Cazorla - good but not Bergkamp
I've had a few long days at work towards the end of this past week, and sleep was a bit of a foreign concept. With a day off today I went to bed last night a happy man after Arsenal's very fine performance at Upton Park. In the opening twenty minutes we kept possession well and, when the opposition had the ball, the Arsenal players were working hard all over the pitch to harry West Ham in to giving it back to us. The chances came and went as the East End faithful watched a team in their famous colours play as little football as I'm sure they've ever imagined possible in their worst nightmares. The Hammers' only real tactic it seemed was to get the ball up on to the head of Andy Carroll. Let me just say that I have no problem with that. It's an effective tactic when done well. What irks me, however, is when a side like West Ham or Stoke is lauded by the commentators and pundits when doing it against Arsenal, but the same people will then be lamenting the state of English football when the England team struggles against Poland next week. You can't have it all ways, and if you praise the likes of Allardyce and Pulis for their "tactics" then you can't moan that English footballers are light years behind Spanish players in terms of technique and comfort on the ball. If we take a comparison from yesterday, who would you rather have - Santi Cazorla or Kevin Nolan? Need I say more?
Despite Arsenal's dominance I doubt many Gooners were all that shocked when West Ham went in front. What was a surprise was that it was a very decent goal. Aaron Ramsey was too easily beaten by Diame, and Mertescaker summarily failed to then close down the goalscorer once he was in the penalty area, but it was a nice piece of skill and a devastating finish nonetheless. For Arsenal it was all too familiar. From that point we began to have a lot of trouble with Andy Carroll. In the first minute Mertesacker had attacked a high ball and jumped above Carroll to win it. Thereafter, up until the final fifteen minutes, we failed to make the same challenge to the England striker. Last season, after our home game against Liverpool, I wrote a pieced lauding Thomas Vermaelen for the way he outmuscled Carroll. Yesterday the skipper seemed afraid of him at times. The defensive frailties of last season, especially at set-pieces, were back again. Vito Mannone didn't do badly, apart from one awful error when Carroll should have scored at 1-1, but he wasn't that well protected at times, either by his defenders or the referee (more of whom below). We all know that Mannone is going to make some bad errors as he is not good enough to play regularly at this level, but at the moment he is doing himself justice in my view.
The West Ham goal didn't much alter the general pattern of the game as Arsenal continued to be on top until half-time. I felt Santi Cazorla disappeared a little after we went behind, but before that and after half-time he dominated the game and orchestrated Arsenal's attacking play. We thoroughly deserved our equaliser and it came from a move started and finished by the hard working Olivier Giroud. The delivery from wide by Podolski was of a quality rarely seen from the Arsenal flanks, and the run and finish by Giroud was that of a genuine centre-forward. Sadly he would go on to miss a couple of one-on-ones again late on in the game which means the question marks will remain. We had been a bit unlucky up to the point of the equaliser as I counted four goal-bound shots deflected wide. Why is it that our deflections tend to go past the post while Fat Frank at Chelsea gets half of "his" goals via ricochets of defenders?
West Ham were the better side for the first twenty-five minutes of the second-half. Arsenal seemed to go to sleep and were ponderous in possession. When we did go forward the final ball was sadly lacking.
Was anyone really surprised to see Kieran Gibbs limping off the pitch injured? The old problems remain with Gibbo it seems as he can't get through more than about nine or ten games without pulling or straining something or other. Andre Santos may well be set for a run in the side now, but he must improve his positional play. The Brazillian is actually an excellent defender - nobody ever seems to beat him in a one against one, but he is way out of position far too often. There's something to be worked on by Steve Bould over the next fortnight.
Gervinho, meanwhile, was back to his very worst form of last season. His control of the ball was simply abysmal at times and it was really disappointing to see him failing to get the better of a player as bad as George McCartney. It was really crying out for Theo Walcott to come on, and I was pleased to see him when he entered the fray. I suspect some would rather have seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the pitch but his form does not warrant getting in ahead of Theo right now. McCartney certainly couldn't handle Walcott who picked up where he had left off when brought on against Olympiacos on Wednesday evening.
