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Steve Blowers, Recorder Reporter
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Premier League: West Ham United 1 Arsenal 3
The Hammers grabbed the lead, but Arsenal hit back to take the points at Upton Park
Back in the big time, this was the first real test of the season for Big Sam’s side, who showed plenty of graft only for Arsenal’s craft to finally win the points at Upton Park.
Mohamed Diame had even given the Hammers the lead midway through the first-half, before Olivier Giroud levelled on 41 minutes and substitute Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla fired the Gunners to victory after the break.
West Ham’s wonderful win at Queens Park Rangers on Monday evening meant that they kicked off in seventh-spot, one place and two points above Arsenal and having seen his side grab their first away victory at Loftus Road, Sam Allardyce made two changes as George McCartney replaced the injured Joey O’Brien (hamstring), while Andy Carroll came in for substitute Carlton Cole.
In recognition of the fantastic 444 appearances that he had made for the Hammers half-a-century ago, there was a minute’s applause before kick-off for 1964 FA Cup winning full-back John Bond, who sadly lost his battle with cancer 11 days ago.
But once the proceedings began, all the early hand-clapping came from the Arsenal supporters packed into the lower tier of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand as Jussi Jaaskelainen pushed aside Giroud’s tricky low shot, before Lucas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey threatened.
Arsenal had tasted success in midweek too, with a Champions League win over Olympiakos and Arsene Wenger made three changes as Giroud, Ramsey and Per Mertesacker each came in for substitutes Laurent Koscielny, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Francis Coquelin.
Quite simply, the Hammers simply could not get the ball out of their half in the opening exchanges and, indeed, Carroll’s first header of the afternoon was a fantastic goal-line clearance from Giroud as the French striker – on Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe weekend - held his head wondering just how his side had not galloped in front.
And midway, through the first half, Giroud was looking into the setting East End skies, once more, as the Hammers raced into the lead totally against the run of play.
Collecting the ball from Kevin Nolan, McCartney found Diame cantering down the left flank and after dancing past Carl Jenkinson and Ramsey on his way into the area, the midfield powerhouse cleverly curled his shot across the face of Vito Mannone and high into the far corner from the tightest of angles, to send the claret and blue fans in this tea-time crowd into delirium.
Having just netted his first goal for the Hammers, the Senegal international celebrated like a mad hatter, too, and that earned him a booking from party-pooper Phil Dowd, who thankfully kept his yellow card in his pocket a few minutes later, when the extremely fortunate Diame mangled Mikel Arteta in a full-bloodied challenge.
On the half-hour mark, Carroll might even have doubled West Ham’s shock lead but his thumping header flew straight into the clutches of the relieved Mannone, before Winston Reid became the second Hammer to be booked for blocking Ramsey.
Just when it looked like Big Sam was going to be enjoying an interval advantage, four minutes before the break, Diame lost possession in midfield and with Arsenal working the ball swiftly to Podolski on the left flank, the alert Giroud ghosted in behind James Collins at the near post, to prod home the German’s low cross into the six-yard box.
Even then, Nolan might have restored the lead in stoppage time, when Mark Noble was upended by the cautioned Gervinho, who saw the consequent free-kick nodded down into the danger zone by Carroll but the stretching skipper could only toe-poke the ball beyond the far post.
With Podolski, Cazorla and Gervinho breaking at speed in a bid to supply Giroud, the second half started off at a frantic pace and after Matt Jarvis fired over from 18 yards, Mannone bravely dived into the studs of Ricardo Vaz Te, whose awkward tumble saw him carried away clutching his arm as Matt Taylor stepped from the bench.
Arsenal had also made a couple of substitutions, too, with Andre Santos and then Walcott coming on for Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho and, midway through the second period, Giroud swept the ball into the side-netting.
At the other end, an ever-eager Carroll beat Mannone to a high ball only to see his header pitch just wide of the right-hand upright and, then with 20 minutes remaining, Nolan beat the offside trap only to hesitate and find himself smothered by Vermaelen.
Podolski then unleashed a low 18-yarder that jarred Jaaskelainen’s knees before James Tomkins came on for the hobbling Guy Demel.
And on 76 minutes, Arsenal took the lead when Giroud threaded a ball through the pushed-up Hammers defence and, with last-man Collins vainly appealing for an offside flag that was simply never going to come, the whippet-like Walcott slotted a low 15-yarder beyond the outstretched left glove of the helplessly exposed Jaaskelainen.
Nolan should have hit back with an instant reply but he contrived to scoop the ball over both the diving Vermaelen and the bar and that was to prove an expensive miss.
For with just seven minutes left, the Gunners goal-scorer turned provider, when Cazorla collected from Walcott and, out of nowhere, cleverly clipped a 20-yarder over Jaaskelainen and under the right-angle to seal an Arsenal victory.
Hammers: Jaaskelainen, Demel (Tomkins 73), McCartney, Reid, Collins, Noble, Nolan, Diame (Cole 81), Vaz Te (Taylor 62), Jarvis, Carroll. Unused subs: Henderson, Maiga, Benayoun, O’Neil
Gunners: Mannone, Jenkinson, Gibbs (Santos 56), Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho (Walcott 61), Cazorla, Podolski (Koscielny 84) Giroud. Unused subs: Martinez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Arshavin
Bookings: Diame (21), Reid (37), Gervinho (45+1), Walcott (76) Taylor (85).
Referee: Phil Dowd