Santi Claus is Coming to Town!

Going into this match there were many similarities to the same fixture four years ago. Phil Dowd last officiated a match between Arsenal and West Ham October 2008. Like this weekend’s fixture it was also at Upton Park. I asked if Arsenal enjoy the same success they had four years ago?

Four years ago Arsenal visited Upton Park on the back of a Champions League match, just like now, last time was away, this time Arsenal had been at home. The tables are a bit of a change then and now but the point ratios were quite similar. Arsenal were sitting 4th with 16pts in 8 matches, good for 2pts/match.

Before the match Arsenal were sitting 8th with 9pts in 6 matches, a mediocre return of 1.5pts/match. West Ham and Arsenal seem to have switched places where West Ham were 8th in 2008 with 12pts in eight, 1.5pts/match and before the match were 7th with 11pts in 6 matches, good for nearly 2pts/match. I did not think the result would be any different, and I’m happy that I am right.

My Man of the Match is Santi Cazorla simply because we could feel that if something was happening, he was involved. He moved the ball well, he got into the danger zones, and he picked pockets like Oliver Twist. His reputation already has him drawing in two people to mark him, and to win the ball sometimes a third had to come in and clatter him. It’s great to see that his reputation has now become an asset to him. Sometimes with a meteoric rise comes additional pitch pressure and he is dealing with it magnificently.  I have to finish singing the praises by talking about his strike to seal proceedings. At first glance I look at it with my mates and think that it had to have taken a deflection. We looked at it again, and again, and everytime the strike is 100% Cazorla, nothing else. I kind of wish I was a physics major so I can understand what the hell the ball did in the air. I have seen Ronaldo strike knuckle balls move like that, but nobody else. Maybe ESPN Sport Science will break it down, does John Brinkus read

Olivier Giroud’s 17’ minute trickery along the touchline made me giddy, if only Arteta and Cazorla were talking in Spanish, it would have maybe caused Cazorla to move back to watch an Arteta half-volley for a goal. Giroud followed it up with a well struck shot, destined for the roof of the net, only to be deflected by Carroll’s pony tail in the 19’. Giroud is my runner-up for Man of the Match. I really thought that if he got one, that he would get two. He nearly did, but we’ve been saying nearly for a while. I do not believe this is enough to open the flood gates, but I believe his strike rate will get to one in three fairly soon.

Gervinho has shown us a little of everything this season, he has had some brilliance and he has got comfortable. I say comfortable because his skill has not gone down, but maybe he is not being kept honest. He was offside a bit and his defensive workrate has dipped a bit, luckily Podolski has picked up some of that slack, more on that soon. I think Gervinho is going to benefit from some squad rotation because it will keep him on his toes. Lately he seems to be one of several names guaranteed to start for Arsenal in the EPL, but a spell on the bench for a match will send the message, especially if Walcott starts and scores. He is playing well, but competition is going to make him better, plus a small recharge of the batteries. Look for him to be rested after his return from Africa’s ‘interlull’ matches.

Podolski, as with many new strikers, looks better as the lone striker, however ‘Arsene Knows,’ and Podolski works well on one wing for the Arsenal. His proficiency is better is better from the central role, but by the holidays we will be wondering why he hasn’t played every match from the wing. His cross for Giroud was pin perfect, and the tackle on Carroll against the run of play was perfect.

Arteta has been taking a beating from opposing players in recent weeks, I am waiting on comments from Wenger that, “his ankles are blue from being kicked.” Prime example is how he moved the ball well only to be clattered by Diame in the 28’. Excellent work on the ball to be interrupted by an obvious caution. Had you not watched the match until then you would be screaming bloody murder at Dowd for not giving the caution. Then comes the rage, Stewart Robson a former Gooner, explains why it is not necessarily a yellow. Wait, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Stewart Robson just showed what is wrong with officiating, make a bad call one way, make another bad call to even it out. So what if Diame had a yellow already? Diame was late, and got no part of the ball. A yellow, Dowd knew it, but hoped to avoid it because a red at that point would have been tough for West Ham to take. I think that Dowd did a disservice to the level of officiating that England has, and I hope that he spends a few weeks on the sidelines like Chris Foy to think about it. Arteta won that card, the same as he won several other fouls. My only disappointment with Arteta was that he could not communicate to Cazorla to “leave it yeah,” so he could strike the half-volley on net in the 17’.

