Premier League
Arsenal 0 West Ham United 2

Sunday, 9th August 2015
by Gordon Thrower

So how was your weekend?

Mine wasn't at all bad thanks. Had the nephews up to town on Saturday and had a
grand day showing them a few of the sights ("that used to be a shipyard over there called Thames Ironworks etc"). England won the Ashes. Then there was this.

In amongst all the hand-wringing over the Europa League in midweek it was always going to be interesting to see who would start this one. The non-availability of Jenkinson and the injury to O'Brien necessitated the pressing into service of Tomkins as a makeshift right back leaving Reid and Ogbonna to play in the centre.

The headline-grabbing news was that Reece Oxford (at 16 depressingly young enough to legally be my great grandson) was to play in a defence-covering midfield role, making his Premier League debut in the process. The inclusion of Payet and Zarate showed an attacking intent in the selection leaving a starting line-up of Adrian, Tomkins, Cresswell, Reid, Ogbonna, Oxford, Noble, Kouyate, Payet, Zarate, Sakho.

It wasn't a bad start with some good work between Tomkins and Kouyate forcing an early corner from which nothing came. This flurry was followed shortly after by the first yellow of the match/season. Noble lost his footing and in an attempt to regain the ball his lunge saw Coquelin fly through the air.

This left the skipper with 86 minutes to play. I don't have too much of an issue with the yellow itself but it would have been nice to see ref Atkinson, who seems to follow us around as much as any supporter, applying the same standards to the home side who got away with a surprising number of similarly-late challenges over the course of the match.

We didn't have to wait too long for the second yellow, Corzola just beating Ogbonna to the ball leaving the defender 83 minutes to play on a yellow. The wall did its job from the resulting free-kick and the follow-up corner ended with a tame header sailing harmlessly over the bar.

Arsenal seemed to be in preparation for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup such was the regularity with which they seemed to be kicking for touch. This just added to the fun to be had at the expense of the home support who were as taciturn as their reputation suggests. Funniest chant was the reminder that the list of trophies dotted around the stadium facings seemed to be missing one for 1980.

On the quarter hour Oxford, for neither the first nor the last time of the afternoon, broke up an Arsenal move and sent Sakho on his way. Sakho perhaps ought to have played a return pass to Oxford who had continued his run in support. Instead Sakho ran into traffic and the move petered out.

We were growing more and more into the game and on 20 minutes Payet did splendidly to keep a slightly overhit Cresswell cross field pass alive, his cross finding Sakho who was unable to get enough on it to trouble Cech.

It was telling that the closest the home side came to scoring was a deflected effort from distance that looped up and clipped the bar, Adrian possibly getting a finger to it. On the other hand we looked good on the break and Payet's run and shot required a deflection to keep it out. Payet pulled the corner back but Zarate scuffed his shot. Tomkins then went into the book for a challenge identical to one that Ozil had gotten away with earlier on Zarate, the difference purely being the colour of shirt involved.

There was a slight scare as Corzola pushed the ball through to Giroud. Adrian made a superb save at the feet of the forward, though the flag had gone up anyway, and within a minute we were ahead. Oxford won a loose ball in the middle but had to pull back to avoid decapitation from Ramsey. Payet put the free-kick in and Cech, the keeper that was going to make all the difference for them this season, inexplicably believed that he was going to get the ball. Kouyate disavowed him of that belief and headed into an empty net.

Tomkins got a smart block in as the otherwise anonymous Ozil burst into the box but the two minutes of stoppage were negotiated without much to bother the blood pressure and that was that for the half.

Half Time: Arsenal 0 West Ham United 1

The second half continued much in the same style as the first with Arsenal possession being negated by hard work from the midfield and by the fact, in the final third, Arsenal possessed all the sharpness of those round-ended scissors they used to give to you in primary school (or still do if you're a Spurs supporter).

In a spell of seven minutes we saw, in turn, the worst and the best of Zarate. Pushing forward, once again he elected to hold onto the ball and ran into three or four defenders with colleagues well-placed to be played in. We were bemoaning the fact that, despite his undoubted skill and talent, he so often did the wrong thing.

After Adrian had cut out a cross in a slightly unconvincing manner and Giroud had hit the side netting we then allowed Giroud far too much space and his off-target shot took a deflection requiring Adrian to be at his best low to his left.

Then it was Zarate's moment. Payet fed Cresswell whose promising run was cleared. Chamberlain dawdled on the ball and Zarate robbed him, turned and fired a low shot that Cech got nowhere near to send us two up.

It was Zarate's last major contribution as, on the hour, he was replaced by Jarvis, presumably to help protect Tomkins in the event that Arsenal ever found out he wasn't really a right back. Jarvis's first action was to give away a free-kick that ended up with a tame header from Giroud into Adrian's arms. As did much of Arsenal's output on the day.

