Monday, 29 December 2014

Arsenal Stay Strong To Beat West Ham

Arsenal went to West Ham yesterday knowing they were going to face a really strong physical test and they would have to be at their best to stand up to it. The good news was the inclusion of Laurent Koscielny in the defence from the start as he is such an important player to Arsenal. His absences for the majority of the last couple of months have been sorely felt by the team and the defence has struggled in his absence.

Kieran Gibbs was the man to miss out as Nacho Monreal moved to left back while Francis Coquelin came into the midfield and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined the attacking trio. The other players to miss out were the injured again Tomas Rosicky and the suspended Olivier Giroud. The absence of Giroud for three games was a chance for Danny Welbeck to lead the attack and show what he can do.

West Ham dominated the early proceedings and Alex Song had a goal disallowed early on when his 25 yard shot was correctly ruled out with up to three West Ham players offside and interfering with play. West Ham were none too happy with the decision, but Diafra Sakho opened his legs to let the ball through them and Andy Carroll was blocking any view Szczesny might have had of the ball. If they weren't the definition of interfering with play in an offside position then I don't know what is.

West Ham continued to have the best of the first half, but Arsenal stayed strong in defence and looked dangerous on the break. With Coquelin playing alongside Mathieu Flamini as a defensive shield the defence got the protection it needed and West Ham's biggest threat was from crosses and long balls into the Arsenal area. Wojciech Szczesny did his part though and came for as many crosses as could be expected and looked commanding in his area.

The game turned in Arsenal's favour in the five minutes before half time when they scored twice in quick succession. The first goal came when Winston Reid took Santi Cazorla down as the Arsenal player raced through on goal and it was as obvious a penalty as you can get. When Reid saw Cazorla was past him he raised his leg to trip him and his loud objections to the referee were laughable. Cazorla got up to resume his penalty taking duties after Alexis Sanchez had missed one on Friday and he made no mistake to put Arsenal 1-0 up.

With West Ham reeling Arsenal pounced quickly to double their advantage only a couple of minutes later. A very good one-two between Mathieu Debuchey and Chamberlain led to Chamberlain cutting the ball across the goal and Welbeck was on hand to stab it home from a few yards out. After enduring a West Ham bombardment it was a great way for Arsenal to finish the first half and they set themselveslves up perfectly to take the three points.

In true Arsenal style they gave up a goal early enough in the second half to put themselves under pressure for the rest of the match. Rather than wilting the players stood strong though and continued to create chance after chance on the break in that second half. It took a combination of fine goalkeeping from Adrian and poor finishing from Arsenal to keep the score at 2-1 and as long as it stayed that way West Ham had hope. 

There were a couple of scares near the end but thankfully Arsenal held firm and got their second win of the festive programme. The importance of the win was shown even more when all of the team's above them failed to win and Arsenal moved to three points behind third placed United. They're still a long way off the top of the table, but third place is well within their sights.

West Ham had a very good home record before yesterday and Arsenal had to dig deep to get the win. The return of Koscielny was a real factor in their defensive display and it has to be hoped he can remain fit for as many games as possible. Coquelin also has to be praised for his contribution as there weren't too many Arsenal fans happy to see him in the team or who think he's good enough to play for Arsenal. The chances are he won't make a career for himself at the club, but be was called upon in times of need to do a job and performed admirably.

Next up is a trip to Southampton on Thursday and they showed exactly how good they can be with a draw at home to Chelsea yesterday. There should hopefully be a few more options for Arsene Wenger in that game with some of the injured players gradually coming back to fitness. I wouldn't be surprised to see Coquelin in the team again as either Aaron Ramsey or Mikel Arteta would probably be on the bench if they are in the squad. 

The festive programme has gone very well so far for Arsenal with six points out of six and a win at Southampton would make it a perfect nine out of nine. They have had to dig deep and defend in depth at times in both games so far and they managed to do all that was asked of them on both occasions. More of the same on Thursday would show that the team really might be finding some of the fabled consistency which they have struggled to find this season.

Theo Walcott didn't get a run again yesterday and it's hard to see when he will be reintroduced with games so tight at the moment. He needs to be gradually reintroduced as he hasn't started a game in a year and it's not easy to bring him on when the team's backs are against the wall. Maybe he'll get his chance from the start in the FA Cup game with Hull on Sunday. At least Arsenal will get an extra days rest between Thursday and Sunday with the game being switched from it's original date on Saturday.

The transfer window will open up before Arsenal play again and we have to hope the boss has his targets identified and will act as early as possible to get them. They lack of defensive strength in depth has been exposed too often this season and he needs to bring in a central defender who can compete for a first team place immediately. 

Ideally any player signed will be free to play in the Champions League but that won't be a deal breaker. A player who can take Koscielny's place when he is required to is needed and hopefully allow Koscielny to nurse his injury and take his place in the team when he is needed in some of the more important games. Players such as Winston Reid and Ron Vlaar have been mentioned and I'm not sure if they are the right players for Arsenal or not, but if we're interested we need to test the resolve of their clubs from day one.

For now though the players need to get some rest and gear themselves up for another really important game. A win on Thursday would move them up to fourth at worst and put them in a great position before they start their defence of the FA Cup. If things really go Arsenal's way they could be as high as third onThursday night and that would be some improvement on where they were and seemed to be going just a short while ago.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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