The way I see it - Arsenal v West Ham United

Last updated : 01 January 2008 By Jason Hogan
It was a routine Saturday afternoon about five or six years ago when he was giving his routine full time report on the match he happened to be commentating on essentially for Match of the Day. And, to paraphrase his closing line, it was something like this - "The final result may have told the actual story of the game but it doesn't come close to telling the REAL story of the game".

To be honest, I forget the exact fixture Davies happened to be commentating on at the time, though I am convinced it was a Premier League game and I do have a hazy recollection of players heading down the old Highbury tunnel in the dark as he was talking.

I could be wrong about that and in all probability, I am. Nevertheless, I never forgot that quote and the way Davies actually delivered it. Because for all the clichés I have heard over the years, that was the one line which, for me, really brought home just how strange, unpredictable and downright absurd football could be then and continues to be at times to this very day.

Take Saturday night for example. For 45 minutes against Everton, the Arsenal put in a performance which made the totally abject performance at Boro a few weeks ago actually seem almost respectable.

Everton not only got stuck into us, they were playing a brand of football that threatened to put the game out of our reach before half time. Whilst this was all going on, I was frantically texting Gazza who was on his way to see relatives up North. And in the process of giving him my assessment of what was going on, I wasn't pulling any punches.

We could hardly get out of our half, we couldn't string any passes together whatsoever, we were second to every ball and in terms of doing the things that win you a football match, we were a distant second best. In fact, I didn't think that the merciful interlude of half time would change a game which already looked all over for us bar all the shouting.

I just couldn't see a way back for the Arsenal but Eduardo brought us level 90 seconds into the second half as he seized onto a long ball that Everton somehow failed to deal with. His finish was text book but even then I was thinking that his strike was enough to give us no more than a foothold in the game rather than genuine belief to go on and win it.

Then, almost out of nothing, the Croatian scored again with a brilliant individual effort. Though he may have used his hand initially to control the ball, Eduardo still has to beat the last defender and he still had to put the chance away which he did. It was a bit like watching Bergkamp's hat-trick sealing goal against Leicester at Filbert Street all those years ago.

With me still texting Gazza with updates of what was going on and trying to work out in my own mind how the hell Arsenal had found themselves in front all of sudden in the game, Nicklas Bendtner went and got himself sent off.

I must admit that I could see the young Dane getting sent off as early as the first half. He looked a little wound up from the start and always looking to try a little too hard. With things not running for him at all in the first half, he barged into Yobo in retaliation when he was shepherding the ball out of play and got himself a caution for protesting when the ref penalised him for the offence.

Bendtner also made another risky challenge in the first half that might have tested the referee's zeal to caution him again but he got away with it. To be honest, when I saw his second half tackle on Johnson in normal time I couldn't believe he got a second yellow for it. But that all changed when I saw the replay. It was a poor challenge and to be fair, I've seen an awful lot of players get a straight red card for less.

Luckily for us, the Dane's dismissal didn't have grave consequences for us. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Eduardo was sacrificed, Adebayor came on and within a few minutes, Ade had helped himself to the easiest goal he has scored in his career courtesy of a mix up between Yobo and Howard.

Tomas Rosicky came on and bagged a fourth right at the death and on the face of things Arsenal ran out comfortable winners in the end. But when the final whistle went at the end of the match, it was then that Barry Davies' words flashed straight into my mind.

Because, as great as the result looked for the Arsenal at the end, it would seem churlish of me to sit here and say that it was a game where the real Arsenal turned up and hail it as a result that definitively said that the Arsenal were really back.

Having said that, what Saturday's game did reinforce is my assertion that Eduardo can be deadly if he is given the right kind service and that he is a viable option for us whenever we are really in need of a goal. Players of hiss type may not get too involved in the game generally but he has the ability to pop up with a goal and change the course of a game for you.
I'm not saying that Eduardo should instantly become a regular starter for us from now on - far from it in fact. As I said before this game, I see him at least in the immediate future, as someone who is an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer type for us.

I say that not just because Eduardo reminds me a lot of him as a player also someone who can be used in the same way. Solskjaer was great at coming on from the bench for ManUre, of course he was. But where he was good for ManUre was in the fact that he could be brought into the team to start in two or three game bursts and then dropped back to the bench where he ALWAYS available as an option. That's the way I can see this boy being used, certainly whilst he is in his first year at the club. Still, it's only my theory.

Looking at the Everton game as whole, I drew a huge amount of blissful irony from the views of David Moyes after the game. I appreciate that he had grounds for frustration. His team did play well, very well in fact, for long periods.

