Monday, 6th November 2006
All very fetching ladies, but about six weeks too f*cking early. Do you turn up with Easter bonnets on in mid-January? No. So why add to my prolonged Xmas run-in agony?
The dentist’s chair
As you can tell, I turned up a bit irritable today. I know why this was. Arriving at Upton Park today felt like turning up to the dentist. You don’t want to go because you know you’re heading for some pain. Not only that, but you’ve got to pay for it as well.
Alan Pardew’s answer to try and avert the Dustin Hoffman treatment in ‘Marathon Man’ was to set up as 4-5-1. Not exactly the West Ham way at home, but it had to be the best idea to try and break down the fluid movement in the rather awesome Arsenal midfield.
So it was Green, Konch back from suspension, Anton, Gabbidon and Spector; a five man midfield of Matty, Reo-Coker, Bowyer, Mullins and Matty; and Z-man as the lone striker. Waiting in the wings were three strikers: Teddy, Marlon and Tevez, presumably ready to be introduced if we had to try and chase a goal.
Let’s do the time warp again
Just before kick off something rather surreal happened with the clock on the Bobby Moore Stand. It was actually going backwards.
Two minutes in and Mullins gave away a free kick after fouling Henry in a central position. The shot went straight at the wall and Reo Coker burst away with the energy that was such a feature of his game last season.
The move ended up with West Ham winning a free kick in a similar central position and up stepped the unlikely figure of Gabbidon to fire in a curling shot which was easily gathered by the German in the Arsenal goal.
On 5 minutes we then created a real chance as Yossi made a perfectly weighted pass to Spector who got beyond Clichy and won a corner. The corner was played short with Matty breaking into the box and delivering what looked like a lethal ball to the far post. Z-man tried to get to it but it went agonisingly past his boot and the post.
It was a very encouraging start to the match and the crowd knew it. We appeared to have lost the fear that had beset so much of our play in the early part of the season. Reo-Coker looked particularly effective powering through the middle and a lot was going through him.
Robert Green- who is beginning to show real signs that he might become a West Ham goalkeeping legend in the mould of Parkes or Ludo - was called upon to make a fine save on 12 minutes. Hleb sent over cross to Henry who nodded it down in the box for Van Persie. He steered a ball towards Green’s left hand post, but our ‘keeper made a fine one-handed save.
Clichy has real pace and he ran forward on 15 minutes creating the opportunity for Hleb to lay a pass back to the advancing Gilberto, but the Brazilian shot high and wide from about 25 yards. Another sharp break by Clichy on 16 minutes saw Anton make a timely intervention to cut out a pass in from the left.
Spector saw yellow on 18 minutes after his tackle was adjudged to be late on Van Persie. It looked like he got a touch on the ball, but he did go to ground with feet up.
A German gift
Lehmann very nearly gifted us a goal on 21 minutes as the German made a truly awful goal kick straight to Yossi. He ran forward, passed to Z-man who had the presence of mind to lay the ball off to the advancing Spector down the right. Another great cross was sent in – so much better than what has been coming in from the flanks in recent weeks – and somehow Yossi contrived to head past the post. It needed the slightest glance and surely it would have gone in.
Far too much space was ceded to Henry on 24 minutes and he darted into the left hand side of the box trailing defenders in his wake. Fortunately he slightly overrun the ball and Green was able to come out and collect.
Wasteful Arsenal finishing saved us on 27 minutes as Henry laid off an exquisite pass to Rosicky. No doubt the 2 yard miss in the Champions League game was still playing on his mind as the Czech snatched his shot and did not even trouble the keeper.
Ref Rob Stiles failed to card Van Persie on 28 minutes for what looked like a retributional foul on Spector. The Dutchman is known for this kind of behaviour and it was inexplicable that he was not cautioned. A minute later Spector was taken out, this time by Clichy, who did get a yellow.
Zamora has been impressive with his application of late, and it was his determination in the box on 31 minutes which won a corner despite being surrounded by yellow shirts. The corner came to nothing, but the move that followed saw Konch run forward down the left and pass to Mullins who sailed a shot way over the bar.
Real danger came on 34 minutes as Henry went on one of his tantalising runs which puts fear into even the best defenders. We kept our nerve well and Anton managed to block his shot inside the box, but at the cost of taking what looked like a painful blow to his foot. He was limping around all over the place as a result.
Anton was still looking wounded a couple of minutes later, when eventually the ball went out to allow his some treatment. At the same time, Van Persie went down as if he had been shot on the touchline. It looked like something might have been thrown at him.
