Morning you wonderful humans, you, and a Merry Christmas one and all!
Yesterday I had a lovely afternoon with my family around my brothers house. My nephew greeted me at the front door with a big smile on his face, wearing the West Ham third kit, followed up by a few volleys of “we’re gonna beat Arsenal tonight Uncle Chris!”. I kept my counsel. My brother and I drank beer and rum and he told me about how Arsenal should probably smash a West Ham team who were missing loads of players. I kept my counsel. When the very soft penalty went in and at halftime he had a big beaming smile on his face, I kept my counsel.
Let’s just say that by full time, my counsel was no longer being kept.
Then when the team was announced, low and behold Antonio was fit, Cresswell was fit, it was a decent looking West Ham side with Declan Rice in the heart of it, despite some saying that he might be rested. I didn’t think we’d see that but to be fair we did exactly the same and played our strongest possible side – including Saliba. The result, as we all know, was a first half of domination of ball, control of the game, but just lacking that killer touch in the final third. I thought we dominated the middle third of the pitch, but apart from the Saka disallowed goal, I don’t remember Fabianski making tonnes of saves in that first half.
The disallowed goal was one of those ‘by the letter of the law’ annoying instances where in all reality it should have stood. The touch was miniscule on Saka’s heel, it probably didn’t make too much impact in terms of the over all play (a sumptuous interchange with Odegaard who I’ll be coming to later), yet he was offside and if you touch it then VAR will always rule it out. Even my brother admitted it was harsh. But that felt like the whole of that first half to be honest with you, the calls were just landing on the right side for West Ham. Their penalty goal was soft; Saliba will probably know he should have done better, but the touch was there and of course the attacker is going to go down if he feels it. Again, like Saka’s goal that was chalked off, it was ever so slightly fortunate for West Ham. That also felt like the case for the penalty we got on the stroke of halftime, VAR again rightly ruling the handball by Cresswell as a touch on his head, rather than his arm.
It was a frustrating first half but the second half was much more impressive. We certainly had more of the ball and chances after halftime and only had to wait eight minutes before drawing level. Odegaard’s shot was a shocker, but the way it fell to Saka for him to just touch it home beyond Fabianksi felt to me like the fortunate that just alluded us in the first half, had merely just been held back for the second half. Then, within five minutes, my brother had exited the lounge stage left, because Martinelli stepping up to put us ahead was all he needed to see. It was deserved, West Ham had been sitting deeper and deeper, knowing that they were up against an Arsenal team who looked imperious. I am struggling to articulate the right words, but when I reflect on the match as a whole yesterday, all I can think of is how we looked like one of the elite sides. There was an air of authority and calmness about our play from the first minute until the last, even when we went behind. It’s the way the players stroke the ball around; they just look like Liverpool and City sides of recent years, which is so pleasing to see. Now, we all know that we won’t have it like this all season, we’re going to drop points in games and we will have times when we won’t play well, but what I wanted from this restart was to see that this team means business and fully intends to continue from where it left off before the World Cup.
They showed exactly that.
What I also loved was the third goal, because if there was one person that I think we all knew needed to ensure he gets off the mark in terms of goals, it is Eddie Nketiah. Eddie was ok, if not spectacular, but his turn and finish for his goal was brilliant. Little drop of the shoulder to bamboozle your marker, then a composed slot in to the corner beyond the flailing West Ham ‘keeper. I bet that goal has done him the world of good. He is off the mar, as fans we know he’s already bagged his first goal in the Premier League this season, so it won’t be a millstone around his neck. It also buys him some time because we know he’ll score goals and we won’t have the media doing the “xx number of games since Nketiah has scored” nonsense that they were started to say for Gabriel Jesus.
The other player I wanted to highlight today, however, was Odegaard. I think I’ve lost count how many times I’ve waxed lyrical about this player, but he is exactly the sort of football I adore watching. The way he moves across the pitch is purposeful and with him in the team our build up play just meshes together so much better. He was imperious last night and we may not have won that game without him pulling the strings. He isn’t a shouty captain, he doesn’t bang his chest or go steaming in to tackles to get the crowd roaring, but he certainly leads by example when it comes to keeping this Arsenal engine purring.
I think coming from behind is also something that should not be underestimated from a morale point of view too. For so long under Arteta we knew that if we went behind, we’d rarely win, but this is another example of this team stepping up and proving it has the minerals when it comes to not panicking and doing enough to turn a game around. It’s important for the self belief of this team and I think it will also have pleased Arteta with the way that we did it too.
We are now seven clear of Newcastle with a game in hand, eight clear of City too, looking like we’re ready for what the next five months will throw at us. Next up will be a super tough game away to Brighton, but we’ll have the confidence of that win against West Ham fresh in our minds and I hope it helps to keep us going against a team that has become somewhat of a bogey team of recent years.
Catch you all tomorrow. Have a good one.
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