Saturday, March 14, 2015

Arsenal Beat West Ham 3-0 for 8th Straight at Home

Arsenal returned home from their emotional win at Old Trafford in the FA Cup Monday to host a struggling West Ham today. Given their history (Wenger has lost only 4 of 35 matches against the Hammers) and the form of the two teams, there was a sense this might be an easier ask than the first game between the two this season, when Arsenal were lucky to escape with a 2-1 win. Dominating the early going, the Gunners could have easily had three goals within the first fifteen minutes. A clever back flick by Giroud from an Ozil pass left Walcott free on goal from four feet, but he got the ball caught under his feet before being fouled in what should have been a penalty, though it was a tight call. An Arsenal counter two minutes later left Sanchez with one man to beat, though he didn’t. And then on 14 minutes, Sanchez hit a quality header that was well saved by West Ham GK Adrian.

Ospina had to stretch himself to save a fine Noble shot from a Jarvis cross on 22’, after a good break almost opened the scoring. A few minutes later, Jarvis again beat Chambers down the left and sent in a fine cross, just headed out by Koscielny. As has become a pattern, Chambers was being beaten too easily down the right flank, allowing dangerous crosses to fly into the box or players to charge into the box. In the 26th minute, he executed a fine cross of his own, which should have been finished by Ramsey, with his decision to volley rather than head the ball allowing Adrian to palm it over. As the clock rounded the 30 minute mark, the Gunners passing was starting to go astray with more frequency, and Jarvis got past Chambers too easily for a third time, though Koscielny was again able to clear the cross. On 33, Walcott was free on goal a second time, after a great through ball from Ramsey, but he shot weakly right at the Hammer’s keeper. A Sanchez shot two minutes later finished off some lovely passing from Arsenal, though Adrian came to the rescue yet again.

On 38 minutes, Koscielny saved an almost certain West Ham goal on the counter, as Sakho appeared to be heading toward a one-on-one with Ospina before the CB accelerated back to force a corner. In the 43rd minute, a good run down the right line and then pass from Walcott to Giroud, was slipped through to Ozil, who shot hard but right at the GK with the rebound coming to a charging Walcott. Unfortunately, he completed a hat trick of missed chances by sending it high and wide. Then, just as it looked as if they would head to halftime scoreless, Giroud finished a wonderful final putsch with a lovely cutback and left footed shot across goal to the far corner. Arsenal were suddenly up one nil on almost the last kick of the first 45, though it was arguably just given their 12 to 4 shot advantage and 72 percent possession.

The second half commenced with Arsenal knowing they might well need a second goal, as the Hammers have scored at least once in their last five encounters with the Gunners. And that goal almost came within four minutes of the restart when Sakho clattered into Ospina after a fine Jarvis cross (from the right side this time) and Noble ended up with a free shot, though he sent it wildly high and wide. Sakho was almost in on goal in the 53rd minute, but Koscielny was again to the rescue, just beating the striker who has 8 goals in the league this season. West Ham were starting to dominate possession and get balls into the box, though the Gunners defense was holding up under increased pressure. The first corner came in the 56th minute, after an intervention by Monreal sent the ball out, though the short corner to Downey was crossed long and out. An Arsenal counter a moment later should have led to a goal, as three Gunners lined up on the far post before Ozil sent his cross from the edge of box too close to the keeper. It summed up a day where Ozil was decent but not decisive enough in the final third. On the other end, Jarvis had a decent shot after a second corner, but sent it over from close range.

In a bizarre event that seemed apropos to recent refereeing, Chris Foy went off with a calf injury, replaced by Taylor as the clock moved precariously close to 60 minutes. Arsenal had another chance to score soon after the switch, with Walcott whiffing at a ball in the box after some excellent passing, but West Ham were still threatening. Another Arsenal counter came to nothing as Ozil again failed with a final ball in a four on three and then poorly weighted a pass to Sanchez, before a lovely one-two with Giroud almost set him free on goal (he was marginally offsides). Welbeck came on for Sanchez in the 65th minute, possibly giving the Chilean a rest before the return tie against Monaco Tuesday. Ozil sent a cracker to Welbeck in the 67th minute, and then, after some interchange, ended up with a clear chance to shoot, though he inexplicably instead sent it across goal to Walcott, the ball ultimately ending up at the feet of Ramsey, who sent his shot just wide of the far post. One wondered why Ozil didn’t shoot and why he seemed to be reverting to the form that has garnered him considerable criticism over the past 14 months. A sloppy pass by Welbeck cost Arsenal on the counter when both Giroud and Walcott appeared to be open for through balls but they were starting to dominate possession again and seemed poised for a second, if they could just get improve their precision in the final third. Walcott was replaced in the 72nd minute by Cazorla, probably disappointed at failing to convert any of the three quality chances he had in the game. A fine first touch and burst by Welbeck left him in the box with a fine chance to shoot, but he instead tried to slide it through to Monreal at the far post, with the left back marginally offsides.

Arsenal are both rewarded and punished for their tendency to complete the extra pass or two in the box and were suddenly playing with real verve that finally paid off in the 81st minute, when Chambers intercepted a West Ham pass, leading to a throw in and a one-two between Ramsey and Giroud in the box that the Welshman finished with a hard, rising shot past Adrian. It was 2-0 with only eight minutes left in regulation. Ozil came off for Flamini a minute later and it was the Frenchman, with his first goal in a year, that ended any West Ham hope, as a great Cazorla pass across goal was easily finished in the 84th minute for a 3-0 lead. Job done, and the Gunners saw out the remainder of regulation and three minutes of extra time without any problems, with Welbeck just missing a goal with a well placed header just before the final whistle.

Koscielny was arguably the man of the match, with intervention after intervention relieving the pressure on the Arsenal goal, too often the result of Chambers being beaten down the left flank or Mertesacker finding himself out of position. Coquelin was excellent again and Giroud’s fourth in four and 15th overall in an injury-shortened season continued to impress. Cazorla was able to add another assist in a short cameo, reminding that he is a pivotal player in the team. Welbeck was also bright down the left wing, though he could still improve his decision-making in and around the box. Maybe most importantly for the Gunners, however, was Ramsey finally scoring a quality goal as he looks to rediscover the form he displayed throughout the first half of last season. Overall, Arsenal have now won their eighth at home in a row, their best run for a decade, and it drew them to within one point of Man City, before the second place team play their game against Burnley tonight. Next up for the Gunners is the second leg against Monaco, before a trip to Newcastle next weekend. As the season moves toward its conclusion, some may wonder what might have been had Arsenal played like this from the start of the season …

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