Although Arsenal were enjoying possession, when they weren't kicking it into touch, we always looked menacing on the break and it would have been interesting to see what might have developed had Sakho not slipped when getting onto Kouyate's lovely through ball.

Things got so desperate for the home side that they brought on Sanchez who was supposed to be having a quiet afternoon with his feet up in recovery from the Copa America. Shortly after that an Arsenal player finally found out how far they could go to get a yellow as Monreal's nasty studs up challenge was finally punished.

Having had a fine afternoon Oxford was replaced by Nolan with 12 left on the clock. Arsenal were getting more and more desperate and Reid was having a fun time of it getting blocks in. There was further fun to be had at the expense of the home support who made the schoolboy error of celebrating a goal from Oxlade Chamberlain that had hit the side netting - always an amusing one that.

Typical of the hard work that went into the match was a late run from Sakho who not only managed to get to the by-line but also managed to win a corner too. The effort did not go unnoticed by Kouyate who congratulated his colleague with almost the same fervour as one might expect from a goal celebration.

The corner was interesting too with Noble managing a decent run along the goal line before seeing his cross blocked. With two minutes left the exhausted Sakho was replaced by Maiga, who immediately went on a run ending with a shot that was comfortably saved.

Five minutes of stoppage were added, mainly arising from a sickening clash of heads between Tomkins and Giroud which, thankfully, left neither player with serious damage. This was seen out without anything really worrying occurring bar a low effort from Sanchez which Adrian saved well with his legs. With the self-deprecating strains of "we're gonna win the league" echoing around the rapidly-emptying stadium the final whistle went.

Full time: Arsenal 0 West Ham United 2

The players came over to applaud the away support. The Arsenal players, feeling that they ought to clap something even if they didn't know what, saluted all the empty red seats and thanked them for turning up.

This was a fine win based on strength and hard work throughout the side with no little skill and pace going through midfield to attack. Although comparisons are probably pointless it's difficult to see such a win taking place over the past two seasons - the attacking intent wouldn't have been there.

It was noticeable that the crowd were chanting the manager's name (in between choruses of the Hokey Cokey and the song after which this very site is named) so it's a happy fanbase all round for the time being.

So yeah, overall I had a great weekend, thanks. How was yours?!

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Player Ratings

Adrian San Miguel del Castillo
A couple of uncertain moments early on but dealt with everything thrown (or more accurately "gently lobbed") at him, especially in the 2nd half.

James Tomkins
Not always at ease in an unfamiliar right back role but stuck to it well.

Aaron Cresswell
Didn't show much in attack but had a fine game in defence.

Winston Reid
Outstanding. Got blocks in time after time and on an afternoon when I was spoilt for choice I've plumped for him as MOTM.

Angelo Ogbonna
Didn't let the early yellow put him off in the slightest.

Cheikhou Kouyate
Another MOTM candidate and was immense in the middle.

Mark Noble
Another rash tackle left him on a yellow for most of the match but he stuck to the task well.

Reece Oxford
16 you say? A league debut to be proud of - and just think how big he's gonna be when he grows up!

Dimitri Payet
Pulled strings all day long. Actually no. Scrub that. Another team might be watching. No he was rubbish. Nothing to see here.

Mauro Zarate
Still infuriating on occasion but worked hard - the way he won the ball back to score his goal was testimony to that.

Diafra Sakho
Ran himself into the ground. Led the line well - it helped that he had support from Zarae and Payet.


Matt Jarvis
(Replaced Zarate) Didn't register much on the radar.

Kevin Nolan
(Replaced Nolan) Again I can't remember him doing much. Not saying he didn't, just that I can't remember.

Modibo Maiga
(Replaced Sakho) Ran gamely for the short time he was on.

Darren Randolph
Did not play.

James Collins
Did not play.

Diego Poyet
Did not play.

Manuel Lanzini
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Adrian San Miguel del Castillo, James Tomkins, Aaron Cresswell, Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna, Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Reece Oxford, Dimitri Payet, Mauro Zarate, Diafra Sakho.

Goals: Cheikhou Kouyate 43 Mauro Zarate 57                .

Booked: Mark Noble 5 Angelo Ogbonna 7 James Tomkins 37      .

Sent Off: n/a     .

Arsenal: Petr Cech, Mathieu Debuchy, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, Santiago Cazorla, Mesut Özil.

Subs not used: Gabriel Paulista, Kieran Gibbs, David Ospina, Mikel Arteta, Calum Chambers.

Goals: n/a.

Booked: Nacho Monreal (69).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

Attendance: 59,996.

Man of the Match: Winston Reid.