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Tuesday 30 December 2014

Jingle Bells...Oh What Fun It Is To See The Arsenal Win Away

Judging By The Massive Queue, The Essex Refugees Come To The Boleyn
 More For The Pie And Mash Than The Footie
A happy & healthy New Year to one and all

I intensely dislike the stress of having to bash out a missive for the Irish Examiner to meet a deadline immediately after the match. Thankfully I was able to get back from the Boleyn and get this typed up and sent, in good time to put my feet up and savour the game all over again on the box, in Sky's Match of the Day.

However, I wish I'd had the benefit of writing the following after having seen a replay of the match. I commented below that I thought Alexis looked a bit leggy, but in truth this was probably only compared to the incredibly high work-rate that he invariably sets because while he might've flagged a little late on, the highlights of the game suggested he was no less influential overall for most of the ninety minutes and that he was far from being "somewhat peripheral" as I've suggested below.

Moreover, it didn't really dawn on me watching from behind the goal on Sunday, but on watching the replay, I realised that the Hammers first-half dominance largely resulted from the fact that with two defensively-minded midfielders in Flamini and Coquelin, we were pretty much set up to play on the counter. In fact my West Ham supporting mate commented that it had made for a surprise, as he wasn't accustomed to seeing his beloved Hammers retain so much possession against an Arsenal side designed to play on the break.

It's also rare to see Arsène make these sort of tactical adjustments, as he's all too often accused of sending out an offensively-minded team, no matter who the opposition are and refusing to adjust the line-up to counter the opposition's strengths. As it turned out, le Gaffer got it right and Coquelin was particularly impressive in doing the job he'd been selected for, by working his socks off to get his foot in and close the opposition down. It must've made for a pleasant change for the Flamster to find himself with such a willing workhorse playing alongside him!

It's also been suggested that Sczczny was under instructions to make his presence more known, in an effort to limit the considerable aerial threat of Carroll. Considering Shez dominated his six-yard box, more than I've ever seen him do before, I wonder why such instructions should be necessary, as I'm certain our back four would absolutely love it if he was doing likewise in every game, to the extent that they could count on the fact that within a certain range, our keeper could be relied on to come for every single cross.

The two defensive midfielders certainly offered our backline more protection than they are accustomed to and ensured that we were that much more secure at the back. But there can be no denying the significant impact of Koscielny's return and how much more comfortable everyone appears with Kos playing alongside them.

I was chatting with a couple of Hammers fans as I strolled from the car to Upton Park. According to them, Winston Reid has been a lifelong Liverpool fan and so they reckoned he'd be far more likely to end up joining the Scousers than us. To be honest, so long as Reid isn't the only centre-back game in town come the transfer window, I'm not sure I'd be too disappointed to miss out, as long as Wenger is able to come up with an alternative solution because I definitely don't think Reid is the finished article. While he might well possess all the necessary physical attributes in his size and speed, ultimately it remains to be seen if Reid has sufficient quality to mature into a long-term first-choice centre-back and besides, the Gunners really don't need more "promise". Personally I'd be far happier with us opting for a player with proven experience, even if that means us having to settle for a centre-back with somewhat limited capabilities in the short-term.

These not so happy Hammers were moaning about Allardyce having rotated the squad and how disappointed they were that as a result, they hadn't even given it a go against Chelsea at the Bridge. As far as they were concerned, this would've only been acceptable if they were definitely going to get something out of our game (which they didn't!). But with them being so accustomed to going to the Bridge without a hope in hell, they would've much preferred to have seen their side make the very most of their best chance of getting something out of a game against Chelsea for the first time in many moons, rather than merely throwing the towel in.

Hearing their disgust at Allardyce having played Kevin Nolan, I suggested that the two of them seem to have a close relationship. "Never mind that" came the retort, "Nolan must have photos of Sam in the nude"!

It's sad to think that this was perhaps our penultimate trip to Upton Park, pending their move to the Olympic Stadium and it will be a crying shame to have to cross of one the last few remaining traditional grounds off the list of awaydays. But then the sight of all the street sellers flogging half and half scarves (half Arsenal, half WHU) was perhaps indicative of the shape of things to come.

