Arsenal outclass rock bottom Hammers
West Ham could not cope with the speed and passing skills of Arsenal as they slumped to a 3-0 defeat at Upton Park on Saturday evening.
West Ham United 0 Arsenal 3
IF THE morning television reports are to be believed, Avram Grant has ended his Upton Park managerial career exactly the way he began it, writes STEVE BLOWERS.
A three-goal reverse on the opening day of the season at Aston Villa was mirrored by a another dismal defeat at the hands of an accomplished Arsenal side, who coasted to victory thanks to Robin Van Persie’s double and a Theo Walcott strike.
And as West Ham’s long-suffering supporters trudged away knowing that their team remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League with just 15 matches left, their north London counterparts cruelly chanted: “You’re getting sacked in a minute!”
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After weeks of uncertainty over the Israeli’s future, all the pre-match talk had centred upon speculation that this was to be his final game in charge before vacating the Hammers hot-seat that was about to be occupied by an incoming Martin O’Neill, who ironically had deserted the Villa Park dugout just days before West Ham’s August arrival in the Midlands.
Each side had experienced differing Carling Cup semi-final fortunes in midweek and, whereas a welcome first-leg victory over Birmingham City had seen Grant steer his team halfway to Wembley, Arsenal on the other hand, still have it all to do in their return tie after succumbing to a shock defeat at Ipswich Town.
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Following that welcome win over the Blues, the teetering West Ham manager made four changes to what, reportedly, seems set to be his last-ever East End line-up as Zavon Hines, Radoslav Kovac, Carlton Cole and on-loan debutant Wayne Bridge came in for the suspended Victor Obinna, the sorely missed Scott Parker (ankle), Frederic Piquionne (dental surgery) and substitute Winston Reid.
The Hammers had not shot down the Gunners in any of their previous eight encounters and languishing at the bottom of the table with 20 points - exactly half of the haul amassed by the third-placed visitors – they desperately needed a repeat of the April 2007, Bobby Zamora-inspired victory that helped to save them from the drop.
Robert Green had been a colossus that day, too, but within 15 minutes he found his defences breached for the first time by an Arsenal side that had recalled Van Persie, Alex Song, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy, following Wednesday’s defeat at Portman Road.
On the quarter-hour mark, Walcott tore down the right before squaring low into the area, where Nasri cleverly let the ball run through his legs to create space for Van Persie, who got in front of James Tomkins to lash the ball past the groping left palm of the England keeper.
Having fallen behind, it did not get any better for the Hammers, who saw the frustrated Julien Faubert cautioned for chopping Cesc Fabregas, while Mark Noble limped away to be replaced by ex-Gunner Luis Boa Morte.
The alert Green then plucked the ball off Walcott’s toes after the flying flanker just got the better of Tomkins and then Nasri and Song forced saves out of the home keeper.
Midway through the half, Cole raced on to Johan Djourou’s weak back-pass but his low curling shot was brilliantly parried out by Wojciech Szczesny and when Boa Morte returned the ball into the danger zone, Hines sent a rising, angled effort over the bar.
Sadly, that was to prove only fleeting resistance from Grant’s side, who had a lucky escape on the half-hour mark, when Nasri played in Van Persie, who sent a low angled, 15-yarder beyond Green and off the base of the far post to safety.
But five minutes before the break, Arsenal did double their lead, when Fabregas flew to the byline and cut back to Walcott, who got in front of Bridge to fire his tenth goal of the season high into the net.
Just before the break, Freddie Sears delivered an inch-perfect cross to Cole, six yards out, but instead of giving his side some second half hope, the Hammers striker only succeeded in nodding the ball on to Djourou’s head and the consequent corner came to nothing.
The second half had an identical footprint to the opening period as Fabregas soon let fly with a couple of early long-rangers, while Van Persie saw his angled shot fisted aside by Green, who also held Walcott’s low stinger.
In reply, Bridge’s 25-yard free-kick deflected off Van Persie in the Gunners wall, while Sears saw his cross-shot clawed out from under the angle by Szczesny before making way for Pablo Barrera.
But, in truth, Wenger’s side were simply operating on a different level as they toyed with their unimaginative, uncreative hosts, whose late afternoon of agony was compounded on 77 minutes, when Van Persie clinically dispatched his penalty past Green’s outstretched right glove after Bridge – who later hobbled off - had upended the waltzing Walcott.
Hammers: Green, Tomkins, Upson, Bridge (Nouble 88), Faubert, Kovac, Noble (Boa Morte 19), Sears (Barrera 63), Spector, Hines, Cole. Unused Subs: Boffin, Reid, Gabbidon, McCarthy, Nouble
Arsenal: Szczesny, Djourou, Koscielny, Eboue, Clichy, Song, Walcott (Arshavin 87), Fabregas (Denilson 81), Wilshere, Nasri (Gibbs 87), Van Persie Unused Subs: Shea, Vela, Arshavin, Gibbs, Chamakh, Bendtner
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)