as they try to foul and intimidate the Gunners.
Well done ARSENAL!!!
Teams West Ham: Robert Green, *Julian Faubert, James Collins, Matthew Upson, Herita Ilunga, Hayden Mullins,*Scott Parker Lee Bowyer David Di Michele, Craig Bellamy, **Carlton Cole(92) Subs: Boa Morte (78) Freddie Sears (90)
Arsenal: Almunia, Eboue Gallas Silvestre *Clichy, *Song *Fabregas Nasri Walcott, van Persie Bendtner Subs: Adebayor (67) Diaby(67) Sagna(90) *yellow cards, ** red cards.
Player scores: Almunia 9 Eboue 7 Gallas 7 Silvestre 6 Clichy 8 Song 7 Fabregas 8 Nasri 6 Walcott 7 van Persie 8 Bendtner 8 Adebayor 8 Diaby 6
My MOTM was again Manuel Almunia for the second game running for his amazing left foot save in the first half, preventing a goal that could have changed the final result.
By Fabregas the King.