Arsenal 2 – 0 West Ham United
1 – 0 Eduardo (2)
2 – 0 Adebayor (18)
As with the Everton game, the result did not reflect the performance although this time, it was the latter that warranted more than was achieved by the former. The out of sorts passing game came back together like the pieces of an old jigsaw puzzle that had curled at the edges through lack of use. Not entirely uncoincidental was the return of Fabregas’ touch. That is not the sole reason nor was he my man of the match, that ‘accolade’ would be winging its way to Gael Clichy’s mantelpiece.
Scoring an early goal is conducive to settling nerves, particularly in a derby match. Two goals inside the first twenty minutes whilst not ending the contest, does make matters somewhat easier with opponents who have to push on and as a consequence leave space to be exploited. A single goal can be retrieved in a blink of an eye as West Ham almost proved before Clichy was on hand to block Anton Ferdinand’s shot, Toure having deflected Cole’s goal bound effort wide for the corner; two goals require considerably more application.
Eduardo scored his fifth goal in three games and tenth overall this season. Neat interplay between Rosicky and Fabregas allowed the latter to get to the left hand side and cross to the Croat, who was afforded too much space by the visitors defence, turning and volleying into the corner. Any hopes that West Ham may have had about history repeating itself extinguished with an exquisite finish.
The second one quarter of an hour later, proved that whilst the Premier League may be the ‘most exciting League in the World’ (© any lazy word shy journalist in BSkyB headquarters), the standard of defending is amongst the poorest. Having gratefully received gifts from Everton’s central pairing, Emmanuel Adebayor was the lucky recipient of Ferdinand’s largesse. The new found tactic of a long pass over the top from Gael Clichy caught Ferdinand half asleep; Adebayor took the ball wide of Green and with more backspin on the ball than Alex Higgins ever managed on the green baize, found the net from virtually on the byeline, via the far post.
The second half was a controlled performance. Energy conserved to maintain the equilibrium, ensuring a goal was not conceded, ready to be upped if misfortune struck. That this never happened is a testament to the players’ ability to control a game, denying opponents sufficient possession to create pressure on the Arsenal goal. Even so, had West Ham broken through they were facing a determined Manuel Almunia. Saving well from Ljungberg in the first summed up his afternoon; safety first, dealing with crosses comfortably, largely untroubled by efforts on goal.
Defensively, it is hard to be critical with a clean sheet behind them. Justin Hoyte’s rustiness was evident in the early stages with a poor choice being made in deciding to hook the ball away from Cole but as the cobwebs cleared, he became more purposeful in the right back slot. Gallas and Toure were dependable, the odd slip aside, the latter able to supplement the midfield at times. The news from Arsene that Alex Song has been called up into Cameroon’s ACN squad puts a small spanner in the works in this position and possibly Arsene could sign to cover this window. However, he will be reticent to do so unless he has decided to release either of Senderos or Djourou in the summer. With the visit to Burnley on Sunday, it would not surprise me to see the latter appear to bring him up to speed, perhaps even alongside Sagna to allow Gallas to replace Song in the Carling Cup side.
The midfield was able to make hay; Flamini is tigerish in the tackle and judicious in his use of the ball, a solid platform upon which Fabregas and Rosicky were able to weave their patterns. The latter’s ball retention was excellent and whilst I have no doubt he is not playing at the peak of his game, the Czech international is still a performance level above his opposition. He was unfortunate to be denied by a combination of the defence and Robert Green at the end, Alex Hleb’s introduction almost marked with an assist. Eboue worked hard all afternoon on the right and gave as good an indicator as any as to why he will be missed when he jets off.
The forward pairing suffered at times because Adebayor and Eduardo like to make similar runs. They are gelling together though, both being hard workers for the team, the latter dropping back to link with midfield, the former chasing defenders and balls that others may have given up on.
A good win and three points, fifty reached for the season and the first target achieved; we won’t be relegated…