Saturday, 24th September 2005
Saturday’s match with Arsenal was a bit like this, the one-hundred-mile-an-hour tempo giving little time for the spectator to pause for breath and the players even less to execute a much-needed moment of skill and composure in front of goal. Amidst this mêlée of crunching tackles, one-touch passes, and referee intervention, two chances emerged from the dust, both falling in the final ten minutes.
The first, on 82 minutes, fell to substitute Bobby Zamora. Matthew Etherington sent in a cross and for once Arsenal’s two burly centre backs, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure, weren’t bearing down from on high to head the ball clear to safety. Whether Zamora was aware of his relative freedom in the Arsenal box is unclear and his glancing header sailed two yards wide of Jens Lehmann’s left-hand post. Upton Park groaned and the one chance one felt might come our way had ended up in the stand and not the goal but we were still only minutes from a very credible draw.
Only three minutes later, however, we could so nearly have gifted Arsenal three points. Freddie Ljungberg, standing in the inside right channel, 25 yards out, received the ball from Lauren on the right touch line and with it the apparent freedom of Upton Park, with the otherwise excellent Anton Ferdinand and Danny Gabbidon in no position to cut out the impending run. Almost as soon as this came to Ljungberg’s attention, his touch deserted him, and he seemed like a toddler gleefully kicking a ball for the first time in the back garden. The ball ran luckily in to Roy Carroll’s hands and the chance for Arsenal to rescue three points, when seemingly destined for one, was gone. Come 90 minutes, Chelsea were now 11 points ahead of the North Londoners and, what’s more, West Ham remained above them in the table.
Perhaps in keeping with the recent debate that Premier League football has become about exciting as watching paint dry: chances were at a premium. Boring, however, it was not. ‘Blink and you miss it’, in fact. As early as the fifth minute, Yossi Benayoun was bearing down on the Arsenal left back, Ashley Cole, going this way and that, faking again, evoking memories of Blackburn and his assist for the third Etherington goal, before swinging in a vicious cross that evaded all claret shirts. The ground still responded with rapturous applause. Unfortunately, the scenario of Benayoun with the ball at his feet in around the Arsenal box was rarely repeated.
It soon became clear that we were up against the highest quality of opposition since our return to the Premiership, but all the while something appeared a miss. The way in which Arsenal moved the ball from right to left, left to right, back to front and then back again, was certainly impressive. They were after all not Champions the season before last for being poor players. But as a home fan, one could really sense the lack of a cutting edge in their ranks.
Freddie Ljungberg, Gilberto, Cesc Fabregas, and Alexander Hleb all demonstrated excellent ball skills and the potential to cause serious damage – but they all seemed to be waiting for the next person they passed to take the initiative. In particular Robin Van Persie and Jose Antonio Reyes, playing as strikers, represented square pegs in round holes, both more suited to supplying crosses from the wing for a Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergakamp to convert. It was certainly Arsenal’s loss and West Ham’s gain that such talent was unavailable to Mr Wenger.
Robin Van Persie was the first to volunteer for goal-scoring duties, buying himself a yard and unleashing a low drive from the edge of the West Ham box on seven minutes, but Roy Carroll gathered smartly. More intricate one-twos from the Arsenal midfield followed soon after on 19 minutes, which for one moment seemed to have fashioned a real chance for Fabregas to break the deadlock. The young Spaniard however slid into the chance due to the close attention of defenders and his shot as a consequence skewed badly wide of Carroll’s goal.
Sandwiched between these two Arsenal half chances, Matthew Etherington was upended by Gilberto roughly 22 yards out following a surging run in from the left in the twelfth minute. Teddy Sheringham shaped to take the resulting free kick and Upton Park watched eagerly. Ashley Cole ran back and forth between a goal-line saving position and the waiting pack, all the while changing the offside line for the more on-the-ball West Ham players, hoping to dispatch any potential rebound. When the guessing games were over, Sheringham cleared the wall with the free kick, the ball bounced once and wide of Lehmann’s right hand post, although many of those in the Dr Marten’s stand, for one split second, thought we were in front.
On the half-hour mark, there were calls for a penalty. Arsenal failed to clear a corner sufficiently and the ball fell to Benayoun. The Israeli jinked his way outwards as if to make room for a shot on goal and seemed to go to ground under the weight of a challenge of right-back Lauren. The Bobby Moore Lower screamed at Mike Dean, who showed a frustrating tendency to side with Arsenal on fifty-fifty decisions, but no whistle was forthcoming and Arsenal launched a counter-attack. The penalty shouts were however diluted by the realisation that no West Ham player had seriously appealed. Presumably, Lauren had got a piece of the ball.
The half drew to a close with a reminder of the pace at which Arsenal can go forward. The ball traveled from Ljungberg to Reyes to Van Persie with exemplary speed before the young Dutchman unleashed a fierce shot which again failed to test Carroll and finished in the Centenary Lower tier.
The second half was always going to prove difficult to match the efforts of the first and so it proved. The pace of the game continued in earnest at first and the first chance of note fell to Benayoun, again following a corner, connecting well on a volley that Lehmann did well to save away to his left. The German’s shot-stopping ability certainly surpasses his ability to kick. At the other end, depending on who you support, Arsenal either lacked a killer instinct or had no answer to another sterling defensive quarter performance of Repka, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, and man-of-the-match Konchesky. Truth be told, it was probably a combination of both.
