This was a highly entertaining game, particularly the second half, undoubtedly aided by the sharp contrast in styles between West Ham and Arsenal.
Setting aside the fact this was the 6th of 30 London derbies that will be played in the Premiership this season, there were a number of other issues circulating. A home victory would leave West Ham with their best Premiership start after 7 games whilst Arsenal, despite positive comments in the media, had actually experienced their third worst start to a top flight season with 9 points from their opening 6 games.
Arsenal emerged victorious, securing a 3-1 win which, despite their early dominance, could have been much closer if West Ham had taken any of the chances which they created during the second half.
Sam Allardyce made two changes to the West Ham side which had defeated QPR earlier in the week. Andy Carroll returned in place of Carlton Cole whilst George McCartney filled the vacant left back slot following injury to O’Brien.
West Ham lined up in their usual 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 formation.
Mertesacker returned to the starting line up for the Gunners following a bout of illness with Koscielny departing. Abou Diaby was out due to injury with his place taken by Aaron Ramsay.
Arsenal operated with a very fluid front four, mobility and interchanging positions when the opportunity presented itself being key.
First Half Analysis
Arsenal started brightly, controlling possession and dictating the tempo of the game but they were allowed to do so by a very submissive West Ham side. After 10 minutes, Arsenal had 73% possession as West Ham dropped very deep, holding the defensive line around the edge of their penalty area.
The fact they were so deep prevented West Ham from having any semblance of build up play, simply looking to hit Andy Carroll with long balls but too often the ball was delivered to Carroll in a straight line offering the striker little to work with. With the rest of the team deep, support was slow in arriving.
The other concern from West Ham dropping deep was the un-coordinated pressing. Often one or two players would press whilst the rest dropped off but the press was easily avoided by the likes of Arteta.
Cazorla repeatedly drifted to the left, linking well with both Gibbs and Podolski. He also dropped deeper when Ramsay advanced, providing cover for him. With Cazorla moving to the left, the team shifted slightly particularly with Gervinho cutting inside. It left Jenkinson on his own on the right.
The opening goal for West Ham came against the run of play. McCartney found space on the left to move into and played a ball to Diame who was making a surging run forward. Question marks will be raised over the ease with which Diame was able to cut inside Ramsay, and rightly so, but questions must equally be asked about the positional play of Mertesacker.
As can be seen in the graphic below, there was far too much space between Mertesacker and Ramsay, effectively the right back in this incident. There was suggestions that Mertesacker was more concerned about Andy Carroll and given the struggles that Vermaelen had when dealing with Carroll, that is a distinct possibility.
Mertesacker should have been much closer to the right back position. If he was, Diame would have been rushed and either shot earlier or passed.
Diame was cautioned for his celebrations and it was a moment which almost came back to haunt him when he rashly challenged Arteta in the 27th minute. The caution effectively rendered Diame obsolete in a defensive sense for the remainder of the game as his ability to harry and press the opposition was severely curtailed now. One mistimed challenge and he was likely to receive a second yellow and get sent off.
Arsenal Strike Back
The equalising goal arrived when Arteta stole the ball from Diame, Giroud collecting the loose ball. Diame initially checked the run of Giroud towards the penalty area. Without a caution, would Diame have made a challenge? The graphic below shows Diame (red) trailing Giroud (yellow).
Yet just a few yards into the penalty area, Diame stopped. Had Giroud being passed onto the central defenders?
When play was spread to the left, Podolski whipped a low cross into the box which Giroud converted. Diame has stopped running around the edge of the penalty area. Whether a continuation of his run would have made any substantial difference to the outcome is open to debate however by pursuing Giroud for those few extra yards, Diame would have added increased pressure to what was a difficult finish.
Next Page: Second Half Analysis, Carroll and Noble stats – plus Cazorla Stats!
Second Half Analysis
West Ham were much more threatening in the second half. Initially, their best opportunities stemmed from set pieces but as the half wore on, they began to carve out chances in open play. The key difference in the second half was the wingers Jarvis and Vaz Te were much higher up the pitch as was Nolan as he sought to support Carroll. This pushed the Arsenal full backs deeper and Jenkinson in particular was quiet during the second half.
Carroll continued to dominate in the air and now the likes of Kevin Nolan was foraging off the scraps, breaking forward and presenting the Arsenal defence with new problems.
