Arsenal 3-0 West Ham United: Emphatic Victory


Fearless prediction - if Arsenal play like this next week down in Monaco, the hat for the Champions League quarterfinal draw will have an English team in it after all.

Of course, the French outfit are a far more daunting proposition than an injury-ravaged West Ham side, but for me this was more about process than results. Barring an oddly-subdued opening 15 minutes of the second half, Arsenal ripped West Ham apart with pace and purpose. The visitors couldn't live with the Gunners' relentless pressing, typified by the shift that Olivier Giroud put in up top.

Another factor in play is how injury-ravaged their mob are - Diafra Sakho was their only recognized center-forward, Cheikhou Kouyaté was pressed into emergency duty at center-half, and Carl Jenkinson was absent due to the Premier League's loan rules. That left them with a patchwork back four that clearly had no understanding together, often causing them to remain static in the face of dizzying passing combinations from our boys.

Had Theo Walcott been a tad bit less rusty coming off his injury layoff, it could have been 1-0 as early as the 5th minute. A raking through-ball from Alexis Sanchez put him in clean through, but he hesitated long enough to allow James Collins to close him down. There was arguably a penalty shout there too, but I'm less sympathetic to Theo when he had that much time to shoot in the first place.

There was to be no early breakthrough, then, but it always looked like a goal was coming eventually. West Ham, for their part, were mostly content to soak up pressure and play off the counter, which many other sides have done to great effect against us. The difference today is that Arsenal were much more direct, and far more disciplined than usual when the visitors did counter.

The only exception might have been Calum Chambers. He had an up-and-down first half, in that he created chances for Alexis and Ramsey with excellent crosses, but also got flambeed by Matt Jarvis down his wing on three separate occasions. Had the Hammers committed any more support players forward, we may have found ourselves chasing the game.

Still, the good news is that the chances kept coming as the half went on. The finishing was a bit suspect a times - Adrian made a few decent saves, though there was nothing there that a top-level keeper shouldn't have saved easily. At times like this though, it's important to keep process in mind, as opposed to immediate results. The longer a team goes on playing the way they were, the more chance that eventually there will be a breakthrough.

Sure enough, that finally happened just before the stroke of halftime. At first it looked like it might have gone to Walcott, but an untimely slip prevented him from cashing in a fat rebound left from a shot by Mesut Ozil. Just minutes later though, the Gunners eviscerated the statues in light blue with a lightning-quick passing exchange. Aaron Ramsey was running towards the corner flag when Giroud simply took it off his foot at a dead run. That effectively dummied the defender, leaving Ollie room to lash a thunderbolt off the far post and in.

The halftime interval couldn't have come at a worse time for us, though. As purposeful and urgent as our attacking play was in the first period, it was exactly that turgid and ponderous after the restart. There was also a scary moment when Sakho clattered into David Ospina - I thought that should have been a yellow - but the Colombian stopper ended up being OK.

While Arsenal went well off the boil in those next 15-20 minutes, the good news is that the visitors couldn't conjure much other than wasted possession. I honestly can't remember one serious save that Ospina had to make over the entire 90 minutes. Part of that can be attributed to the excellence of Laurent Koscielny and Francis Coquelin, though. The latter broke up more than his share of attacking threats in the center of the park, and when he did not, the former was there to imperiously sweep up.

Our boys did start to wake up after Arsene Wenger started to make his substitutions, though. Danny Welbeck came on for a somewhat-anonymous Alexis Sanchez, soon followed by a tiring Walcott withdrawn for Santi Cazorla. The fresh legs gave us an energy boost at a crucial point of the match, and the chances started coming once again.

The one that everyone will talk about, of course, was Ozil's utterly bizarre insistence of crossing to the far post when put in clean through on Adrian's goal. Sure, he should have taken the shot, but the angle was such that a goal was not exactly guaranteed.

Beyond that, the Ozil haters will point to that as further existence that he is now The Worst Player On Earth Guv'nor Innit Innit Innit. But, a deeper look would show that many of our best moves, especially in the first half, had Ozil right in the thick of it. His passing and awareness were excellent all day, and a lot of what he does is keep an offense ticking over long enough for chances to be created...even if his telling pass was one or two before the final ball. I don't know if it's because we live in a FIFA/Football Manager world, where people believe that goals and assists are the only hallmark of a great player. People forget that this is a team game, and there's usually three or four key moments that lead up to goal or a chance, well before the actual cross or pass or shot.

Anyway, the visitors visibly started to flag in the game's waning minutes, and Arsenal took full advantage to add some gloss to the final scoreline. Another dizzying set of passes resulted in a brilliant one-two between Ramsey and Giroud, allowing the Welshman all the space he needed to hammer one past Adrian.

The party pieces came out soon after, with yet another passing masterclass capped off by Cazorla's pinpoint square ball across the six-yard line. The substitute Mathieu Flamini was unmarked on the back post, and was left with an easy tap-in.

You know, it's funny how this team has the ability to bring you from despair to euphoria and back again at the speed of damn light. I've gone from resignation to an unbelievable belief that these guys can go down to Monaco and demolish them just the same as they did this lot today. Maybe they can and maybe they can't, but you can't ask to be in better form than we're in right now.

Come on, you rip-roaring reds. We got this!

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Ospina 7, Monreal 7, Koscielny 9, Mertesacker 7, Chambers 7, Coquelin 8, Ramsey 8, Sanchez 7 (Welbeck 8), Ozil 7 (Flamini N/A), Walcott 7 (Cazorla 7), Giroud9

Man of the Match: There were a few who might have been able to stake a claim to this on the day, but I have to go with Olivier Giroud. He worked his tail off for the cause, and he finished with the goal and assist that he so richly deserved. Brilliant!


Sean Swift is a contributing writer to The Modern Gooner, and is about to go celebrate this with some excellent German beer - living around the corner from a beerhall has its' advantage. I am on the Twitter machine at @thefallen29, but my usual caveat, I don't often check it.