Aaron Ramsey’s link play against West Ham was really strong. He is not panicking on the ball, and does not seem to fear a tackle as much as earlier in the season. This is crucial because he is more forward every match as he adjusts to being a box-to-box midfielder. He is going to be in the danger zones much more often. It is amazing how the little change of holding the ball a split second longer opens up his options and helps the team to control the ball more. I’m very proud of the lad and hope that his form and the fact that he is not captain will help him remain focused on his football and reach those lofty goals we all have for him; he’s well on his way right now. He had his ups and downs. His down was his horrible defending against Diame. He had an up and down moment in the 72’ when he could have pulled the nutmeg on Matt Taylor only to be fouled with his toe on the line. Now I’m confident that Dowd would have only given a free-kick outside the box, but to not call anything seems a farce. It’s not like Taylor caught the ball, so then Ramsey took a dive? As an official I take umbrage with decisions like that.

Gibbs had a Clichy-esque cross in the 53’, we all remember it where five gunners were in the West Ham box and the ball went soaring like a Charlie Adam penalty. I wonder, which one will land first? Gibbs was moving really well and his injury comes at a time when he was playing some of his best football. I would say that he has cooled a bit over the last two weeks, but he’s still our first choice. At least his injury came right before an international break, I expect him to miss Norwich but return for Schalke.

Thomas Vermaelen was a great captain today. He stuck up for Arteta when Diame bundled him over. He was in Dowd’s ear when Vaz Te clipped Mannone. He was all over Carroll and Nolan, which made me happy. I knew Arsenal would focus on Carroll, but I thought that would leave Nolan open through the cracks to embarrass Arsenal. Most important, Vermaelen went over to everyone on corners and got them into position. He was a set-piece leader and it’s great to see the captain be accountable for everyone.

Per Mertesacker was a stable and excellent player today. There are a few out there who will argue that he should have closed down Diame on the goal, but had he moved for Diame it would have opened up a tap-in at the edge of the six yard box. The blame is on Ramsey and partially Jenkinson who was pulled too wide. Where people should remember Per’s play was the 70th minute tackle on Nolan, that shows his value. He did not get turned around and the moment the ball was there for the taking he pounced, fantastic defending.

Carl Jenkinson moves really well up and down the wings, but his one moment of poor positioning led to a first shot, first goal situation. He was out wide trying to make sure there were no passing options but it left a seam between him and Mertesacker that could not be closed down. He shrugged his shoulders as Ramsey was beaten when had he been perched on the edge of the 18yard box he could have snuffed it out. That is easy to say from the television camera view, but he’s going to see it at London Colney when they discuss it during Sunday video.

Mannone took a lot of abuse in this match. He got a shiner in the 32nd that shook him up, and then he gets a dragged foot off the face in the 60h from Vaz Te. That dragged foot was a dirty little piece of work. Supplemental discipline for that should be incurred as I think that Vaz Te will be fine to play as soon as the international break is over. Am I saying he faked the injury, no, I think he has a niggle, but I think that he deserved to see red for his actions. Then, because things come in threes, Mannone goes up for a cross with Carroll and loses the battle. That was not a foul, in case you thought I was insinuating it, but man did he lose out in style. I was nervous because Carroll has scored from a position identical to that when he played for Newcastle two seasons ago (November 7, 2010 versus Fabianski).

Andre Santos came on and caused some of our hearts to skip a beat. We’ve seen to little of him, including pre-season, that we do not know what to really expect. When I first saw him on the sidelines I thought he might be coming on to play up the wing as he did in pre-season sometimes. He did try to get on the attack a fair bit in the match, but that was not what was needed. I feel we will see him start against Norwich, and that will be a good match to ease him back into the first team fold until Gibbs is healthy again.

Walcott’s introduction was well timed. I really want to see his situation resolved to get him starting, he is so dangerous. Before I would have always preferred him as a sub coming on to decimate tired defenders, but now I want him on the pitch terrorizing teams at all times. First, his downside, he wants to get central so badly that he blocked a Cazorla shot in the 65th, whoops. He nearly made up for it instantly with his back heel that just went past Giroud’s range to turn it back in. Then he shows us the better than good, he accepts the ball, sets it in stride and curls one along the floor short side on the keeper. In previous seasons I think we would have seen him shoot hard and aimed at the roof of the net. His choice to curl one on the floor shows his experience and natural striker ability.

Laurent Koscielny’s introduction came as a surprise, not because he came on, but because it was Podolski who went off. He made some good challenges and focused on keeping the ball out of his box. He was largely untested but it is moments like that and playing with Vermaelen and Mertesacker what will get him into the mental frame of mind we want from him. We want Koscielny to have the mental frame of mind that he has to be accountable, separate attackers from the ball, and then focus on the ball.

Arsenal controlled the match at times, left gaps at other times, but by in large Arsenal did exactly what they needed to. The match was closer than the scoreline suggested, but the match is over. The lads will enjoyed a Sunday of video and rest, and then some will focus on fitness while others head off to their international training camps. Now it’s time for me to take a rest as the interlull reminds me how much better the Premier League is from the CONCACAF international teams. Maybe I will watch the Arsenal FA Cup DVDs… yes, that sounds like a plan.




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