Bridge nightmare merely adds to Hammers' agony
West Ham United 0 Arsenal 3
Sunday 16 January 2011
If this was Avram Grant's last game as manager here, he left as he arrived, to overwhelming indifference. As West Ham subsided to their 11th defeat in 23 League matches under his command he was neither cheered, nor jeered. The few home supporters who stayed to the final whistle briefly booed the team, but there was no personal animosity directed at Grant. There was even a smattering of applause when he threw his scarf into the dwindling support before heading down the tunnel.
The Israeli subsequently said, somewhat obliquely, that he was going nowhere but it is strongly suggested that he will be relieved of his command imminently. Martin O'Neill leads the contenders to replace him with Martin Jol also linked with the post. Whoever takes over their first task will be to haul West Ham off the bottom and out of the relegation zone.
Then there is a 2-1 lead to be defended in next week's Carling Cup semi-final second leg. Plus, and this may be one reason for the timing of the change, a meeting with the Government regarding ownership of the Olympic Stadium site. The new man must help convince the politicians that the club has a viable financial future, which is much more difficult if they are seen to be Championship-bound.
Grant's long goodbye began in the morning when Sky Sports and the BBC "understood" that he was to be sacked after the match and replaced by O'Neill. The club insisted no announcement would be made on Grant's future before, during or after the match. Vice-chairman Karren Brady said as she left the ground last night: "Nothing has happened. I don't know where these rumours have come from but nothing has happened."
Arsenal remain in third place in the Premier League with two goals from Robin van Persie and one from Theo Walcott. In the circumstances Grant could have done without the ordeal of facing Arsenal missing the team's heartbeat, Scott Parker, who had an ankle injury. Two possible sources of goals, Frédéric Piquionne and Victor Obinna, were also ruled out, with toothache and suspension respectively. Then Mark Noble limped off after 16 minutes to be replaced by the crowd's bête noire, Luis Boa Morte.
By then West Ham were already losing. Wayne Bridge had received an extraordinarily warm welcome, given he was costing £90,000 a week and was a former Chelsea player. Presumably the Boleyn's view was that any enemy of John Terry was a friend of theirs. Bridge, who last played a month ago, had a nightmarish debut and was implicated in every goal. It was from his flank that Arsenal's first goal came. Jack Wilshere fed Walcott on the right and Bridge stood off, allowing Walcott to roll a pass square. Samir Nasri dummied, and Van Persie drove the ball in unchallenged for his 50th Premier League goal.
Four minutes from the break Van Persie, who had struck the post after 31 minutes, was played onside by Bridge as he broke down the left channel. He cut the ball back and Walcott tucked it away. The away fans, as ruthless as their team, sang "You're getting sacked in an hour".
Victory was wrapped up when the hapless Bridge brought down Walcott in the box with 14 minutes left, Van Persie scoring from the spot. Much of the second period had been conducted at walking pace and if the teams meet in next month's Carling Cup final at Wembley, one can only hope it is less one-sided.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Van Persie
Match rating: 6/10
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