Arsenal: How Did the Players Fare in the 3-1 Win Away to West Ham United?
The reviews of the 3-1 win away to West Ham have been relatively positive. Alistair Magowan of BBC Sport feels that "West Ham took the lead against the run of play when Mohamed Diame beat Vito Mannone with a curling shot."
On the victory as a whole, he notes that:
having been on top for large parts of the game, it was no more than Arsene Wenger's team deserved as they extended their unbeaten record against the Hammers to nine games and moved to fifth in the Premier League table.
Amy Lawrence (whom I suspect is a Gooner, but must, of course, remain objective in her articles) writes that Wenger's "team rose to the challenge at the Boleyn Ground, with a first Premier League goal for Olivier Giroud and fine strikes from Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla crowning a valuable away win."
She continues that:
Confronted by an old nemesis in the shape of a Sam Allardyce team that backed them into an awkward corner by opening the scoring, the Gunners struck the right combination of force and finesse. They remain unbeaten away and continue to play some compelling football on the road.
Giroud scores in the League at last. Getty Images.
Control Versus Class
For me, though, I thought that Arsenal won because of class, not because of control. Even Arsene Wenger admitted in the postmatch interview that West Ham could have punished Arsenal on two occasions.
While West Ham might have taken the lead against the run of play, there's room to question the ease with which Mohamed Diame got past Aaron Ramsey, the player keeping taps on the West Ham player on the near-side end of Arsenal's goal.
But this isn't an indictment of Aaron Ramsey, who, as usual, worked his socks off for the team. Plus, Ramsey played with his usual directness, something that is often a relief for me to see as it presents an option to Arsenal's sometimes purposely passing.
The major problem for me here was tactical.
It is true that this would be a confrontation of differing styles, the one direct and the other more measured.
The ease, though, by which West Ham easily disrupted Arsenal's preferred way of playing—first, by forcing Vito Mannone to kick the ball long, and, second, by forcing Arsenal to play their (West Ham's) game—was a little disconcerting, since what you want to see in any team that entertains thoughts of challenging for league title is an ability to control the game and to force the opposition to play to its own dictates.
I didn't feel that Arsenal were firmly in control here tactically. This was evident in the second half especially, and if Kevin Nolan had taken his chances against Arsenal, the result this match could have been very different.
Arsenal weathered a great deal of West Ham's attacks in the second half, when Arsenal didn't seem to be able to keep the ball in midfield.
West Ham had succeeded in neutralizing Arsenal's midfield, and it wasn't until Lukas Podolski was taken off late in the second half that the kind of control I'm talking about manifested.
The introduction of Laurent Koscielny as an extra shield to the defense allowed Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey to find the right balance between them in the midfield. For the next 10 minutes, Arsenal played with a level of control they hadn't managed throughout the match.
Someone could argue, of course, that part of the reasons for this was that, at this point, West Ham had tired out. True. But the control I'm talking about came about after the introduction of Laurent Koscielny.
West Ham United gave Arsenal some competition. Getty Images.
The idea of class versus control is echoed by Ben Findon in his match report for The Telegraph.
Sheer class ultimately told for Arsenal, thanks to the coolest finish you could wish to see from Theo Walcott and a magnificent long-range strike from the outstanding Santi Cazorla.
There's, of course, nothing wrong with class.
In fact, you want to see it shine consistently, and it is a legitimate argument that as long as a team keeps winning, the kinds of thing I'm critiquing here can be relegated to the secondary.
On the other hand, I'm apt to think that these secondary things can be the difference between winning the league title and not winning it.
As to how the players as individuals fared, in defense, there was more control in the back four than was evident in midweek in the match against Olympiakos in the Champions League.
Early in the first half when Arsenal had been in more control of the game, they tended to use the sweeper type of setup, with Mertesacker functioning as the extra screen.
By and large, I thought the defense as unit did well. One hopes that Kieran Gibbs' thigh problem isn't serious. The last thing we need is to experience an injury problem similar to that of last season.
Mertesacker brought some calm to the Arsenal defense. Getty Images.
This is where the problem still lies.
Although I do not want to overemphasizing the point, Arsenal still haven't found the balance. It is the reason why West Ham had them on the ropes for a large chunk of the second half because the midfield couldn't keep the ball long enough to remove pressure from the defense.
Again, there wasn't anything wrong with individual players.
The only problem is that Santi Cazorla plays higher on the pitch close to the main striker, and on the other end, Arteta plays closer to the defense. The balance required is the bridge that should exist between the two.
This balance wasn't there in midweek, nor was it here.
One hopes that the International break would allow Wenger to find solution for this problem. When the league returns in two weeks, both Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere should be on the brink of returning to the team. This should provide options for Wenger.
Cazorla was his usual excellent self in this match. Getty Image.
Wenger said Gervinho was a little tired. I believe fans should leave the whole thing there. I suspect, though, that mindless criticism cannot but surface in some corners.
Olivier Giroud scored and provided an assist. I think Giroud is a little unlucky; otherwise he could have scored at least another goal.
What I mean here can be seen in the Manchester City-Sunderland match, where a number of City's players missed some glaring chances in situations where one could say the ball refused to go in, but only for Sergio Aguero to come on and for the ball to go in for him.
When Giroud's lucky break comes, we should see him scoring more.
Theo Walcott injected a little more directness to the game when he came on. But that, of course, is one of his strengths. His goal was well-taken and that was encouraging to see.
Podolski provided an assist. His game was otherwise subdued...I think.
Walcott was very happy to score. Getty Image.
All in all, Arsenal got the needed three points. This allows the team to keep its hope for challenging for this year's league title open.
Read my review of the other matches through the following links:
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