Arsenal surrendered a two goal lead against a spirited West Ham side who did well to deny Arsenal much fluency in central midfield.
At 2-0, Alan Hansen said Arsenal could only beat themselves and as it was, the Gunners contrived to concede two late goals. But without taking anything away from West Ham, it would be difficult to say for certain whether it was two points dropped or not. Arsenal had amassed what should have been a comfortable lead but the Hammers were always knocking on the door despite their three shots on target.
In attack Arsenal were laboured, which has been the theme since the international break while at the other end could not deny pressure on the backline either by keeping the ball for extended periods or through resolute organisation. That could due in part be to the way West Ham’s midfield diamond worked to prevent Arsenal any space to play and with the introduction of Alessandro Diamanti as the trequartista, gave them added dynamism and directness. And up front, in front of the watching eyes of Fabio Capello, Carlton Cole did his best to show the Italian that he is a better version of Emile Heskey as he bullied the Arsenal defenders about and gave his side a direct outlet when in possession.
But he saved his best Heskey impression until last as a slight clip on the heels by Song in the penalty area sent the striker tumbling, this despite fending three defenders at once for most of the game. Diamanti converted the resulting spot kick and had a hand in the first or rather Vito Manonne, as his devilishly whipped free-kick was too quick for the goalkeeper who could only palm back across goal for Cole to head in. The comeback should have been improbable and Arsenal may have felt hard done by in regards to the decision to award the free-kick for the first and then the eventual equaliser from the spot. They took the lead however through Robin van Persie who capitalised on an error in judgement from both Tomkins and Green to head from a Bakary Sagna cross, the French full back dusting off the cobwebs off his boot after the assist. And Gallas’ header made it two as he powerfully leaped above Cole to meet the ball. Indeed Arsenal’s movement was particularly troubling early on for the Hammers but that became a premium as the Gunners failed to exploit what has been a leaky defence.
Arsène Wenger was quick to dismiss the comeback as a deep-rooted problem within Arsenal’s ranks but there is no doubting the correlation.”There is no lethargy, the team wants to win and it focused,” the Frenchman maintained. “There’s no lack of concentration. When you lead 2-0 away the game is never one. West Ham fought for their life, they never gave up. When a team never give up you know they can come back.” If anything, there seems to be a lack of tactical understanding in the players as highlighted by a chance from Zavon Hines which was blocked by Gael Clichy as Fabregas and Diaby were too far to get back in the eagerness to kill the game off. Song has been mainly isolated by his midfield partners this season and the lack of organisation can only attract more pressure on the defence. The 4-3-3 demands the squeezing of space when not in possession while distances have to be exact. The manager was right in criticising the decision-making as crosses abound were off target at a time where Arsenal should have been more ruthless.
Cesc Fabregas was squeezed out of any space by West Ham’s diamond men in the first period and as a result was forced to drop deep to get the ball but in the second half as West Ham tired, worked almost exclusively just inside their half. In fact Alex Song was probably the main beneficiary of Fabregas dropping deep as the Cameroonian was 100% accurate in his passing in the first half and it arguably gave the side more balance. Robin van Persie’s influence also dropped massively after the two goals but still came closest to getting Arsenal the three points in the closing moments but his header was somehow stopped by Robert Green. Whether it was two points dropped will become more certain come the end of the season but Wenger’s “sickening” feeling indicates that moment is now.
West Ham United 2-2 Arsenal: van Persie 16, Gallas 37, Cole 74, Diamanti (pen) 80
West Ham (4-1-3-2): Green, Spector, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga, Behrami (Kovac), Parker, Noble (Diamanti), Collison, Cole*, Franco (Hines).
Subs not used: Kurucz, Faubert, Da Costa, Stanislas.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Mannone (5), Sagna (7), Gallas (6), Vermaelen (6), Clichy (6), Eboue (6) (Bendtner), Song (6), Fabregas (6), Diaby (6) (Eduardo), Arshavin (5), van Persie (6).
Subs not used: Almunia, Nasri, Ramsey, Silvestre, Gibbs.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside)
|West Ham United||Team Statistics||Arsenal|
|0||1st Half Goals||2|
|3||Shots on Target||6|
|7||Shots off Target||6|