Date: 28th December 2014 at 11:53pm
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There was plenty of talk before this game as West Ham figures, emboldened by recent successes and recent occupancy of a lofty fourth place in the table, felt qualified to voice their opinions on the changes Arsenal need to make to recover from the latest crisis we are told we should find ourselves in. Vice Chairman Karen Brady recommended some changes to our board; Alex Song told us how he felt he had to leave Arsenal to find success and succeeded in finding the bench in Spain before joining in the annual challenge for trophies at West Ham and Allardyce told us how he planned to defeat us by targeting our defence. He also spoke of the widely acknowledged virtues of a successful application to join the social housing list in Stratford over being a freeholder but it was the plan to target our defence in order to win the game that seemed the more curious. I’ve still to work out what the other options for winning games are? Can you just target the keeper without targeting the defence first for example?

Our ability to defend was certainly targeted in a bitty stop-start scrappy game that collectively produced only 70% of the passes made in the Boxing Day game against QPR, itself hardly an exhibition of controlled football. The test was a reasonably predictable focus on long balls and crosses from wide areas into our box which between them Mertesacker, Kos, Debuchy and Monreal all dealt with quite well, aided and abetted by Flamini and Coquelin while Szczesny made a number of confident claims. Coquelin acquitted himself very well making frequent interceptions, tackles, blocks and clearances and with more touches of the ball than any other Arsenal outfield player other than Sanchez. He made as many interceptions and tackles as Song without committing as many fouls but only lost possession twice compared to the nine from our former defensive midfielder. It seemed to be a game that got the best out of Coquelin’s strengths.

The early goal disallowed to West Ham following Song’s volley brought some controversy because such goals are rarely disallowed on the offside rule when players are in the keeper`s sight lines. I suppose if they are going to be disallowed on that principle there’s a far greater chance if there’re 3 players offside arguably in the keeper’s eye line than one. Hard done by or not West Ham, who had made 5 changes having rested players in their defeat to Chelsea believing this a more winnable game, were pushing hard and we had also to work hard to create a threat ourselves. Prompted by the effervescent Cazorla, at the heart of much of the controlled game we could play, it was a determined break into the box by the little Spanish wizard that brought a clear penalty. This time a chastened Alexis let Cazorla take it and he put it away, confidently varying his placement yet again. He does disguise his intentions very well and it must be hard for any keeper to anticipate where he might go.

Perhaps Sam had been so intent on testing our defence he didn’t concern himself with our ability to test his. If he did then he failed to organise them well enough to prevent us creating a fair number of chances with the pace of Welbeck, Sanchez and Ox testing them frequently. Ox’s burst to the byline a few minutes after we’d scored from the penalty spot left Welbeck nudging home between a static Hammer’s back line.

Despite Kouyate’s headed goal early in the second half bringing them back into the game the better chances continued to come our way. We were testing their defence and their keeper far more than they were able to test anything other than our resilience. A little more ruthlessness from our forward three of Welbeck, Sanchez and Ox, who all had good chances to add a third, and maybe the margin of victory would have looked more in keeping with the difference in individual class. In the end it was that individual difference matched with collective resilience that took points away to a team that had already taken the scalps of Liverpool and Man City.

At the halfway point we find ourselves with 33 points, 9 less than at the same stage last season. We collected 37 points in the second half of last season. If we’re to achieve our minimum aspirations we’ll probably need to better that tally in the second half of this season. A good result against a strong Southampton side on New Year’s Day will be a boost to those ambitions.