Arsenal’s 4:1 margin of victory over West Ham while convincing was no easy romp in the park. The game took place in the presence of a hugely, omnipresent emotional backdrop triggered by Arsene’s announcement last Friday of his intention to resign at season-end after 22 years. As the television cameras made obvious, the Emirates was filled to the rafters and the atmosphere was electric. Clearly every game, ‘til the last of the season, will be like a public viewing of the mortal remains of the great man. Obviously supporters will have the opportunity to show their respect and appreciation for Wenger, but unfortunately it will provide cover for those who reviled and disrespected him to pretend otherwise. So much of what is on display is maudlin and distasteful but it is typical of the auto-mourning by the Twitter and Facebook generation. Much of the hype and hullabaloo is the inevitable result of the marriage of convenience between professional football and the commercial broadcasters who now provide the lion’s share of Premier League revenue.
It was evident from the start that West Ham were up for the occasion. They hadn’t come to North London to roll over and have their tummies tickled. Despite being without four (4) of their regular starters, the Arsenal team tried to impose their passing rhythm on the game from the off but the Hammers would have none of it. They pressed and harassed every player in red and to shutdown the passing lanes. Despite West Ham’s best efforts, by the 3rd minute, in a move that was ominous, Aaron Ramsey burst through the midfield to round off a passing move and fire away at goal. It was a statement; Arsenal was determined to create goal-scoring chances in contrast to the paucity of attempts at Newcastle, a week earlier.
As the game unfolded, the home team and the visitors traded blows. Hart must have been happy to see a headed corner by Koscielny sail over the bar in the 8th minute. Shortly after, the Hammers opened up the Arsenal defense with a slick series of passes letting their J. Maro get off a good shot. Minutes after being culpable for a defensive error, there was an outstanding last ditch tackle by Mustafi to prevent Lanzini getting off a shot. On the 14th minute, Arnautovic in a 1 vs 1 with Mustafi, following a long ball down the side, as the German contested the pass but falling on his backside, the Swiss international moved inside and drove wide of Ospina. Bellerin then blazed a shot over the bar in the 22nd minute. Two minutes later Welbeck let fly a fierce left-footed shot to left of Hart. 33rd minute, there is a foul on Danny 20 yards away on the right and Xhaka’s free kick is over the wall but straight at the keeper. 38th minute and Arnautovic slams Koscielny while backing-in but rolls around holding his ankle as if he is the victim. Happily, the rotund, corpulent Lee Mason, isn’t fooled and awards the freekick to Arsenal. One minute later, the obligatory red mist descends on Xhaka and he goes in for a 2-footed tackle earning him a yellow card. 40th minute, Elneny and Noble go for a 50:50 ball. In my view Noble is late and there is a clash of boots mid air and Elneny hits the deck with his ankle rolled under him. The usually calm, unruffled Egyptian demonstrates violently he is in great discomfort and the physio scampers on. No surprise he is taken off on a stretcher and is replaced by the now locks-free Maitland-Niles. (Couldn’t help but observe he is a handsome boy; no wonder his Mummy is so protective.)
Game resumes after 4 minutes and West Ham wins a corner which is easily defended as the visitors clearly put the ball out of touch. But the rotound Mason sees different and awards another corner. Happily the second corner is easily seen off and is the occasion for a counter attack culminating with a shot attempt by Ramsey, again. The half-time whistle goes sounds at the 49th minute.
Honors even at half-time and, based on my blow-by-blow, report it is evident that Arsenal had more attempts and more shots on target with West Ham posing the occasional threat. Yet the half-time analysis by the so-called experts is the usual bitching and moaning that Arsenal’s failure to overwhelm West Ham is a blight on Wengers tactics; too much passing (i.e. the ones that help players in position to get better shots on goal), insufficient shots from distance (i.e. those low probability shots that simply turn the ball over to the opposition) and too many defensive errors (i.e. it is Wenger’s fault Mustafi gets nutmegged or falls on his ass when he mistimes a tackle). It is the same narrative game after game that a majority of fans seem to lap up uncritically.
At the resumption, Gary Neville, who is doing color commentary on my feed, also feels the need to pile-on with his studio “experts” whinging about “same old” Arsenal for failing to score and letting West Ham back in the game. Like many in the Arsenal fanbase, Neville believes Arsenal should be rolling over West Ham. How dare the East Londoners successfully put up so much resistance. Apparently nobody told him, and the many other relics from the nineties and noughties, that Arsene no longer has the cream of French talent at his disposal. Since 2005, when Arsenal began selling off the Invincibles to pay for the new stadium; City, Chelsea and United each spent nearly 1 billion on transfers while Arsene was left to scrounge for bargains in the 2nd and 3rd tier bins.
As if to make mockery of Neville and his ilk, the Arsenal begin the 2nd half at high tempo putting the Hammers under immediate pressure. A 47th minute shot by Monreal is on target. In response West Ham counter attack but Arsenal recover the ball and Danny Welbeck breaks away forcing Zabaletta to make a 2-footed tackle to bring him down. Only a yellow card. Lucky bugger in my opinion. In the ensuing two minutes Arsenal are able to pin West Ham into the final-third resulting in corner after a corner and they finally break in the 51st minute. From what seems to be a training ground routine, Xhaka loops the ball in the region of the penalty spot for Monreal to drive home. Arsenal go in search of the 2nd goal, and on the 56th minute Ramsey blasts a shot from just outside the box to the left of Hart.