With West Ham pushing up, the game became more open, ideal for someone like Theo Walcott to arrive from the bench and stretch the game further.
Arsenal Take the Lead
The second goal for Arsenal was a quick counter attack stemming from a West Ham attack led by Mohammed Diame. Diame initially did very well to evade Arteta on the left and break down towards the goal line. With four West Ham players in the area to pick out, Diame’s poorly executed cross was blocked by Mertesacker. The loose ball was collected by Walcott, level with his own penalty area. A simple pass to Cazorla led to Giroud receiving the ball as he broke into the West Ham half of the pitch. The Frenchman fed Walcott on the right before he cut in and stroked the ball past Jaaskelainen.
The disappointing aspect from a West Ham perspective will be the ease with which Arsenal broke forward from a very promising attack. Diame needlessly conceded possession when there were options available. Furthermore, again no player tracked Walcott as he moved forward on the right. Given his pace and freshness, having been on the field of play for just 16 minutes, any player tracking Walcott would have struggled but nobody was close. He left McCartney behind.
Could Carroll hinder West Ham?
The performance of Andy Carroll on Saturday may provide optimism amongst Hammers fans for the season ahead but does this need to be tempered and a balance struck?
The table below highlights a few key aspects of his performance on Saturday.
Carroll was dominant aerially and was unfortunate not to score when Mannone flapped at a cross in the second half. When support began to circle around him, his ability to win the ball and lay it off enabled West Ham to progress up field. He also aided West Ham considerably in the defensive side of the game with 7 headed clearances in his own penalty area.
Is the reliance upon his aerial ability to the detriment of West Ham? Mark Noble was very quiet during the game. Was this due to Arsenal’s quality in the midfield area or was it due to West Ham going direct so often in the game and bypassing their own midfield?
Noble made the fewest passes in any game he has played this season and his accuracy was also lower. He also made a far higher percentage of his passes forward, 18 passes (50%) were played forward. With just 46 touches of the ball, Noble had his fewest touches of the season to date.
West Ham need a player of Noble’s ability to be on the ball and helping them create openings. Does the tendency to launch the ball towards Carroll bypass Noble’s ability? Or was this a one off due to Arsenal seeking to dominate possession?
Either way, West Ham need both players performing to move up the table.
Santiago Cazorla Gonzalez
[quote]He is our conductor
The comment from Theo Walcott above accurately reflects the role of Cazorla for Arsenal. Despite arriving with two European Championship winners medals in his back pocket alongside 46 international caps for Spain , the impact of Cazorla on the Premiership appears to have surprised some commentators. Just a few weeks ago, Niall Quinn memorably commented that no one had heard anything about Cazorla before he came to Arsenal.
The man from Asturias in Northern Spain has had an immediate impact for Arsenal and the most surprising aspect of Saturday’s game was the manner in which West Ham let him dictate the game. Cazorla repeatedly found time and space to receive and pass the ball.
Cazorla is the archetypical Spanish player. Diminutive and superb technically, what perhaps sets Cazorla apart is his propensity to shoot from distance. At international level, too often the Spanish will pick another pass or take an additional touch. Cazorla is more direct. Teams don’t seem to have recognised yet that when space presents itself, he will drive forwards towards goal and shoot. That element of selfishness is a quality lacking in some other players which will help Cazorla to flourish in the Premiership.
Arsenal’s third goal was an example of this. Cazorla received the ball in space and despite passing options open to him,shot for goal. This was his 6th shot at goal during the game. West Ham failed to learn their lesson.
Nearly all of Cazorla’s work occurs in the opposition half of the pitch. Yet he is not a lightweight player who shirks his defensive duties. His ability to undertake the dirtier side of the game merely adds to his all round quality.
[quote]It is a pleasure to watch him. It’s a delight to see what he did on the pitch.
[quote]We did really, really well and, of course, needed to finish the chances when we got them.
There is undoubtedly a great deal of truth in the statement from Sam Allardyce following the game. West Ham, did create numerous chances in the second half and really should have taken at least one of them. It would be a considerable surprise if the Hammers were to find themselves around the relegation zone as the season drew to a conclusion.
For Arsenal, the trajectory upwards continues and they find themselves in 7th position. Wenger maintains there is a belief in the camp that a challenge can be mounted for the title. Too often in recent seasons, Arsenal fans have had little to sing about at the season draws to a close. Maybe the conductor will have Arsenal signing to a different tune at the end of this season.