West Ham United 1-3 Arsenal: Scintillating Performance

I have to begin with a moment of full disclosure - outside of the usual suspects, I loathe no club nearly as much as West Ham. I hate their club, their history of hooliganism, their supporters, and that godforsaken bubbles song. I have attended matches in several countries and several divisions, and the only time I have ever been physically threatened was by one of their pond-life away support (the joke was on him though, the horseback cop with the truncheon five feet away and all).

I can't say I was happy to see them come back up.

That they did, though, so the mission was to halt their recent hot streak within the confines of the Boleyn Ground. Arsene Wenger made a few changes, most notably returning Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud to the first XI in place of Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest of the starters were the usual lot.

Frankly, I had feared a rocky first ten minutes against a motivated Hammers side. Their support was in fine voice as well, but their heroes never got off the mark. Arsenal's attacking intent was immediate and urgent, Lukas Podolski forcing a save from Jussi Jaaskelainen inside of 30 seconds. This was a welcome change from the Chelsea and Olympiacos matches, though to their credit West Ham were well-drilled and difficult to breach.

It was a good thing for them, as Arsenal had a stranglehold on possession. The men in yellow (it was nice to not see that Grimace-inspired purple abomination) pinged the ball around purposefully and incisively, with only the excellent James Collins-marshaled backline keeping our guys at bay.

There were several notable performances in the first half. It's nearing copy-paste status to say it, but Carl Jenkinson was fantastic at right-back, to the point where Bacary Sagna's return to the team should not be automatic when he passes fit again. Aaron Ramsey continued his fine form, spraying passes around brilliantly and tracking back when needed. For their mob, Collins was a colossus in the back, and bizarrely so was Andy Carroll - the big striker often pressed into emergency center-half duty due to Arsenal's dominance.

There was one sequence where we had several consecutive corners and looked for all the world like we were about to break through. Instead, West Ham hit a sucker-punch in the 21st minute.

For once, it was not a defensive mistake - you have to tip your cap to a moment of inspiration from Mohamed Diamé. The former Wigan man picked up a long ball down the left, and turned Ramsey inside-out despite the further attentions of Jenkinson. Both were left for dead, and he bore down on the Arsenal goal. Despite the acute angle, he hammered a shot past Vito Mannone into the top corner. No one will mention it, but Mannone was partially at fault - you simply must come off your line there. It was a ridiculous finish from Diamé, but you can't make it that easy for him to pick his shot. I hate to keep picking on him because he's a No. 3 thrown into the deep end, but it's wholly indicative of how jittery and indecisive he's been under the surface.

Meanwhile, the Senegalese midfielder was booked for the awful crime of celebrating the goal with his own fans. It pains me greatly to agree with Ashley Cole, but the FA really do match his description. It's such middle-management jobsworth bullshit.

Oh, and Cole's assessment is also correct simply because Phil Dowd still officiates Premier League matches. How many high-profile errors must this horse-faced incompetent make before he's rightly consigned to the lower leagues? Diamé, on an (unfair) yellow, viciously clattered into Mikael Arteta with a late challenge. In a vacuum, that is a yellow card 100% of the time. Perhaps there's an argument that the softness of the first caution led to his leniency here, but I imagine he'd have been all too happy to send off our man were the roles reversed.

The home side briefly contested on equal terms after the goal, but Arsenal recovered nicely and threatened again. Olivier Giroud was unlucky to not get on the end of a Mertesacker flick-on, but I felt like he was in the zone and was going to score eventually. I had gotten it into my head to tell someone at the pub "Two predictions - we're going to win today and Giroud is going to score", but I never got around to it. I wish I had, I'd have looked like a bloody genius.

Indeed, the goal came a few minutes before the interval...and it was that man Giroud who got it. Podolski was the provider, sending in a purposeful cross to the near post. Collins looked to have it covered, but he didn't account for the perfectly-timed late run of Giroud. The Frenchman fully extended his leg to get the merest toe-poke onto the ball, sending it past Jaaskelainen. It was a massive goal, not only to reinforce the belief of the player but for the side as well.