However, Moyes' argument that the best team lost would have been more plausible if his team had the whit and where with all not to be caught out three times by bread and butter long balls all of which could arguably have been dealt with.

The fact is we outdid Everton in the end by taking a leaf out of their book in the second half. We were more direct in the second half and when it came to crunch, it was Moyes' team who couldn't really handle it.

For all that, I would have been hugely relieved man to see us come away from Goodison with any kind of result, never mind a 4-1 win. There's a massive part of me that's still bewildered as to how it all happened but given the fact that it meant we will go into the New Year top of the league, when most people were certain we would be four points of the pace, I'll take it.

On New Years Day we will of course be back at The Grove where the visitors will be West Ham.

Just when people were starting to put their mortgages and life savings on United and the supposed inevitability of them march unopposed to the title, up popped the Hammers to duly piss well and truly on their parade.

The Hammers, shorn of many first team options, made ManUre pay for missing a penalty (boy, was it a miss from the fancy dan ladyboy by the way, huh?) and not putting the game beyond them.

Anton Ferdinand came off the bench to upstage his brother and Matthew Upson chose this, of all occasions, to score his first goal for the club and win the game for West Ham with a towering, glorious header.

In what has been a decidedly mixed season, Upson's goal brought to end a sequence which had seen the Hammers fail to register a home win since October. Yet, it was a result that sums what West Ham have been all about for years.

The faces may have changed down at Upton Park over the years but the nature of their game remains the same in that West Ham will always pull off a champagne result and produce a champagne performance almost out of nowhere that often belies the form they have been in beforehand.

For example, they were recently booed off after their home draw with Reading in the league and were soundly beaten twice in the space of four days at home by Everton. But ManUre come calling and they put in a performance that makes a complete nonsense of what went on in their previous home games.

Still as I said on the eve of our game with them at Upton Park, it can be a blessing and a curse playing at Upton Park. The crowd down there are as good as you get in London when things are going well but they are not slow in turning against you if they are displeased.

Maybe this is a factor as to why the Hammers have certainly enjoyed themselves a lot more on the road this season. Only Liverpool, Pompey and the PRF have claimed more wins on the road so far and from what I have seen of them, the Hammers do seem to play with a little more freedom away from the pressure cooker type environment at Upton Park.

So it will be intriguing to see how they approach the game against us at The Grove. My guess is that Carlton Cole will play up front on his own to start with and that Dean Ashton will come on at some stage to either replace him or join him up front at some stage.

Now I have to admit that I'm a big fan of this boy, Ashton. In fact, as far back as the 2006 FA Cup when the Hammers lost agonisingly to Liverpool on penalties, I was tipping him as a certainty to be in England's Euro 2008 squad.

Outside of the top four and apart from Young and Agbonlahor at Villa, Ashton is just about the only English player I would sign for Arsenal right now if I could. I rate him that highly and I believe that England might well have made it to Euro 2008 had he been fit and available.

People talk about Ashton being a bit like Teddy Sheringham but for me he is an upgraded version of former West Ham line leader David Cross in the way he holds the ball up and brings other players into play. Ashton has a similar type of bravery to Cross but what he has over his predecessor is that extra technical ability and guile. If he can stay fit, the sky is the limit as to what this boy could achieve in the game.

I'm also a fan of Scott Parker and now that he is back under Curbishley's tutelage I can see this boy getting back to the form that brought to England's attention when he was Charlton. The boy is as honest as the day is long and is one of those players in the game that genuinely gives 100% every single time he pulls on a football shirt.

It will be intriguing to see what kind of reception Freddie gets on his return to The Grove. He said some rather baffling things about the club when he left last summer and I can imagine that there a few Gooners out there that have not forgotten that.

I hope that common sense prevails and that my fellow Gooners will put Freddie's outbursts down to a misunderstanding because I cannot believe he really meant half of what was said.

With Bendtner suspended and Van Persie still unavailable, the question for Arsene will be whether to retain a 4-4-2 formation with Adebayor starting up front with Eduardo. Walcott is apparently available again so it gives another option down the flank or down the middle from the bench.

The more intriguing issue is whether Arsene will choose to change things in the middle of the park. Will he elect to rest Cesc and pair Diarra or Diaby in the middle of the park and will Rosicky come back into the team on the left?

Whatever the line up happens to be, I expect that it will be a tight match where the Arsenal will need to show a mixture of professionalism and patience. I talked earlier on about how absurd football can be and it's safe to say we got graphic first hand evidence of that when we met this lot last April. I would settle for us playing a lot worse than we did that day and winning this time round, that's for sure.