Well wouldn’t you know it, our team won a Premier League football match. How about them apples, eh? How’d you like ’em? So it turns out that actually, those players do know how to see through a football match, in the end.
Still, despite the final score line, it wasn’t all plain sailing was it?
I frequented the Auld Triangle pub yesterday for the first time in about seven years and at a time in which I’m sure we’ve all wished for a taste of the former Highbury glory days, I’m sure I can be forgiven for a little bit of nostalgia given the current plight of the team.
And it was a plight in which walking along by Arsenal station my compatriots Steve, Mark, Michael and I were all too wary of as we faced a West Ham team that had bloodied our noses on the first game of last season and despite their poor form of late, threatened to bloody once again.
Almost literally it seemed at times, as Slaven Bilic decided that Andy ‘elbows’ Carroll would be chief tormentor for last night’s encounter, with his physicality clearly designed to cause maximum disruption to a makeshift Arsenal back four. But where as in recent weeks I’ve been quick to deride our defensive fragility, on last night’s performance alone you can’t help but applaud the resilience shown by our back five against an aerial bombardment such as West Ham looked to envoke. Gabriel, Mustafi, Bellerin and Monreal have all taken their fair share of criticism at different times this season and for different levels of poor performance, so let’s appreciate when they stand firm.
From the first five minutes you could see that West Ham were aiming to unsettle a mentally fragile Arsenal side with direct football and to be fair to them, it’s exactly what I’d have tried at The Emirates. You only had to watch the West Brom debacle to see that we were susceptible to set pieces and with Carroll and Antonio on the pitch there was always an advantage to the Hammers. But I thought Mustafi and Gabriel coped surprisingly well and with Monreal and Bellerin also realising that they were better than they’d shown in recent weeks, we looked more like a side who were at the top end of the league last night, as opposed to the calamity that we’d been used to this side of Christmas.
It was hard going in the first half though. West Ham got niggly and we looked like a side devoid of confidence. Antonio and Carroll threw themselves in to challenges, whilst throwing themselves to the floor and Martin Atkinson was only happy to oblige in their favour. Even when stonewall penalties were there to be offered, including one from Walcott in the first half that was nailed on.
Our passing seemed accurate enough, but precision was the issue, and aside from a moment of scramble towards the end of the first half I rarely remember us causing West Ham any issues.
Thankfully though, Arsenal actually came out in the second half, and you could tell from the first five minutes that they’d decided to be more adventurous. I don’t know whether it was the sudden clicking of Özil and Alexis – who seemed to have regained their telepathic ability to find each other at every opportunity – or whether the team just thought ‘f*ck it’, but we suddenly looked more decisive as the game entered the hour mark. Perhaps it was the wearing down of West Ham, or perhaps it was the realisation that apart from Andy Carroll West Ham had little threat and Mustafi seemed to have him marshalled well enough, but things started to click. Xhaka – who I thought was the best player on the pitch with his passing range (left and right foot) seemed to have more space than recently and Özil suddenly seemed like his old self. His goal was a slightly speculative ball in to the old ‘corridor of uncertainty’ chestnut, but buy a ticket, etc, but it will have done him the world of good and then with another assist for Theo’s goal he’ll be buoyed by that performance. I haven’t seen any replays at this stage so I suspect Alexis was interfering with play and offside but given his recent lull, who’d begrudge Mesut from a little bit of fortune?
One nil can be a horrible score line, so let’s all thank Mesut that he decided to remember his assisting ability as well, because his cut back was straight out of the 2015 vintage and I’ll bet Theo was grateful for that most certainly. Two nil, West Ham looking done, Arsenal finally picking up some points. Cue Ollie G with the goal of the night with a sumptuous finish to round off proceedings.
West Ham were the perfect opponents at home yesterday. They too have struggled for form and a 3-0 score line didn’t flatter Arsenal at all. A draw for United and Liverpool each means that we actually made ground for a change, so that’s some positivity amidst a myre of negativity that’s been associated with Arsenal at the moment.
We still looked a lot way off our capable best and the proof will be in the Eagle pudding when we play at Selhurst next Monday, but if the team can put together a string of wins now, it will stand us in good stead for the semi final. I’m looking at that rather than the top four because I’m still not convinced we’ll make it given the tough games we’ve got between now and the end of the season.
But at least we can enjoy the rest of this week – what’s left of it – without wondering where the next three points are coming from.
Catch you all tomorrow.