Let me make a comparison first and foremost:
Sunday 5th November 2006 – West Ham 1-0 Arsenal
Saturday 29th September 2007 – West Ham 0-1 Arsenal
On the face of it the only difference seems to be that the scores were reversed. However it was far more than that. Last season we dominated the game away at Upton Park yet ended up the losing side. We were wasteful that day and allowed West Ham to outmuscle us towards the end and snatch the points. Today however it was a very different story. We started slowly but showed the new added edge to Arsenal this season. We didn’t allow West Ham to get on top of us and came back strongly to take the lead through a Robin Van Persie header. Adebayor was sent clear and held the ball up well until Hleb arrived to deliver an inviting cross for Van Persie to attack. He rose well and headed it down to Green’s right and watched it beat the goalkeeper and give us the lead and eventually the 3 points.
Victories by 1 goal to nil are sometimes the best. Although they are nerve-racking and always on a knife edge, they normally mean that the winning side has dug out a victory. That was what happened today. Don’t get me wrong, Arsenal kept the ball well today and had the better chances. However there was only one real one on one for Green to deal with. The players in the new white away kit –worn for the first time in the League – resorted to long shots, many from Mathieu Flamini. Robert Green was very good in the Hammers goal, denying Flamini, Clichy, Adebayor and Van Persie with stretching saves. We were a threat going forward and it was a shame we couldn’t kill off the game.
However it was the display from the back 4 which was most encouraging. Last season, silly mistakes cost us dear but today we were fantastic in defence. Sagna again showed why Wenger brought him to Arsenal, stamping his mark on the game with a crunching tackle on Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg. Dean Ashton had a relatively quiet first half, firing over his one and only chance. Second half on the other hand, Ashton was a far superior threat to our centre backs. The striker has great strength and control and Toure and Senderos had to be alert; and they were. Almunia had no real saves of note to make but Van Persie cleared an Ashton header off the line. While the lead was only at one goal, there was always a worry West Ham could score. Last season I think they may well have but this team is more mature and attentive throughout games.
Cesc Fabregas looked threatening at the start, with some clever passing but he seemed to fade as the game wore on. West Ham knew he was the main threat and had him closed down at every possible moment. That however gave Mathieu Flamini and Abou Diaby key roles and both had excellent games. Flamini did the ‘dirty’ work in front of the defence. He stopped balls into Ashton and covered so much ground while harrying the West Ham midfield. Diaby had a different job to do, but was just as effective. He carried the ball with seeming ease and always looked to go forward or at worst play a square ball. Diaby has clearly gained some confidence after his performance against Derby County and looks much more of a threat than he did before playing on the left. Hleb had started well until his injury. His touch was excellent as usual and his passing was so accurate, he really can play the ball through the eye of a needle. Unfortunately for Hleb he has suffered another injury and as Wenger said: “He cannot walk properly right now.” He is out of Wednesday’s game and hopefully not for too much longer.
The injury itself was sustained after a horrendous challenge from Mark Noble. He was late to the ball and launched into a two footed challenge, off the ground and clattered into Hleb with a scissor motion. This could have broken Hleb’s leg and a yellow card was the least he deserved. I have to put an opinion across here as it seems the right moment. Time and time again I see Arsenal players pulled up and booked for small, harmless fouls and see far worse challenges on Arsenal players get the same punishment. Teams get away with tackles that if carried out by an Arsenal player would be pulled up and probably penalised with a card. Last season Arsenal committed the least amount of fouls but had the smallest amount of fouls to each yellow card. Arsenal are not a dirty team and pundits claim we need to be tougher, therefore how can these facts add up? Simply, they don’t!
Arsenal hadn’t won at Upton Park for seven years and today we stopped this poor record. We won ‘ugly’ and showed once again that this team has changed this season and they have a real hunger. The players fight for every ball, the attitude is one similar to “All for One and One for All” and I for one am looking forward to every match right now. The performance wasn’t as good as last Saturday buy my word it was just as satisfying. We go into Tuesday night’s game full of confidence but with some injuries. I would like certain fringe players to get a game as it is a long and tiring trip in midweek and certain players need to keep fresh. I would expect 3 points from this game whatever team Wenger puts out on Tuesday evening.