Sunday, October 07, 2012

Slices of Humble Pie: 12 Thoughts on West Ham 1 Arsenal 3

A good win in a frenetic London derby. Thoughts, including slices of humble pie, as follows:

* I liked the line-up. I think Ramsey has done enough to warrant a start - indeed, in all honesty, I would play him before Diaby even if both were fully fit. Ramsey may not have Diaby's glue-like ability to get the ball to stick to his feet while he runs, but I just feel that Ramsey contributes more, both defensively and offensively, to games on a more regular basis. Also, he seems to be showing that he can recover from a big injury, in a way that Diaby has not been able to do. As for the rest of the team, it was good to see Per back, and to have a much more balanced forward line, with a more traditional type of striker leading up top.

* We started very well. We took the game to West Ham, perhaps knowing that Allardyce would try and see if he could get his team to bully us out of the game from an early stage. We passed the ball slickly, and only a couple of good saves and blocks kept us from scoring. However, there was a fair amount of the ball being simply thrown into the box without much thought, and despite all our possession, I felt we should have created more clear-cut chances during this period than we did.

*So, after our bright, but goalless start, it was almost inevitable that we would concede. The goal was both stupid and sublime. Ramsey will rightly take a fair amount of flak for letting Diame ease past him, but neither Jenkinson nor Mertesacker really covered themselves in defensive glory either. The finish itself was brilliant, and for once you can't really blame Jazz Hands for not making a save, such was the power and whip with which the ball was hit. But Diame had far too much time to line up his finish. It just goes to show, I suppose, how good so many players are in top-flight football, when they're actually given enough time to express themselves.

*After the goal, we appeared a little shaken, and for a while it seemed like we would concede a second. It was during this period that Phil Dowd made one of his multiple blunders, not giving Diame a second yellow for an offence that clearly warranted a booking. To go off on a tangent for a moment, it's really about time that the FA reviewed their policies that surround bookings for celebrations. It seems odd that a player can often get away without a card for scything down a player, but should they, heaven forbid, want to celebrate with their fans, or whip off their shirts in a moment of over-exuberance, it's always, always, a yellow card. Booking people needlessly makes it harder to caution them when they actually deserve a card - it's pretty simple, really.

* Despite Dowd, we hung on in there, and finally made the breakthrough when Giroud got on the end of a Poldi cross. Humble pie moment #1 for me - I had said moments before that Giroud always seemed a yard behind the pace. This time he clearly wasn't. Collins should deal with Podolski's cross, but Giroud, like any good forward should do, gambles that the ball will reach him. The result is a near tap-in, but one manufactured through positional intelligence - it was great to see. I thought Giroud had a terrific game, in all. His shooting was accurate, with four out of eight attempts on target, he held the ball up well, and he played a wonderful pass to Theo to set up our second. I'm still not convinced that he's a twenty goal-a-season striker, but he now has 2 goals and 4 assists in the somewhat limited minutes he's had this year. He is proving to be a useful player.

* The goal was also an example of what can happen if you put accurate crosses into dangerous areas. Gibbs and Jenkinson have both started the season very well, but they did not cross the ball well during the game yesterday. One of Gibbs' six crosses was accurate, while none of Jenkinson's three attempts found a player. Now, accurate crossing does depend on other players getting into good positions. But Podolski showed why he is a world class talent with his pass.

* The rest of the game could have gone either way. Right after we scored, some dodgy defending from a corner led to the ball falling to Nolan after Jenkinson completely switched off. Nolan prodded the ball wide when he perhaps should have scored, and it would have been interesting to see if we would have recovered from going behind just before half-time. As it was, the momentum was with us at the

* As you may have noticed by now, I don't think it was a very good defensive performance yesterday. Mertesacker may have been part of the balls-up that led to the first goal, but he was the one relatively solid player in a back five that otherwise frequently looked all at sea. Carroll won an absurd 17 aerial duels yesterday, and if anyone else on the West Ham team could have finished the resulting chances then we'd have been in big trouble. Carroll isn't a £35m player, but he is effective at what he does, especially in a system like Allardyce's. I don't think we dealt with him at all, and, especially after last week, it seems we may have been a bit premature in talking about a new culture of defensive solidity at the club.

* My second piece of humble pie was served up by Walcott. With West Ham pushing forward a little as they became more confident in their attacks, space opened up behind their defensive line, which Theo gleefully exploited. His goal was an absolutely beautiful finish, and, without wanting to read too much into these things, his celebration did say a lot about the passion he feels for Arsenal. I simply don't understand him as a player - at times, he seems unable to control the ball as he runs with it. At others, he can slip the ball past the keeper in a truly Henry-like fashion. It remains to be seen whether he'll sign his new deal, and I still think it's fairly unlikely that he will do so. But, for all his frustrating tendencies, he can be a game-changer, and those are always useful to have around.

* Humble pie piece #3 was served courtesy of Santi Cazorla. His goal was an outstanding strike, as he basically wrong-footed the keeper with his eyes from outside the area, before pinging the ball into the other side of the net. I maintain, however, what I said shortly before his goal - Cazorla could be more accurate with his shooting. He currently has two goals from 33 shots on goal in all competitions this season. It's nice to see a player who's willing to shoot from distance, but I have the feeling that he might have scored a few more for us already this year, given the positions he's been getting into. Just consider that Cesc has scored 3 goals from 12 shots in La Liga and the Champions League this year. Cazorla is a wonderful player, and has done a huge amount to lift the club since his arrival. A slight improvement in his shots to goals ratio is surely not too much to ask, is it?

* Overall, a good win, which was slightly less comfortable than the scoreline suggested. The last few games has seen us revert to giving away silly goals again, which is a little disappointing, but at least we have the mental fortitude to fight back from losing positions in a place like Upton Park. Looking at our fixture list, we've come through a difficult September, and it would seem to me that all of our next four games are winnable. If we can't beat teams like Norwich away, or QPR at home, then I can't see us troubling the top spot in the table this year. Let's hope we can use the win yesterday as the springboard to a good run of form.

* Lastly, when was the last time we wore a kit in three consecutive seasons? Given Villa play in almost identical colours, I imagine we will even see the yellow kit again this year.


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