Arsenal turn up the heat on Hammers
Written By: Robert Halter
As a gesture of goodwill, the Hammers made Alex Song captain for the day against his former Gunners end of December for the Sunday Showdown at the Boleyn Ground. It looked like a dream start for Song as he whipped the ball into the left hand corner from long range but his majestic finish was ruled out as the flag went up from Matthew Wilkes with two of the claret and blue players, Andy Carroll and Diafro Sakho in an offside position restricting the view of Gunners goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny. On twenty four minutes, Alexis Sanchez had the Hammers on the back foot but after he shot goal wards, the ball took a slight deflection off Joey O’ Brien which sent the path of the strike high into the air and wide of the far post. In the thirty eighth minute, from a well crafted chip by Stewart Downing the ball was unable to be converted by James Tomkins, who skied a volley over the bar. But in the forty first minute, referee Neil Swarbrick awarded Arsenal a penalty after Winston Reid’s late challenge on Santi Cazorla, who was brought down by Reid’s lunging leg and Cazorla made the Irons pay by hammering home his spot kick to send the Hammers keeper, Adrian the wrong way. But Arsenal got a two goal cushion three minutes later as Mathieu Debuchy supplied the perfect weighted pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose power and pace was matched with an incisive cross down the right flank which was tucked away by Danny Welbeck from close range. It summed up a disappointing first half for the Hammers, as Downing snapped at a shot near the end before desperate defending by Song blocked a strike from Sanchez in the area. The Hammers stepped up their game after the break and when Per Mertesacker fended off Downing from Carroll’s near post header, the Irons continued their momentum and pulled a goal back in the fifty fourth minute, after Morgan Amalfitano started the move and found Tomkins, who pulled the ball over down the right side of the by-line and Cheikhou Kouyate won the aerial battle with Debuchy to nod the ball in, past a stranded Szczesny. But Arsenal pressed again and Adrian produced an acrobatic flip over to palm away Cazorla’s well driven shot, after a lay off by Sanchez in the fifty seventh minute, from Cazorla’s corner, Debuchy miss guided a header over but the Gunners still had the upper hand. On sixty one minutes, the Hammers responded as Kouyate over cooked a delivery with Sakho looming at the far post in the Gunners area but the Hammers then replaced Sakho with Enner Valencia. But it was Welbeck who was quickest out the traps in the sixty seventh minute as on the counter attack, Welbeck charged through before thrashing a shot across the goal mouth which was diverted by the faintest of touches from Adrian. But there was more work to do for Adrain as with both legs he thwarted Oxlade-Chamberlain’s close range header from a cross by Sanchez in the seventy fifth minute. Two minutes later, Adrian made another important stop with his foot to keep out Sanchez’s strike at the near post, after Cazorla had created the opening. Further changes by the Hammers saw their goal scorer Kouyate replaced by Kevin Nolan and O’ Brien taken off for Kevin Nolan. But in the eightieth minute, Cazorla was unable to get past Adrian and then fired over the rebound. Late on the Gunners took off Welbeck for Kieran Gibbs and made a further change by replacing Oxlade-Chamberlain with Calum Chambers. There was more defending for Arsenal in added time as Szczesny had to steep down low to stop Nolan’s drive from Carroll’s knock back and the Gunners were left hanging on at the end, as Valencia could not keep his header down at the back post from Aaron Creswell’s flick, after Szczesny miss handled the free kick delivery from Song, following a foul on Sanchez by Downing. The win for Arsenal leapfrogged them over West Ham United in the table into fifth position with the Gunners gaining a two points advantage over the Hammers before the end of the year.