Ferdinand came back on but still looked crocked – you wondered why the change hadn’t been made as it left us short at the back.
A deliberate handball on 41 minutes saw Van Persie go into Rob Stiles’ notebook.
With two minutes of ordinary time left, we engineered a good move after Reo-Coker picked up a loose ball inside the Arsenal half. The ball was dragged back centrally from the right but there was no-one there to latch onto it.
Finally, with a minute left, McCartney was introduced for Anton who clearly couldn’t carry on. Three minutes of extra time was announced but little happened during this period.
What we’ve been waiting for
Half time and who couldn’t have been pleased by the West Ham performance. The expansive, creative Arsenal had been restricted to very few chances and the formation had worked well. Despite the isolation of Z-man, the midfield had done well to surge forward on a few occasions and with a bit more luck, Zamora and Yossi would have scored. Probably the best half’s work by West Ham this season.
No changes were made at half time and this was understandable as surely the half time talk would have largely consisted of the manager urging the Irons to deliver more of the same.
Something encouraging must have been said to Z-man in the dressing room as during the first five minutes of the half, he was running around all over the place. He was holding the ball up, looking for options, laying off neat passes and when required chasing back to try and win the ball back. Terrific commitment given he was on his own up front.
West Ham won a corner on 52 minutes after a long ball forward from McCartney. The ball in created a bit of a panic in the Arsenal defence but the congestion in the box meant there was no space to create anything.
Reo Coker managed to pile forward through the middle again on 57 minutes and he passed to Zamora who was left with few options around him. Matty belatedly arrived and then passed it back, but a tired looking Z-man sliced his shot high and wide. It was little surprise that he was a bit dead on his feet given the amount of energy he had put in.
Arsenal brought on the Kanu look alike Adebayor on 60 minutes, withdrawing Van Persie. This sparked a response from Alan Pardew, and it was a positive one with Teddy and Marlon introduced for Bowyer and the spent Zamora.
As usual, Teddy got himself immediately involved on 63 minutes as Marlon used his strength well to capture the ball on the left hand side of the box. He floated over a cross to the veteran who laid off a pass to Mullins just outside the box. His shot was weak though and scudded along the ground to the waiting Lehmann.
The West Ham crowd hadn’t been too impressed with the performance of the ref, but the incident on 66 minutes which saw Spector take a swipe at Hleb after he had been released by a clever pass from Henry was a match-changing incident. It happened right in front of us, and we looked very fortunate not to have conceded a spot kick. “Same old Arsenal, always cheating” sang the Bobby Moore Stand in a calculated move to try and indicate to the man in black that he had got it right. It sounded most convincing.
It didn’t seem to affect us as Marlon did some good work down the left a minute later to cross a ball in which was stolen off Teddy’s foot at the very last moment.
Arsenal made another tactical change on 70 minutes with Eboue coming on for Hleb. Three minutes after the change, Henry had a half chance after Adebayor headed back a long ball. The cool Green dealt with his shot efficiently diving to his right and holding on.
Wenger tried one last roll of the dice with Flamini coming on for Hoyte on 75 minutes, Almost immediately after the change, we had the chance of the half after Teddy made a peach of a header to set Marlon off on a one to one. He cut a little wide and tried to slot the ball under Lehmann’s body but the German got something on it and it rolled away from the goal.
Arsenal still looked dangerous on the beak and there was an optical illusion of a goal on 78 minutes as Toure found some space centrally about 35 yards out. He unleashed a tremendous shot which curled just wide of the left hand upright and hit the post holding the net up. Or one sickening moment from where I was sitting it looked like it had hit the back of the net and bounced out.
Yossi won a free kick on 80 minutes after Rosicky backed into him. Teddy stepped over the ball and Matty blasted a shot straight at the wall and this ended up with two corners in quick succession. The second saw a flick on but Teddy couldn’t get a goal-bound header on it.
Yossi took a yellow card on 82 minutes to stop Fabregas advancing centrally.
It looked like Henry had pulled out one of those devastating angled runs from the flank on 83 minutes. He flew menacingly into the box, but there was no-one around to pick up his pass. Then Rosicky stroked a brilliant pass out right, but the cross in from the right was once again collected brilliantly by the calm Green.
Gabbidon underlined a good performance on 85 minutes by making a perfect tackle in the box to halt Adebayor. Seconds later, Spector made another timely intervention to deny Henry.
Marlon has the final word
Then with two minutes left, maybe those ladies with the antlers on had got it right after all and Christmas had come early as the Boleyn Ground exploded with joy as Marlon scored his first league goal of the season. It was all down to Matty who persevered and won a tussle down the left. He exchanged passes with Teddy and sent in the perfect cross for Marlon who slid in and scored.
