Gunners rise from rubble to return to summit

 

Cesc Fabregas gets Arsenal's second

Rain-soaked and weary, Arsenal’s talismanic captain Cesc Fabregas wheeled away to celebrate in front of 60,000 adoring Londoners. He had just handed the knockout blow to Zola’s resilient Hammers, in an all too familiar fashion, and in doing so had propelled his red and white cavalry to the summit of the Barclays Premier League. Just as the visits of Burnley and Sunderland, and excursions to the Brittania and the KC have suggested, Arsenal just love to leave it late.

Prior to Upson’s foolish misjudgement of flinging out an arm in the penalty box, resulting in Fabregas’ 18th goal of the season, Arsenal had been uncertain at best. The sending off of Thomas Vermaelen was no doubt the turning point in this intriguing London derby, but yet again, the unlikely title challengers proved the falsity behind their ‘soft-underbelly’ tag.

Arsene Wenger has reiterated on countless occasions this season that consistency will triumph over sporadic brilliance, and with 8 winnable fixtures remaining before this match, a 5th successive league triumph was the only target. The glamour of an upcoming tie with F.C Barcelona, Arsene suggested, distorted his players’ concentration at times, yet the early signs made light of this statement. Arsenal were quick and dynamic, both of which were epitomised after 5 minutes when Denilson and Bendnter, two men the terraces love to hate, combined instinctively to provide the Brazilian with his 6th goal of the season- a fizzing drive that eluded the fingers of Robert Greens left hand.

Troubling without destroying should be Arsenal’s motto rather than victory through harmony, as on countless occasions this season Wenger’s talented bunch have failed to kill off matches. An ever-present hindrance to Arsenal’s progress yet again, as sublime one touch passing continued to fizzle out- Bendtner’s over-hit pass to Fabregas, and then the captain’s inability to find Nasri whilst only 4 yards out exemplifying their self-inflicted scourge. Often this fatality leads to an opening for the enemy, and this materialised yesterday in the form of an innocuous punt downfield. Vermaelen misjudged the bounce, and then in an attempt to redeem his sin, clumsily fouled Franco. The rules concerning the last man are clear, and as the Belgian centre-half soon found out, the severity of the fowl is irrelevant, leading to his first early bath in Arsenal’s colours. The fact the ensuing penalty was expertly saved by the much maligned Manuel Almunia reduced the significance of this moment, much to the crowd, and his manager’s delight, “He has taken a lot of stick, not always justified I believe. He had a few problems at the start of the season but in the last two or three months I have found him to be outstanding and credit to him, he has silenced the critics”.

A difficult second half followed, with Song being called to drop in to play centre-back, and a plethora of offensive players failing to deliver. The latter worried the crowd, with Arshavin and Nasri unable to make any impact in the final third, yet Song’s call to arms merely warmed the cockles of those who have witnessed his glorious transformation into a world-class footballer. His composure, reading of the game and tackling all helped to nullify first Franco and Mido, and then Benni McCarthy and Carlton Cole, whose only chance pinged off the upright.

Yet another victory clinched by their uplifting captain propels Arsenal to the top of the league, albeit for a matter of hours. Nonetheless, this achievement is an amazing one, having been written off and scoffed at after crushing defeats at the hands of their two greatest title rivals. Birmingham in a week will prove to be a far trickier affair, with memories still fresh of the cataclysmic collapse that was triggered by a 2-2 draw in the second capital two years ago. This time however Arsene Wenger’s blind belief seems to be engraved in the hearts and minds of his players, and a continuation of this resilient spirit could result in the greatest achievement of the Frenchman’s career.

Player Ratings:

WEST HAM: Robert Green (6), Jonathon Spector (6), James Tomkins (7), Matthew Upson (6), Fabio Daprela (5), Alessandro Diamanti (6), Robert Kovac (6), Vahlon Behrami (5), Junior Stanislas (7), Mido (4), Franco (5). SUBS: Mark Noble (6), Carlton Cole (7), Benni McCarthy (6)

ARSENAL: Manuel Almunia (8), Emmanuel Eboue (7), Sol Campbell (6), Thomas Vermaelen (5), Gael Clichy (6), Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong (9), Denilson (8), Cesc Fabregas (8), Samir Nasri (6), Andrei Arshavin (5), Nicklas Bendtner (7). SUBS: Vassiriki Abou Diaby (8), Bakary Sagna (6), Eduardo (6)

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