With a London derby on the cards, form and league position count for little. Whilst the manager welcomed his friend Avram Grant in the opposing dug out, he knew that there would not be the same kind of fraternity shared on the pitch. With Scott Parker and Mark Noble tenacious as ever in central midfield, patience and discipline were key to securing the result. Having drawn at Upton Park and secured a modest win at the Emirates last season, the Gunners always knew they would face a tough proposition breaking down West Ham, and so it proved. After excellent chances for Alex Song, Bakary Sagna and Cesc Fabregas went begging, it took a last-gasp diving header from Song, to secure not only the three points, but also his third goal in as many matches.
West Ham’s unfamiliar central defensive pairing of Danny Gabbidon and Manuel da Costa did well to stifle Arsenal’s attacking threat for large periods of the game, and when the Gunners did penetrate, they found Robert Green in outstanding form. For the Hammers, the warning signs were evident from an early stage. Green denied Fabregas after a one-two with Sagna and Grant had his No 1 to thank for keeping his side level for so long. As to the breakthrough itself, Song gave a warning as to his aerial threat in the opening quarter, heading over from a Samir Nasri free-kick after Chamakh had been felled on the edge of the area. Nasri, Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin shared free-kick duties, but all focused similarly on whipped balls to the back post, seemingly trying to exploit a perceived weakness of the Hammers’ keeper.
Although its effectiveness was limited at set pieces, with West Ham able to mass ranks and organise to defend the threat, eventually the ploy paid off. A moment of composure from Gael Clichy presented the match-winning opportunity, as he shaped to cross from the left before cutting inside Lars Jacobsen to float a cross in with his weaker right foot to pick out Song’s run.
The late clincher demonstrated two positive aspects of Arsenal’s campaign. Firstly, they have the mental toughness to fight to the end to secure victory despite not playing at their highest level. Resolute defending and Green’s inspired form threatened to frustrate the Gunners, but their application was rewarded. Secondly, the Gunners have added to their armoury this term, now posing an aerial threat as an alternative to the incisive passing that saw them dismantle Man City. Formerly, the Gunners’ only aerial threat came when Nicklas Bendtner was introduced late on with a deficit to overturn.
Now, the presence of Chamakh as a central striker has encouraged Sagna and, as Saturday’s goal showed, Gael Clichy, to test the opposition with their crossing abilities. This variety adds greater potency to the attack, combining with the side’s intricate passing football, and the constant threat of a rapid counter-attack. In terms of the campaign, the week’s results, and particularly the manner in which they were achieved, will go a long way to instilling belief in a sustained title tilt.