Friday, December 27

Kicked up the Arsenal

West Ham 1 Arsenal 3

Steve ‘North Bank Norman’ Rapport is over from San Francisco and enjoying an isotonic bacon sandwich in Ken’s Café with Big Joe, Barry from Whistle and Michelle, who is asking the eternal Whovian question of Spurs, “Tim who?”

Steve meanwhile maintains that he’s not a jinx because he came over for the play-off final. It’s just his Christmas visits that tend to end in disaster. Can Steve’s California cool survive 90 minutes of Andy Carroll-less Irons without him morphing into Ray Winstone? We very much doubt it.

Michael the Whovian has broken down on the way from Birmingham, such is the pain of supporting WHU. He can’t even find a Tardis to get him to the game on time. Nigel’s arrived having stocked up on his Christmas cracker jokes and Carry On films while Matt is off the night shift and looking more bleary-eyed than James Tomkins after a night at Sugar Hut as he leaves early to collect his free Spurs dvd (possibly as a late Christmas present for Lisa). Fraser’s not had time to brush his hair having received a lift all the way to the ground from Wolverhampton. And rather prophetically I’ve lost our dog lead – not the first time someone connected with West Ham has had trouble keeping hold of the lead.

Surprisingly Big Sam is playing in Adrian in goal rather than Jussi Jaaskelainen. Adrian probably deserved a game at Man United after playing well at Spurs, but he was at fault for United’s opener and seems a risk in a game of this size. While Morrison is out injured too. West Ham start off reasonably well, with Noble having a free kick saved, Carlton Cole putting himself about and Jarvis and Joe Cole looking lively. More bad luck strikes when James Collins has to go off with a groin injury and McCartney is moved to centre-back as Rat comes on to try and save our sinking ship. "We've got a big f•••ing German!" chant the away fans in honour of Mertesacker.

Slowly Arsenal impose themselves with ‘Santa’ Cazorla (who must be tired after delivering all those presents) looking classy in midfield. Thankfully the Gunners’ finishing is way off target. Walcott misses a great chance when put through by Ramsey and Giroud fires wide with only Adrian to beat. The striker then misses another good chance, failing to connect as the ball fizzes across our six-yard box. Arsenal get a free kick and I suggest, accurately, that the Gunners’ won’t breach the world-famous Adrian’s wall.

“At least we’ll see all the goals this half,” I suggest to Nigel as West Ham kick towards the Bobby Moore Stand. Sure enough, Jarvis fires in a cross that is half-cleared, Nolan take a snap shot from the edge of the area, and Szczesny palms the ball straight out to Carlton Cole who fires home from a few feet out. A good poacher’s goal and Carlton’s third since re-signing. Could this be our day? “Always believe in Carlton Cole!” implores the Bobby Moore Stand as Bubbles then wafts through the December air

West Ham then have a great ten-minute spell, with Noble prominent. Nobes’ fine ball sends through Jarvis who fires straight at Szczesny. Diame whips in an inviting cross from the right and Joey O’Brien sends his diving header just wide of the post. Then Noble finds Rat on the left and the substitute sends in a superb cross that Carlton Cole prods wide of the far post. We fear we’re going to regret missing these three chances against a quality side.

Podolski comes on and Nigel tempts fate by remarking that he hasn’t scored for ages. West Ham sit back and everyone gets nervous. Adrian pulls off a fine double save from Cazorla and Ozil. West Ham hold out until the 68th minute when Walcott fires a daisy-cutter straight at Adrian, but somehow it bobbles through the keeper’s hands and into the net. It’s a calamity of Rob Green against USA proportions and you just can’t see the experienced Jaaskelainen making that sort of error. Can we respect the point? No. Two minutes later Podolski crosses, from the ball left, the ball clips Tomkins’ head and Walcott reacts quicker than Rat to send an instinctive header into the net. It’s Walcott’s first ever headed goal – yet another player who has broken their duck against the Hammers.

West Ham look dispirited after going behind and lose a yard of pace. Adrian shows character to pull off a good stop from Podolski before the impressive big effing German finishes the game off by firing home a fine left-footed effort from the edge of the box after a Giroud lay-off. “1-0 and you fucked it up!” chant the awayday Librarians. Had we got the second it might have been so different.

Fraser and myself retreat to the Boleyn, which has both London Pride and its own craft beer in Boleyn Ale served by Santa-suited barmaids, plus a very loud sound system playing Spandau Ballet’s Gold. To make it worse, Sunderland, Palace and Fulham have all won away from home making WHU second from bottom. West Brom is now a must win game. The team hasn’t played that badly today, but there’s no mistaking the fact we’re in deep trouble.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5, O’Brien 6, Collins 5, Tomkins 6, McCartney 6, Noble 8, J Cole 6, Diame 7, Nolan 6, Jarvis 7, C Cole 7.

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