Time was when these abominations were limited to Champions League matches, with them being representative of a souvenir of a special occasion (and I must admit to having purchased the odd one on the Continent in the past, when I still had some room in my drawer full of footie scarves). But the half and half scarf seems to have permeated the Premiership, to the point where they appear to be on offer at absolutely every match, be the opposition as grandiose as Man Utd, or as humble as Hull and the fact that there must be plenty of willing buyers demonstrated quite how much the beautiful game in this country has sadly become less a temple of loyal local devotion and more merely a feature destination on the tourist trail.



Jingle Bells...Oh What Fun It Is To See The Arsenal Win Away

Somewhat Happier Than The Hammers
I doubt that even the most cynical amongst us would contend that Giroud’s momentary madness against the Hoops was a calculated act, intentionally designed to earn himself a three match winter break while suspended. Nevertheless with his enforced absence and without the miracle of Welbeck suddenly finding some goalscoring form, I arrived at Upton Park believing it would all be down to Alexis, once again, if we were to beat the Hammers.

However for once our Chilean superstar was a somewhat peripheral figure, with Alexis understandably perhaps, looking a little jaded, in this highly entertaining London derby. Mind you, listening to Spurs v Man Utd on the radio, on route to East London and how this match completely fizzled out, as seemingly both sides ran out of steam second-half, I fully expected the fatigue of playing twice in three days to eventually take a similar toll, but thankfully we were fortunate to enjoy ninety minutes of far more energetic high-drama.

I can appreciate Sam Allardyce whinging about Song’s early goal being disallowed. All those of us standing behind the goal, directly in line with the former Gunner’s well-struck shot, thought he’d scored. The sight of the linesman’s flag was greeted with relieved jubilation because it would’ve been an entirely different game if we’d gone 0-1 down quite so early on.

Although the Hammers failed to cause much threat on goal, our hosts pretty much dominated the remainder of the first-half. Our penalty, when it came was against the run of play and was therefore greeted with more relief, enabling us to get a foothold on this contest, which resulted in us scoring a second immediately after, only moments before half-time, leaving the Hammers trudging off the pitch somewhat shell-shocked to be 0-2 down.

Right Time, Right Place For Once
For once it was a case of right time, right place, as Welbeck met the Ox’s cross, to slide home our second. Yet for all Danny’s tireless industry, he’s still some way from being the sort of clinical finisher who can convert more chances than he misses. Then again, I have to admit that back in August, I believed Balotteli would be better value at the same price as Welbeck and there really is no comparing the two players, when you contrast the England front man’s overall contribution everywhere on the pitch, to the Italian striker’s complete anonymity.

It’s a measure of where the Gunners are at right now that instead of sitting there relaxed, thinking it was pretty much job done, to be 0-2 up at the Boleyn at the break, I was instead fretting about the prospect of the resulting long and extremely anxious second-half, should the home side lift the atmosphere by nicking a goal back.

Although the Hammers had some of the stuffing knocked out of them, this didn’t stop them from bombarding us with crosses, with Allardyce correctly assuming that according to the law of averages, we would eventually concede from one of them. Nevertheless, considering how hard they were worked, our defence held pretty firm for once. It is patently evident how much the entire team benefits psychologically, from having Koscielny restored to their ranks. Even Sczczny appeared more commanding than usual, determined to aid in negating Carroll’s aerial threat.

However it was Adrian down the other end who deserved most of the second half plaudits, with the Irons’ goalie making some seriously impressive saves right in front of us. One of these was a volley from Santi that he couldn’t have possibly struck any sweeter and it felt that if this shot didn’t beat their goalie, nothing would.

Least Santi Comes More Than Once A Year And Not Down The Chimney
With our competitors having all dropped points, it was crucial that the Gunners clung on to seal the second successive victory that has rocketed us back into the top four reckoning. Frankly neither of these wins was particularly convincing and this is a game of such fine margins that we could’ve just as easily conceded late equalizers in both matches and been left lagging in ninth place. Instead of which, no one is moaning about our manager and mercifully we Gooners have enjoyed an Xmas were we’ve eat, drunk and been very merry.

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