This fixture is a special one for me because it was the first match I ever went to. Shortly after my 8th birthday, I saw Arsenal dispatch West Ham 2-0, with two late goals from Ljungberg and Kanu. A man from the row in front – still in his suit having come straight from work – even hoisted me in the air in celebration (relief) in what was a pivotal result in the ’01/02 double winning season. As chance would have it, the fixture once again fell on my birthday and if you’d have given me another 2-0 win before the game, I’d have said thank you very much.
Despite a win in their last game, West Ham are going through a terrible run of form at the moment and are flirting with relegation, with little movement away from it since David Moyes took over from Manuel Pellegrini in December.
Well, they certainly didn’t attack like a team struggling to survive, just as we didn’t attack like a team playing at home against a team battling relegation.
They’d already hit the woodwork within the first few minutes and it very quickly felt like it would be another long afternoon. We struggled to deal with Antonio’s physicality and they managed to get in behind time and again with worrying ease. If the man actually knew how to finish, we would have been in for a hiding and the calibre of chances West Ham created throughout the game really deserved better end product. Obviously, I couldn’t care less that nothing materialised in the end, but it felt very much like a stroke of luck than something deliberate.
Pablo Mari was a lucky man on one of these occasions, as he failed to intercept a pass behind and it served as an early wake up call to both himself and to certain fans who prematurely celebrated his qualities shown against Portsmouth. There’s a gulf in quality between the Premier League and League One and although he settled into the game, he does seem a bit lethargic, which is an unforgiving trait to have in such a frenetic league. As we’ve seen with Per Mertesacker, you can at least make up for it in other areas, and there’s still a lot to like about what he brings. There’s more coherence to our left side, with a pivot between Xhaka, Saka and Mari beginning to develop which obviously benefits from their left-footed commonality.
I didn’t care much for Xhaka’s carelessness in possession and his worrying tendency to play the ball across our own goal. His pass completion at 85.5% was nothing out of the ordinary but I wish someone would have a word with him about that.
There really wasn’t much to like about anything though. Ceballos with another good performance, Saka continuing to bully any opposition put in front of him. Leno back to saving our bacon and quickly putting his European blunder to bed. Saving those three, it was frustrating and lifeless – we struggled yet again to create chances with any degree of frequency. Pépé once again had the beating of his opposition full back but once again resorted to clinging onto the ball for far too long. He reminds me of Alexander Hleb in the final third; fantastic dribbling ability but perhaps loves it a little too much.
VAR and the goal
I don’t know why we’re held to such laughable levels of scrutiny, nor can I comment on the extent to which other teams suffer, but that was something else yesterday. As if Martinelli’s earlier in the season wasn’t bad enough, they seemed desperate to find some kind of excuse to disallow the goal, even going as far as briefly examining Reiss Nelson who was quite clearly not involved.
We don’t know what goes on in their tiny little brains; hubris obviously plays its part, with the on-field officials seemingly reluctant to indulge anything which might conflict with their original decisions. In this instance, I did wonder if there was a degree of protectionism given the fact that Sian Massey-Ellis was involved. For those unaware, she was central to a sexist controversy in the UK which resulted in a commentator and presenter’s sacking after they had made disparaging remarks about her ability following a controversial decision she had made (she was actually right on that occasion). On this occasion however, she was in the wrong and in fairness, it was one of those where the two players are moving in opposite directions so it was difficult to see in real-time.
The VAR muppets really don’t have a leg to stand on though and I would love to hear an explanation as to why it took so long when it was immediately clear even to the naked eye that Ozil was level. It’s another goal spoiled and I hate that it’s been overshadowed by VAR, but it was timely and it got us the three points. Lacazette is turning into a bit of a super sub, and while he struggles with form, I think that’s pretty good as far as utility goes.
So, Man City somehow lost to United this afternoon, leaving Liverpool just two wins from the title. We haven’t enjoyed much success against City in recent years and they seem to really turn the screw after a defeat under Pep. It’s rare that you have the opportunity to see a “Master vs. Successor” match-up so soon after the latter’s ascendancy but that’s what we have in store and it’s a high-stakes game for both.
With United’s somewhat unexpected victory, our road to Champions League qualification took a turn in the wrong direction after a weekend of generally favourable results as many teams around us dropped points. It’s a game in hand and while I’m not considering it a “must-win” game, we really do need to make the most of it and it’s arguably our biggest game of the season. I’d take a draw because I’m frankly fed up of getting pasted by them but we’ll have to see how much Arteta gleaned from his apprenticeship.