The three minutes of added time didn’t do much for anybody’s blood pressure, but we got through them without any major scares.
It was a truly uplifting afternoon out. Back was the West Ham of resilience. Back was the team spirit. Back was a much more solid looking defence to achieve the long overdue first clean sheet of the season. Maybe Arsenal were feeling the effects of their midweek game, but that in no way takes the shine off the best football we have played since the FA Cup Final, six months ago.
In the same way that it was arguably that draw against Arsenal in that fateful season we went down when Freddi Kanoute missed that penalty, this win today could be the harbinger of our recovery. Life is a million times sweeter this evening and who couldn’t be delighted for Alan Pardew who got the tactics absolutely right. He knows how to take on Arsenal – that’s 7 points from the last 3 games against them home and away. F*cking marvellous.
No right to win Ars*wipe
Due to the fact that I was bursting several blood vessels celebrating with fellow jubilant Eaststanders, we were not aware of the spat between Pardew and Wenger after the goal went in. Having now seen that on television replay, it looks to me that Wenger’s made a right d*ck of himself. Get a life, Arsene. I’ve not seen our manager refusing to shake the hand of his opponent when he’s suffered the bitter blow of losing. Vous n’avez pas le droit a gagner, mon ami.
(Player ratings by Graeme Howlett)
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Rock solid again and made the right decisions. Another excellent performance which should guarantee his first team place for the forseeable future.
Another very promising display from the young American. Defensively he was sound, and despite Arsenal's protestations the tackle on Hleb was a sound and perfectly legal one. I criticised him last week for his poor crossing; today there were no such complaints.
Possibly his best game of the season so far. Was helped by Etherington's increased work rate on the left flank.
Didn't put a foot wrong before hurting his ankle deflecting an Arsenal shot, and gamely fought on for several minutes before coming off. One hopes the injury won't be too serious.
Bar one moment where he switched off almost allowing Arsenal to score the Welsh centre-half was back to his very best. He made several crucial tackles when Arsenal threatened to push on and open the scoring.
Hayden played a big role in last weekend's win over Blackburn, and his performance today was just as effective. He sat in front of the back four today picking up anything that came his way. Had one great chance to score but he dragged his shot wide of the left-hand post.
The more cynical of supporters will claim that Reo-Coker put on a show for the man tipped to be his new boss. Whatever the reason, this was Reo-Coker back to his committed, ferocious self.
Almost opened his account for the season when he latched on to a good cross from Jon Spector. Other than that he had a busy game, working hard despite not a greal deal coming off for him.
We've been waiting for a performance from Etherington since the Cup Final back in May - and he certainly didn't disappoint today. His work rate was much improved - as his general fitness levels appeared to be. Unlike last week his crosses were precise and dangerous; it was no surprise that the goal arrived via his left peg.
Brought in as the fifth man in midfield, Bowyer did a fine job keeping tabs on Arsenal's central midfield. Seemed a little 'blowy' at times but that was no doubt due to his recent injury and spell on the sidelines.
Bobby worked hard ploughing a lone furrow up front, although rarely threatened to open up the Arsenal defence.
(Replaced Ferdinand, 43) Last season West Ham beat Arsenal with a left-back playing out of position (Clive Clarke at right-back, for the stattos out there); today they did so again, after left-back McCartney replaced Anton Ferdinand at centre-half. For only his third game, it was a very assured performance.
(Replaced Bowyer, 62) Once or twice in the past Harewood would have gone into hiding after missing a glaring opportunity such as the one which presented itself to him just minutes after coming on, which he duly blasted straight at Jens Lehman. He didn't today, and was rewarded for his endeavour by hitting the winning goal.
(Replaced Zamora, 62) A super cameo from the oldest player in the league. The little touches and glanced passes were first class, and his vision was excellent - summed up by the one two with Etherington that led to the winning goal.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Jonathan Spector.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Jonathan Spector, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Lee Bowyer, Bobby Zamora.
Goals: Marlon Harewood 89 .
Booked: Jonathan Spector 19 Yossi Benayoun 83 Marlon Harewood 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Lehmann, Hoyte, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Gilberto, Fabregas, Hleb, Rosicky, Van Persie, Henry..
Substitutes: Adebayor (Van Persie 61), Eboue (Hleb 71), Flamini (Hoyte 76)..
Subs not used: Almunia, Senderos..
Booked: Clichy (30), Van Persie (42)..
Sent Off: None sent off..