How different things may have been if Kevin Nolan had a better performance, though. The West Ham captain badly fluffed an easy chance presented to him by Carroll's flick-on. No doubt, that would have changed the mood had that turned out differently.

Instead, the second half continued where the first left off, Arsenal dominating with the hosts occasionally countering. There was little goalmouth incident in the first quarter-hour, though Andre Santos did come on in place of Kieran Gibbs. If there was an injury, I didn't see it. The home side had medical worries of their own though, the sprightly Ricardo Vaz Te coming off the worse in a collision with Mannone. In the meantime, Theo Walcott replaced the quiet (but not bad) Gervinho.

A goal looked like it was coming, but it was the Hammers who should have taken the lead. Another Route One ball came to Carroll, with Mannone again absolutely nowhere. Luckily, what a waste of money, etc and so on. Minutes later, the one defensive breakdown from the visitors - a bunch of idiotic standing around waiting for an offside call - led to Nolan having the entire penalty area at his mercy. He legitimately had 7-8 seconds to pick his shot past a third-string keeper, but his indecision allowed Mertesacker to recover with a majestic sliding tackle.

Suddenly, this had become a pulsating encounter. Ramsey was in the thick of the next incident, his superb run crudely cut out by Matthew Taylor. If it wasn't a penalty, then it was a free kick just outside the area. Instead, Horseface Incompetent waved play on.


Karma ensured that the breakthrough came just after, though. A West Ham attack was repelled, and the ball was played up to Giroud. For all the talk of Arteta being the new "Pass Master" - and rightfully so - our assists leader once again came up with a through-ball that eviscerated the home defense. Walcott ran onto it, and hit a subtly-brilliant finish to the near post. Jaaskelainen had that side just about covered, but Theo found the one place he could put it that would beat the Finnish stopper. Perhaps he still has something to offer after all. Oh, and he got booked for celebrating too. Bloody hell.

That was the dagger that effectively ended the Hammers' resistance. They did have one more decent chance from Nolan, but he was always going to blaze that over. Up the other end, Mertesacker almost scored off of an audacious turn and shot at the edge of the West Ham area. Sadly, Jaaskelainen saw the danger just in time.

There was nothing he could do a few minutes later, though. A cross from Walcott was cut out, and the ball was played back outside the area. Cazorla was given a tiny bit of space to shoot, but he still had it all to do. The little Spanish dynamo was on it though, curling a magnificent shot into the far corner. No goalkeeper on this planet (or any other) would have saved that one.

Five minutes of injury time were given, but Cazorla's wonder strike drained the fight from West Ham. The boss made his last substitution, which I thought was bizarre at the time though I've come to realize that it made perfect sense. Koscielny came on for Podolski, which gave him 10 minutes of match time in a controlled environment. Hopefully, that will help him get his head back on straight.

So, if the Chelsea result was a disappointment and the Olympiacos match unconvincing, then this has to be described as a heartening result against a team that played far better than their possession stats would indicate. The Gunners looked much better on the offensive side of the ball, and head into the Interlull with something approaching momentum again. Now, let's just hope we don't have our players come back from international play as broken as usual!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 6, Gibbs 7 (Santos 7), Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 8, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 7, Ramsey 8, Podolski 8 (Koscielny N/A), Cazorla 8, Gervinho 7 (Walcott 7), Giroud 8

Man of the Match: There are no shortage of candidates on this occasion, eh? There are serious arguments for the BFG, Ramsey and Podolski. All were excellent on the day. Many will go for Santi Cazorla, and I wouldn't blame them - that was a magical strike indeed. For me though, Olivier Giroud takes the honors. It's not just for his brilliant finish, either - his assist for Theo's goal was top class, and he could have had a hat trick if luck was on his side.