Football is bloody bonkers sometimes. Yesterday’s game away to West Ham was an example of that and I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea how to properly judge what we all witnessed yesterday. That’s because when I usually analyse how I feel with The Arsenal it usually falls in to quite a binary “happy” or “sad/annoyed/frustrated” camp. I feel like yesterday plants feet in both and that leaves me feeling in some kind of mental limbo.
In terms of the game itself I had the usual pre-game nerves, but they weren’t anything like the usual worry, probably because I’ve come to accept that this season will end up with us mid table and looking like we’ve had another pretty shoddy Premier League campaign by the standards that we demand as Arsenal fans. We are mid table mediocrity yesterday and getting a draw away to West Ham is evidence of that. The Premier League season is ‘done’ for me so it tempers any kind of rage/excitement after a win, loss or a draw. In season’s gone by when we’ve picked up tough points you could find me wandering around my house quietly fist pumping to myself and mutter “what a result”, but not this season, certainly not now.
Yesterday had me saying “what a result” but not in the context I have previously, because it was just mental, but let’s start with the game from the line up. Most fans looked at some of the rotated choices Arteta made and I think were understanding of some. Pablo Mari and Chambers in to provide the counter to West Ham’s aerial threat. As I said on the preview blog yesterday, West Ham have been getting joy with set pieces and Arteta must have been mindful of that. Partey and Xhaka in midfield is our strongest partnership there and Saka and Odegaard had been rested on Thursday. Aubameyang out wide hadn’t been done for a while so there weren’t too many surprises there, whilst Lacazette continued his form at the spike of the team. But as soon as we kicked off we saw Aubameyang wide right and Saka on the left. That just doesn’t work for me and the first 15 minutes were a new low of embarrassing as West Ham dominated possession, chances, created overloads and we just couldn’t handle it.
It was awful for Arsenal and the stat that was showed after 10 minutes had something like 33 passes in the final third by West Ham, whereas we had completed precisely zero.
Then West Ham scored two in quick succession and we looked completely asleep. It had to be that utter whelp Lingard though, didn’t it? It was a good finish from the edge of the box but felt preventable if we’d have cut out the pass to him in the first place. We didn’t, he scored, but that wasn’t the worst of the three we conceded. That was most definitely the second and Lingard’s simple pass to Bowen from a free kick on the edge of the box was unprofessional from so many Arsenal players, Six or seven of our lads not even facing the ball and as Bowen was slid in we were standing like statues. But even then, with Bowen through, he shouldn’t be beating Leno at the near post and I’m afraid the German needs to take a big chunk of the blame on this goal. You shouldn’t be beaten at your near post at all. Not like that.
But there was more to come from our hapless team and on the half hour mark West Ham got their third and I’ll be honest with you, I came close to switching the TV off at that stage. With the way we were defending, the fact that every time they went forward they looked like scoring, I wondered if it would be a cricket score with so much football left to play. It was abject stuff from us and Luiz was beaten too easily in the air for West ham’s third.
But as shoddy as it was, as appalling as we had been, I also need to recognise that what happened after that first 30 minutes was equally as good from Arsenal, because we woke from our slumber and played some very impressive stuff after that, all thanks to an inspirational display from Martin Odegaard.
I think what really helped the narrative of this game was us getting a goal back before halftime. I think the strike Lacazette took which has gone down as an own goal – harsh in my opinion as it looks more like a deflection to me – helped to kick a bit of belief that Arsenal could get in to the game and it also planted that seed of doubt in West Ham’s minds for the second half. Which forced them to sit back and for big chunks of the second half we pinned them to the edge of our box, with Odegaard pulling the strings and finding players in space time and time again.
What was also amazing was his ability to wriggle out of tight-knit scnearios and he did that all game, creating space so that we could retain the ball and get in behind them through the sides. But as with most games this season where we have relied on that left hand side, Tierney and Aubameyang didn’t really provide us with much in terms of hurting the opposition. Instead it was Calum Chambers who put in one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt and it was his cross that led to the second goal turned in by Craig Dawson, then his ball in to which Lacazette nodded in for our equalizer. Chambers and Odegaard were stand out performers but Lacazette also did his job well yesterday and we have to give credit to that.
There were a few players who were off the boil in Mari, Partey and I thought Saka and Tierney weren’t at their best, but overall whilst we can be frustrated at the way we just didn’t start the game at all, we can be very happy with the authority and mental strength shown to get something from it. None of us expected even a point after 32 minutes. But we got it and whilst I don’t think it does anything from our domestic hopes, if we’re talking about maintaining momentum for the Europa League, perhaps this has a bit of added benefit to it.
It’s in to international tedium time now, so we’re going to have to do without Arsenal for two weeks, but at least our last memory before the international break isn’t a stinging defeat.
Catch you all tomorrow.