Arsenal's second goal was a cracking move, started by Cazorla and then finished by Giroud's combination with Walcott. The through ball from Giroud was weighted superbly for Theo's excellent run. Walcott had the perfect first touch to get through on goal, and the finish inside the post was top class. When he scores a goal like that it is easy to see why he insists he is ready to play through the centre. I wonder if he might occasionally get his wish if he was to sign his new contract. He was also involved in the third goal where his good run, showing rare physical strength, saw the ball end up at the feet of Santi Cazorla. The strike by the little Spaniard was one of those that gets you off your seat, even if you're sitting watching at home as I was last night. He went on to lay Giroud through on goal twice for what should have got us home and dry by some margin. The reverse pass beyond the defence was breathtaking, and really deserved to be finished (Match Of The Day did not have it as part of their highlights, which sort of sums up the BBC's editing) . I wrote here the other day that I wanted to see Cazorla doing what he did in the opening matches of the season, and yesterday he didn't disappoint. However, I have to take issue with Arsenal youngster Conor Henderson who Tweeted, "Bergkamp + pace + left foot = Cazorla". Do me a favour. If Cazorla even gets close to Bergkamp then he will be some player, but it will be a very long time before he convinces me he is in that kind of territory, added to the fact that Dennis was neither slow, nor one-footed. Silly boy Conor.
The win last night was impressive in the face of Allardyce's cloggers and was earned in spite of yet another display of ineptitude by Phil Dowd. How is this man allowed to referee football matches? Quite apart from the fact that he is visibly physically not fit to referee at this level, he is inept to the point of suspicion. This is the same man who sent off Abou Diaby at Newcastle early last year in the 4-4 draw at St James' Park and also gave two of the dodgiest penalties in Premier League history against us in the same game - the match was subsequently subject to questions being asked of Interpol in Germany with regards to a possible betting scam. When put together with Aaron Ramsey not being given a penalty (or even a free-kick right on the edge of the area) and Dowd's failure to dismiss three West Ham players for red card offences you have to wonder if Mr Dowd is just incompetent, or whether he is a cheat. Having booked Diame for celebrating his goal with his own fans (one of the most ridiculous rules Blatter and his FIFA cronies have yet introduced) he then failed to book him for the sort of foul that could have badly injured Mikel Arteta. It was late, deliberate and cynical from Diame and the referee was simply not doing his job properly by allowing him to remain on the pitch. We then had the incident that sawRicardo Vaz Te dislocate his shoulder - rarely has an injury been more deserved. He deliberately left his foot in on Vito Mannone with the clear intention of kicking our goalkeeper in the face. I expect nothing less of players employed by Allardyce, so it was sweet justice that he got such a serious injury as a direct result of his callous act. The final man who should have gone for West Ham was Matt Taylor who went over the top of the ball on Mikel Arteta late on in the game. My six year-old pointed out that it was exactly the same as the foul Jonjo Shelvey was sent-off for against Man Utd a couple of weeks ago. The only difference with this was that Arteta wasn't making a similar challenge at the same time. Luckily our main man in midfield was able to dodge most of the studs aimed at his shin and came away unscathed. But what of Mr Dowd? Sadly you know full well that his punishment for such a terrible display will be another top game in two weeks time. His performance was so bad that even the newspapers have picked up on it.
Overall I'm a happy Gooner again as we head in to another interminable international fortnight. We've recovered well from the Chelsea defeat, and a win yesterday was vital ahead of two weeks away from Premier League action. When we return it will be against a struggling Norwich in a game we should be hot favourites to win, though I always fear playing against teams that are due for a win. Hopefully there will be a bit more to write about than usual during this international break, especially with Jack Wilshere continuing to step up his recovery. By the time the Norwich game comes around Bacary Sagna may also be in contention, but Carl Jenkinson's form means there is no rush in that regard. Tomorrow I'll be writing a piece about how a change in tactics might just be the way to get Theo Walcott playing at centre-forward, while also getting the best from Olivier Giroud, and how the last ten minutes at West Ham might have just given us a pointer towards that. Wasn't it nice to wear yellow yesterday, by the way?