Arsenal 2 (van Persie 16, Gallas 37)
West Ham 2 (Cole 74, Diamanti pen 80)
For the second time in a week Arsenal had two points nicked away from them late on by an opponent that they should have beaten. But those of you expecting me to criticise our team for throwing the game away via complacency and an inability to put West Ham away have come to the wrong place.
The truth is that until Abou Diaby was ridiculously penalised for being bear-hugged by Zavon Hines and Carlton Cole punished Vito Mannone’s poor effort, Arsenal were in complete control and playing well at Upton Park. Even then it took another appalling referring decision to see the Hammers pull level, Alex Song being harshly adjudged of bringing down Cole in the penalty area and Alessandro Diamanti scoring from the spot.
From 2-0 up and coasting it was 2-2 and in my opinion any fingers being pointed at the team for failing to kill off West Ham are extremely harsh. Until the home team’s first goal we performed extremely well and good chances created by van Persie, Andrey Arshavin and Cesc Fabregas accompanied the two first-half goals. Even after being pegged back to 2-2 we should have won the game, van Persie heading straight at Robert Green with the goal gaping.
The team that started against West Ham was the same as the one that drew against Alkmaar midweek with Mannone keeping his spot in the team ahead of Manuel Almunia. I made clear my view that I felt the Spaniard should have been brought back in for the Italian at Upton Park and while it’s impossible to predict whether that change would have altered the result, it’s undeniable that Mannone was at fault for the opener.
I don’t want to criticise the young goalkeeper too much because I feel he’s done quite well overall since being brought in, but yesterday was the third blemish on his record after spilling the ball against Birmingham and allowing a header to float over him against Blackburn. With the North London derby coming up next weekend I’ll say again that it’s time for Almunia, our best and most experienced goalkeeper, to return.
Aside from the goalkeeper I can really only think of one person who drastically underperformed last night and that was Arsene Wenger. I felt the manager missed an opportunity to make a substitution or two to give the team a little bit more spark to the team when they were coasting around the hour mark. I thought bringing on Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo or even Samir Nasri earlier would have helped maintain our tempo. Once West Ham got their goal though, we struggled to regain control of the match and by the time the substitutes did arrive we were very much playing a different game.
Yesterday’s result was perhaps made worse by the fact that Manchester United lost to Liverpool and a win would have given us the opportunity to use our game in hand to move to the top of the table. As it was, after being 2-0 up this was a hard result to take and the sort of which desperately needs to be avoided as the season progresses. Conceding late to Alkmaar is unlikely to stop us from winning the Champions League but dropping more points in the manner that we did against West Ham will almost certainly prevent us from winning the Premiership.
As much as I am frustrated about last night’s game – and believe me, I am – I still don’t think the team should be overly criticised for their efforts. As painful as it was to see the points snatched away from us, it was much more the referee’s poor performance that contributed to the result than any complacency or lack of a killer instinct by our own players.
A big week awaits with Liverpool in the Carling Cup and Tottenham in the league. Just how will our boys respond?
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