Could the thug Bowyer turn things around, would the much-loved Nigel have a final fling at Highbury, would Calamity James show us his England potential or another Nationwide disaster? More to the point for us Gooners was would Henry press on towards the 200 goals tally? You may recall that the Hammers season was going really well until the 65th minute of their opening match. That was when Henry put us back in a match we looked to have blown with a belligerently classy goal. Sylvain pulled us level in the 88th minute and the travelling Gooners responded with 'That's why we're the Champions.' Having been at the game and witnessed some fine play from the Hammers it's hard to fathom out why they have been so awful since that day, then again take one look at their defence and the answer seems obvious.
Arsenal lined up as they had in Brum except for Gio who was in for the suspended Ashley. Ray Parlour was back on the bench following a long injury layoff along side Stuart, Oleg, Francis and Kolo. Nigel played for the Hammers and got a massive reception, Gilberto sported a seriously shorn head and West Ham kicked off towards the North Stand under a blue sky and fluffy clouds. Our pitch showed some sign of wear in the goal mouths for the first time in years but is still superb nick.
Dennis thought he was obstructed in our opening attack while Henry looked quite willing to chase down defenders from the off. 'Who's that team we call the Arsenal, who's that team we all adore' Henry's runs look a threat, no change there then, and he won an early corner. Great ball in from wide right by Dennis who is currently playing as well as he's ever done. Lauren does his best to screw up in defence being a tad too flash but the Hammers fail to capitalise. 'We won the league in Manchester'.
Pires to Henry down the left, good play, and a superb cross which was just inches beyond the end of Bergkamp's outstretched toe. Henry pulled back by Breen who earned a yellow card. Henry's resulting free kick goes a couple of yards wide. Lauren in trouble again but Sol cleared. Thierry to Dennis on another run, almost. Rob goes through in the right hand channel and Lomas grabs his shirt in the box, a dead cert pen was given by Mr Dean and Lomas was sent off. Maybe a harsh red card but then again there was no question that it denied an obvious goal scoring opportunity and the ref was well within his rights. Henry sent James the wrong way from the spot and kept it low. Our 50th League goal of the season, 1-0 to Arsenal, game over, or at least it should have been.
Henry almost got in again as Arsenal had a spell where they were toying with West Ham. It looked easy and it was, so we took our foot off the pedal. Never a good idea. Defoe was two yards offside but it wasn't given, aren't linos crap? Martin had a quiet word to Defoe about his use of the elbow. Joe Cole made a pigs ear of a cross much to the delight of the North Stand. Seaman caught a long punt up field as the game went flat. James to Defoe was their best move at this stage, or any other stage come to that. West Ham's famous football academy my arse! '1-0 to the referee' was the Hammers chant. Bowyer started falling over at this stage, conning the ref into free kicks. Good pressure from Dennis saw Pires set up Wiltord for a shot and it was one way traffic.
Wiltord had a ricochet shot that James clawed away. It was Arsenal v James until Edu, under no pressure, failed to pay attention and under hit a back pass straight to Defoe. The young Hammer took his chance cleanly, giving no chance to Seaman and it's 1-1. Sol was seen to give Edu a severe rollocking. From this point on Edu tried too hard to make up for his gross cock-up.
The nasty little sh*t Bowyer went down again under pressure from Dennis. A great run by Wiltord ended with a blocked shot. Great cross from Gio but there was no one on the end of it, the crowd was not happy. Quite rightly, West Ham were offering nothing and we'd let them off the hook. 1-1 at the break, we'd done ourselves a serious disservice by coasting when we should have been going for the jugular. Coasting is fine, but not when we're only one goal in front. Tell 'em Arsene.
Dennis to Henry to Sylv who's cross was saved by James. Defoe won a rare Hammer's corner. Gilberto who was having a commanding match had a shot blocked as Pearce and James collided, both needed treatment so Gary Lewin sorted out James. Corner after corner came Arsenal's way as we continued to batter them. Dennis our notorious hatchet man got a yellow card for an innocuous foul on Cisse.
Arsenal worked an opening as Dennis to Henry at the far post won a corner. Dennis had a shot blocked. Pires had a run and James sliced into touch again bringing back memories of John Lukic. Another poor decision as an Arsenal won a corner but was given as a free kick to West Ham for a push that never was. We missed the speed and width of Ashley but continued to probe, no need to panic yet although some of the Library were a bit on the twitchy side. Dennis played a one-two with Henry then fired over. Henry to Rob who set up Gio but his shot was saved. A Henry shot hit Pires on its way to goal. Parlour was getting ready for action.
Dennis showed some tasty footwork, was tripped in the box but doesn't get the pen. Gilberto tripped wide right and from the free kick Martin was shoved over at the far post, no penalty given. Big scramble in the Hammers goal. Dennis blasted well over. A great cross Lauren. Henry goes for a header bravely against James, another corner. Theirry is really beginning to get the hang of this heading lark, he's improving by the week. It's quite clear that he's put many hours work in at the training ground and the benefit can now been seen.
Corner followed corner. A Campbell header. James sliced out yet again. Edu was replaced by Romford Ray. Dennis had a cross saved. Sinclair blasted over from a rare, no make that very rare West Ham attack. A Parlour cross resulted in another corner. Another Bergkamp shot blocked. Then down on the left touchline some great footwork and a hand off on the cheating little sh*t Bowyer saw Dennis sling over the perfect cross for Henry to leap and head down at the far post. 2-1 Arsenal as the cheat stayed down. Moan, moan, moan loads of lip and the Hammers lose their rag as Defoe was stupid enough to kick Martin. Lauren and Sinclair are also at it. Bowyer was losing it as Henry's fabulous footwork verged on a piss take.
Lauren booked. Dennis and Henry broke, two on one but Thierry shoved the ball too far in front him and it was easy for James to collect. Could have been, should have been number three. Bowyer was putting himself about and Ray wasn't having any, but when Bowyer jumped out of the way Ray got a yellow. There was no connection ref! He didn't touch him! Ideally he would have put the thug into row C but it didn't happen. Chants of 'cheat, cheat, cheat' followed Bowyer around the ground. The ever popular Moncur, not, on for Cisse.
Arsenal then sliced West Ham apart as Dennis found Rob who picked out Henry and we saw our top scorer bag his hat trick with his left foot. 3-1 to Arsenal with four minutes to go. Henry is now just 83 goals off Wrighty's Arsenal record and the second ton looks like it will happen a lot quicker than the first. He also went top of the Premiership goal scorers today.
Oleg for Dennis, Francis for Sylvain. Jeffers latched onto Thierry's pass but hammered the side netting with his shot. James saved from Jeffers on a good break as West Ham were now run ragged. Bowyer dived in our box. Henry waltzed around the pitch playing keepie-upsie but we fail to grab a fourth. Shame, but three points is three points. Never mind the ten men hard luck stories from West Ham they were never in this game, and with eleven on the pitch we would never have eased off the throttle.