Monday, 17 January 2011

Arsenal Defeat West Ham To Close The Gap At The Top Of The Premier League.

Arsenal made the short trip to the East End of London on Saturday afternoon to play West Ham in what was a must win game for them. With their opponents propping up the Premier League, and Arsenal holding the best away record in the league, anything but a win would have been a very poor result. Thankfully the team put in a great performance from the first minute to the last and emerged with a 3-0 victory.

Arsene Wenger picked the strongest team available to him in my opinion, and the players set about hunting for the three points from the very start. I had said in my preview that I thought that Robin Van Persie just needed to score a goal from open play to show that he was back to his very best. In the thirteenth minute he did just that by finishing neatly with his "chocolate leg", after a very good move by Arsenal. The ball was moved around at a good pace, before it was played out wide to Theo Walcott, who was all alone on the right hand side. He pulled the ball back across the box, Samir Nasri dummied it, and RVP was on hand to finish crisply into the corner of the net.

It was very nice of Man City to loan Wayne Bridge to West Ham, and he was good enough to play a big part in all three of Arsenal's goals. He found Walcott to be a handful all all afternoon, and the Arsenal man scored one goal, made another, and was taken down for the penalty for the third. I'm sure Bridge probably hasn't played in a while, and the thought of marking the speedy Walcott for the afternoon probably didn't appeal to him, but how he allowed him so much space to cross that ball was criminal.

A short while after that West Ham had their best chance of the game, when Johan Djourou left a back pass to Wojciech Szczesny short, and Carlton Cole pounced on it. Szczesny made a very good save to give Arsenal their third clean sheet in a row in the Premier League, and all of a sudden their defensive record seems to be improving. Szczesny was in the team in place of the injured Lukasz Fabianski, and he did his growing reputation no harm at all.

As the first half progressed Arsenal kept up the pressure, and West Ham were finding it very hard to cope at times. Walcott fluffed a good chance, Nasri came close, and RVP hit the post with a very good effort before the second goal arrived in the 41st minute. RVP was played in on the left hand side, and when he cut it back Walcott managed to lose Bridge and bury the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out. It was his tenth goal of an injury interrupted season, and if he continues playing like he is at the moment he will end up with at least 20 goals. At half time it was 2-0 to Arsenal, and it looked like there would be more to come in the second half.

The second half progressed with more of the same from Arsenal, and the third and killer goal eventually arrived in the 76th minute from a penalty. Walcott ran onto a ball at the right hand corner of the penalty area, with Bridge in pursuit of him, and as he touched it away from Bridge, he was felled by the West Ham player. Bridege went to ground with his tackle, and when he didn't make the connection with the ball there was only one possible outcome. RVP stepped up and put the keeper the wrong way from the penalty, and secure three precious points for Arsenal.

Within a minute of the restart Cesc was replaced by Denilson, and towards the end both Samir Nasri and Walcott went off tobe replaced by Andrey Arshavin and Kieran Gibbs. Arsenal put in the sort of performance that I had being hoping for, and they showed that they have enough firepower to match any other team in the league. With the defence keeping it's third Premier League clean sheet in a row there is also a feeling that Arsenal are beginning to gel at just the right time of the season.

Of course the team that played against West Ham was the strongest one available to Arsenal, and only Bakary Sagna and Thimas Vermaelen were missing from what is probably Arsenal's strongest team. With the two of them added I think that the defence can become even better, and a fully fit Aaron Ramsey can certainly add something in midfield too. As long as Arsenal can continue to put out a team of that strength I feel that they are in with a real chance of competing for the league title. A lot may depend on the ability of RVP and Walcott to stay injury free, and nobody knows if that's possible, but I can only hope that it is so.

As it stands Arsenal are the top scorers in the Premier League, and they have only conceded three goals more than "Manure", Man City and Chelsea. For me no team is taking the league by storm, and a sustained run of good form from Arsenal could well be enough to see them overhaul the lead that "Manure" have, and go on to take the title. Their display against West Ham was very convincing, while City struggled to win at home to Wolves, Chelsea beat Blackburn without ever looking impressive, and "Manure" again failed to get an away win. I find it difficult to believe that a team that has only managed two wins in 10 away league games can seriously expect to win the league.

The biggest worry for a lot of Arsenal fans would seem to be the fact that "Manure" are still unbeaten after 21 league games this season, and that the fantastic record that Arsenal's invincibles set could be matched. They have to travel to Liverpool, Chelsea and arsenal yet this season, and with their away form being as poor as it is, I genuinely believe that they will lose at least two of those games. It's unimaginable that the current "Manure" team could match that magnificent Arsenal team of 2003/4. They are nowhere near as good as that team, and the sooner the better they are beaten for the sake of all sane minded football fans.

The great Arseblog ran a story yesterday telling us that Thomas Vermaelen is to undergo surgery on his achilles injury, and he probably won't be available to play again until March at least. He is a player that Arsenal have just about managed without so far, thanks mainly to Djourou coming back from his injury in such good form, but the boss said he would buy a centre back if there was another set back for Vermaelen. This is clearly a major set back, and to be honest it could even spell the end of his season. As a result I expect the boss to move as quickly as possible to tie up a new signing, and reinforce Arsenal's defensive strength, as they are still in contention for four trophies.

Of course with his track record the boss will probably sign some unknown player minutes before the transfer window closes. I sincerely hope that isn't the case, but like all other Arsenal fans there is nothing I can do about it, except to voice my opinion. With so many games to play in all four competitions Arsenal need four centre backs available, and I think that need could be seen very soon.

Next up for Arsenal is the FA Cup replay away to Leeds on Wednesday night, and it won't be an easy game with a huge crowd behind a Leeds team that will think they have a great chance of causing an upset. It will be interesting to see what Arsenal team takes the field in that game, as the second string players haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in recent games. After that game Wigan pay Arsenal a visit in the Premier League next Saturday afternoon, and the best starting 11  will be needed in that game again, as the Premier League has to be a priority.

I'll be previewing the Leeds game on Wednesday morning, and I'm also going to try and run an update of how my Fantasy Football league is going tomorrow. As it stands there are 770 teams in the league, and it's ranked 42nd out of over 220,000 leagues which is a statistic I'm very proud of. My own team isn't doing too badly, but some other members of my family are in with a chance of winning one of the three trophies on offer at the end of the season. 

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from Saturday's game.

See You Tomorrow.

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