Gunners firing blanks as West Ham hold on
Arsenal 0 West Ham United 0 IT IS indicative of just how far this West Ham team has come, that a battling, backs-to-the-wall draw away at one of the big four was met with slight disappointment by Hammers fans, writes DAVE EVANS. Yes, it is always great t
Arsenal 0 West Ham United 0
IT IS indicative of just how far this West Ham team has come, that a battling, backs-to-the-wall draw away at one of the big four was met with slight disappointment by Hammers' fans, writes DAVE EVANS.
Yes, it is always great to come away from the Emirates with a point, but somehow West Ham fans were expecting more of their team.
Recent sparkling performances have led them to believe that they can match the likes of Arsenal, pass as well as they can and have as much of the ball as the Gunners.
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It certainly didn't happen like that on Saturday Arsene Wenger's side controlled almost the whole game, but the Hammers did have enough about them to restrict the home side to a handful of chances, and they just about deserved to stretch their unbeaten away record to eight matches.
Assistant boss Steve Clarke couldn't stop himself from expressing his slight frustration at the team's performance.
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"I was a little bit disappointed if I am being honest, that we couldn't create enough going forward," he said. "We didn't keep the ball well enough at times, but I think overall it is a good point."
It certainly was, and West Ham would certainly have taken the point before the start. But there was a feeling that under-par Arsenal might have been there for the taking, and the fact that the Hammers grabbed a draw despite not playing well themselves, suggests this was a golden opportunity missed.
Wenger suggested that West Ham had come to the Emirates with defence in mind, but Clarke was adamant that was not the case.
"We didn't send our side out any different to the way it has been for the last few weeks," insisted the Scot. "We didn't come here to defend, but sometimes when you are playing against the good teams you have to defend.
"I think Arsenal caused us a few problems, though not too many if you look at the clear-cut chances, but we certainly didn't come here with the intention of standing on the 18-yard line and defending.
"I think if you look at the change we made when we put on another striker late in the match to try and force the game, then it is a little bit harsh to say we set up the team just to defend because we didn't."
Nevertheless, defend is what West Ham had to do for much of the match, though Arsenal rarely broke through to threaten Rob Green in the Hammers goal.
James Collins headed Samir Nasri's corner on to his own crossbar under pressure, while Matty Upson got in ahead of Nicklas Bendtner to head away Nasri's cross after he had easily outpaced Lucas Neill.
But they were the only chances for the home side in the opening 45 minutes and indeed right on half time, West Ham went close themselves when Mark Noble's corner was headed goalwards by Collins, only for Gael Clichy to clear it off the line.
That suggested that the Hammers may force their way more into the game after the break, but for the first 25 minutes they were hardly in it.
On 50 minutes, Carlos Vela's free kick was headed back into the danger area where Green's poor punch fell for Kolo Toure. The defender hooked the ball goalwards, but Collins was there to superbly clear off the line.
Neill and Upson blocked Denilson efforts within seconds of each other, while Abou Diaby's cross should have been turned in by Emmanuel Adebayor, only for the striker to divert it the wrong side of the post.
Savio was introduced in place of Noble with 20 minutes to go and caused Arsenal a few problems with his tricky dribbling, as well as a tough tackle that forced Diaby off close to the end.
Carlton Cole, so well shackled by Toure and William Gallas all afternoon, finally had a shot on 77 minutes which was comfortably held by Manuel Almunia, and the Hammers did start to pass the ball around much better towards the end as Arsenal became increasingly frustrated.
Green made one save from Adebayor's header, while right at the death, Robin Van Persie pulled a shot well wide after turning in the box, but this was a disappointing show from Arsenal's forwards in a poor game that simply never took off.
"Defensively, the whole team played well," said Clarke. "Everybody did what they should do, the shape of the team was good, the work ethic was fantastic.
"Sometimes James Collins stands out more, because he throws himself around and gets a few blocks but I thought all the defenders were top class today.
"The two central defenders have done very well, but I have to say the two full backs as well have done well Lucas Neill and Herita Ilunga," said the assistant boss.
This draw adds to the points gained at both Anfield and Stamford Bridge this season, and Clarke believes that it can only be of benefit to the team.
"I think it is very important for the confidence and the belief of the players that they can come to these clubs and get positive results," explained Clarke.
"Obviously the next step would be to come to these places and win matches, that would be a progression, but at the moment from where we were in October, to where we are now, there has been a significant progress at the club."
He's absolutely right. West Ham may have come a long way, but they are not yet able to compete on equal terms with the big four.
Somehow though, under Gian-franco Zola and Clarke, you can't help feeling that it is only a matter of time before they do, or is that being a little too optimistic?
West Ham: Green, Neill, Ilunga, Collins, Upson, Behrami, Noble (Savio 70), Parker, Collison, Di Michele (Boa Morte 83), Cole. Unused subs: Lopez, Spector, Lastuvka, Tristan, Sears.
Attendance: 60,109. Referee: Steve Bennett.