On 73 minutes, Arsene Wenger removed one of the square pegs up front in Jose Antonio Reyes for a young striker, Quincy, who was greeted by chants of ‘Who the f*cking hell are you?!’. The chant made me shudder because, although I also knew little of the player, what I did know was, like Martins at Inter
Milan, he has breath-taking pace, more suited to that of a hundred-metre sprinter than a footballer. Certainly enough to show our quickest defender, Anton Ferdinand, a clean pair of heels. As it happened, it was right-back Tomas Repka who had the pleasure of seeing the player’s name and number get smaller as it shot into the distance and send a cross flashing dangerously across the face of goal before landing safely at Konchesky’s feet, who turned and regained possession.
As one would expect, when Arsenal are around, you can never afford to relax. But in credit to our defence, they seemed to create an imaginary brick wall in front of the 18-yard box, forcing the Arsenal attack to try its luck from distance. Even then, their attempts were invariably blocked by tenacious play from the home side, with Hleb, Fabregas, and Van Persie all seeing efforts repelled by a defence playing with a confidence so unassociated with a newly promoted team and further shielded by central midfielders Reo-Coker and Hayden Mullins.
Even after the gold-dust chances of Zamora and Ljungberg in the final ten minutes, Marlon Harewood, the man in form, threatened to dramatically win it for the home side in the 88th, doing well to hold off the attentions of Sol Campbell with his back to goal, before turning and connecting well with a shot that flashed wide. Again the home crowd sighed at the thought of what might have been, but even a man in form would have amazed his followers had he managed to evade Campbell and get the ball past Lehmann.
The real chance, in the context of the game, had been Zamora’s header which went wide. Free headers in the Arsenal penalty box do not come along often. In defence of the Z-man, the chance was not an easy one and he had brought new life to the attack having replaced a by then ineffectual Sheringham.
With no title aspirations to worry about, the draw suited us far more than it did Arsenal. But again the game represented another marker as to how far Alan Pardew has taken this side in such a short space of time. In all honesty we shouldn’t even be playing Arsenal this year, following some of last year’s displays, but then he were are and the cartwheels you might expect having held the mighty Gunners at bay, weren’t forthcoming, from my seat anyway. AND we sit above them in the table.
I’m not claiming it will be that way come May – of course it won’t. Beggars can’t be choosers so I’ll stick to my guns and say I’ll take 17th place after 38 games. But, for the life of me, after seeing how Pardew’s summer additions have improved the side, we look capable of a whole lot more than 17th.
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Extremely reliable. Did everything asked of him with confidence and text-book authority. Could yet turn out to be Pardew’s most astute signing of the summer.
Another solid display from the Czech. Unsurprisingly booked but showed discipline in his positioning and sent in one or two dangerous crosses.
A flawless display. In the frenetic pace of the first half Konch was unshakably assured, regularly timing crunching tackles on Van Persie, Reyes and co to perfection. Also possesses surely the sweetest left foot to be seen at Upton Park since Julian’s heyday. If Anton has a shout for Euro 2008, this lad has more than a right to steak a claim for Germany 2006 (if we get there) particularly with view to Wayne Bridge’s lack of games and match fitness.
A performance we have grown used to from young Anton. For me, he has showed the same quality and assurance that his older brother Rio did at the same age and we are rightly expecting big things from him. Euro 2008 must be a credible shout. Although it would have been interesting to see how Anton might have coped with an Henry or a Bergkamp, he didn’t put a foot wrong.
The other half of our centre back pairing mirrored Anton in not putting a foot wrong all game. There is a refreshing no-nonsense attitude to his play that compliments Anton’s slightly smoother style. For someone making his debut in the Premiership this year, he couldn’t look more at home.
Continued with another installment in an almost complete reinvention of himself since our promotion. Solid, if unspectacular, Mullins was faultless in a crucial area of the pitch against quality opposition.
Another performance displaying limitless energy levels. Quick and hard in the tackle, what I like so much about Nigel is his ability having won or received the ball is his eagerness is move the ball on quickly forward and join the attack, often with surging runs. Would certainly have no qualms if he were given the captaincy over Sheringham.
After his fifth-minute run against Ashley Cole, you had the feeling it could really be his day. Unfortunately I don’t feel Yossi saw enough of the ball. However, on another day, he might have dispatched the one or two half chances that came his way. I, for one, would have no problem with a ‘give it to Yossi’ philosophy in our home games. This man has skill to burn and has the makings of real Upton Park star.
Slightly disappointing, much like his start to this season. So often in the Championship, we would turn to Matty to instigate our attacks – but those barn-storming raids down the left have yet to truly grace the Premiership.
Worked hard in what was always going to prove to be a difficult day against a quartet of double-winning defenders, in particular man-mountain Sol Campbell. Had a half chance in the last few minutes when he turned and shot wide but all in all chances were very hard to come by for Marlon.
When the game kicked off at the pace it did, I worried for Sheringham and his 39-year-old legs. Had a free kick go a couple of yards wide, also saw a shot go past the post after a neat one-two with Etherington, and was booked after an altercation with Campbell. Not a bad day at the office but then not exactly a good one.
(Replaced Sheringham, 80) Brought new life to an attack with a tiring Sheringham. Unfortunately for the Z-Man, his appearance in this game will be characterised by his missed header but it was by no means a ‘sitter’. Still seems to be playing on confidence off the back of last year and also two goals and cracking strike in the week. Long may it continue.
(Replaced Etherington, 84) Not much time for 10K to impress but did well with the few touches he had in ensuring we bagged a well deserved point.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Paul Konchesky.
West Ham United
Roy Carroll, Tomas Repka, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Teddy Sheringham.
Booked: Teddy Sheringham 55 Tomas Repka 61 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Lehmann, Toure, Cole, Campbell, Lauren, Gilberto, Fabregas, Ljungberg, Hleb, Reyes, Van Persie.
Substitutes: Flamini (Gilberto 71), Abeyie (Reyes 73), Cliche (Van Persie 82).
Subs not used: Almunia, Cygan.
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..