As is evident most of this season, the current Arsenal team is not set-up nor does it have purely defensively-oriented players who can hold out for 40 minutes and eke out a 1:0 win. It was therefore predictable that once West Ham decide to release the proverbial handbrake they had a good chance of getting an equalizer. Around the 60th minute mark Moyes brings on Chicharito and there is a palpable uptick in the offensive pressure. For nearly two minutes the Arsenal defense is under sustained pressure. A shot on goal is fisted out by Ospina but the ball is recovered by the Hammers and is pinged to Arnautovic who drives home low and hard to the left of our Colombian.
Six minutes after the equalizer Wenger makes an offensive substitution, Aubameyang for Iwobi who did not have the best of games operating from the wide right midfield position. Arsenal’s attacking game begins to overwhelm West Ham’s valiant defending. 71st minute, Xhaka’s long range effort forces a save from Hart. 7 minutes later Danny’s fierce curling shot, from the left just outside the box, brings the best save of the game from the former England number one. At the 81st minute, Ramsey lets fly from a similar position, and between keeper and defender, they conspire to let the shot sail uncontested into the back of the net. Four minutes later, a neat build up play in the box (involving a series of short snappy passes that the English pundits love to criticize) results in Lacazette getting a good look in the whites of Hart eyes and he makes no mistake. To rub salt in the wound another repeat of those short passes and Ramsey assists Lacazette to his 2nd and Arsenal’s 4th.
How this win fits in the bigger picture
So in summary, Arsenal had to work very hard and be patient to eventually hand a clear defeat to a very spirited West Ham team. In the process the much reviled Arsene Wenger, who the Arsenal super-bloggers and podcasters are now happy to confess they are glad to see him gone, has led his team to a new record in the PL era, the most points at home in a season, 44 so far. So despite not having the budget of City, Chelsea and United, who for 13 years have consistently and conspicuously outspent Arsenal and in the process recruited the best possible players available, Arsene was still able to put out a competitive team who, this season, for some reason was only able to excel at home.
Yet none of the critics, who constantly criticize and undermine Wenger, whether they are from the mainstream media or bloggers and podcasters, never ever mention how unfair the competition has been. Discounting United who can legitimately claim they generate their wealth from their commercial operations, both City and Chelsea have been allowed by the PL to flout financial fair-play by allowing their owners to use their non-football wealth (a Russian oligarch who captured his countries metal resources by unseemly means and a Gulf Emirate using their sovereign wealth fund) to spend infinitely on buying players and paying huge salaries. This is not only a danger to Arsenal but to all clubs in the PL; as we witness the increasing division of the league into a system of haves and have-nots with the title a realistic prospect for only 2 clubs year-in, year-out. City won this year’s title by early April. If Pep has his way with more money from the Emirs, he will win it again next year by mid-March. As long as this spending disparity is allowed, Arsenal will find it hard to compete, whoever is the new manager.
Not only is the financial disparity a fundamental obstacle to a more competitive Arsenal, but none of the mainstream media or the bloggers and podcasters are willing to discuss the role of poor and biased officiating as a factor in Arsenal’s poor results on the road in particular. I have spent copious hours researching and publishing evidence of referee bias vs Arsenal particularly in Penalties-Against. Just last week, it was brought to public attention that it took nearly two seasons for Spurs, to have a penalty-against. In comparison, in 2016-17 season alone, Arsenal had 10 penalties against. Despite one prominent referee publishing a book describing his use of game-management to avoid making the tough calls and another ref disclosing publicly the use of hush money to keep referees quiet when they retire, none of the mainstream media, nor our bloggers and podcasters have given Wenger an ounce of support in his call for VAR to make the refereeing more transparent by using modern technology. The fact that the PGMOL could reject use of VAR for the next season without a voice of protest from the media tells you how useless most football journos are. To me they are very much in bed with the referees and the PL establishment and have no interest in changing the status-quo.
Thank heavens, the rotund, corpulent Lee Mason was not as terrible today as most PL referees have been this season. Apart from that phantom corner awarded to West Ham as well as letting Zabaletta off with merely a yellow card for stopping Welbeck’s arguably clear goal-scoring opportunity, he decided to referee a game of football rather than trying to manage the game in favor or against one team or the other. No thanks to our bloggers and podcasters who have done nothing to support Wenger in overcoming the resistance of the PGMOB to fair and transparent refereeing.
Yes, it was sweet to see West Ham get a beating but at the end of the day the bastards in the PL, the PGMOL and the media (mainstream and other-wise) won the battle vs Arsene and Arsenal Football Club. They have succeeded in keeping alive a dreadful system of unfair financial competition and of biased, incompetent refereeing. The bitterness of this defeat will not go away easily but hopefully we can turn turn it into an awful weapon for the club going forward.